‘Her Ghost: An Homage to Chris Marker’s La Jetée’ is an on-going collaborative film-sound performance project between DJ and sound designer Kode9 (Steve Goodman, UK), MFO ( visual artist Marcel Weber) (DE), researcher/lecturer/performer, Ms.Haptic (Jessica Edwards, UK) and visual artist Lucy Benson (AU), that significantly re-works, both aurally and visually, Marker’s science fiction film-photo-essay original (1962).
2012 marks the half-centenary anniversary of the premiere of La Jetée. Appositely, for a film concerned with the collapse of the discreteness of Time—and Time’s twin, Memory—its timelessness and prescient envisioning of a possible future conjectured as our modern fate has neither diminished in its poignancy or pertinence. Ground-breaking in its realisation of an aesthetic shift from a movement-image to a time-image (Deleuze, 1985), La Jetée’s time-travelling protagonist, only ever referred to as “the man”, might be read allegorically as man/mankind. In an unfolding, inescapable Dystopia, he obsessively pursues an image to its inexorable revelation, an “ambiguous fragment of memory” from the Past of his childhood, in a fever to make sense of the senseless and to find a line of flight. In an age that knows no Utopias, that can no longer proffer any great visions of the Future, this is a very contemporary and salutary image. Yet Marker’s La Jetée, unconcerned with simplistic binaries, neither idealises nor romanticises the Past.
Her Ghost, (the fugitive progeny of La Jetée), is propelled and narrated from the perspective of the female protagonist, “the woman”, upon whom so much of the concrescence of the Past, Present and Future, the delicate balance of sanity from insanity, is poised, but whom we are yet to know: our primary encounters with her in La Jetée are mediated, obfuscatingly, through her relation to “the man”. But who is she? This woman on the other side of the temporal mirror, who inscribes in him a desire path through which he compulsively returns Time after Time? Focusing upon the dread and dislocated temporality of a perceived love affair after/during/before an apocalyptic event—the reality of which is always in question— it is the story of this woman, her encounters with Marker’s temporal Traumanaut who travels weightless in and out of her Time, that we develop in this iteration to interrogate questions of desire and memory, trauma and loss. Her story is cast wider, in another Time, to encompass the inner architecture of her enforced status as just one amongst a multitude of Time-refugees, enduring the treacherous risks of time travel to find a new space-time in which to live, with still yet a faith—although muted—in futurity: a condition that has resonance for, and might inflect those stagnantly entrenched political reflexes to particular global events and geopolitical crises that have besieged our age engendering the dislocation of millions.
2012 is an appropriate breakpoint in which to take pause to remember Marker’s singular film-work, La Jetée: a richly fecund launch-point of potentials for stimulating the Future. It is not only a film but also a simulation model that can be run through a number of iterations. An homage—an appropriate medium for just such a flash-forward proleptic modelling— Her Ghost is the first iteration.
The visual texture and expanse of Her Ghost is created from the commitment to generate, from a different vantage point, a new narrative out of the strict confines of the photographic stills of the original. Employing a variety of aesthetic and experimental methodologies, Marker’s stills are re-worked in a number of ways to animate, distort, transform and estrange them: in one moment they are amplified and intensified, blown-up to create 3D sculptures that are then re-filmed through an old video monitor to engender a disordered impression of ghostly digital replicants; in another, the ‘play-back’ of the stills through a slide projector to produce the impression of refracted, ambiguous memories—as if we are intruding on the intimacy of the woman in the act of re-experiencing her Past—is achieved through the manipulation of the customised optical apparatus, the material from which is then filmed and refined in compositing software; or the trembling claustrophobia of a Dystopic Future lived underground, realised through the creation and animation of specific Moiré, the patterns of which might not only suggest the underlying conflict and perceptual noise that invades our capacity to recall clearly and coherently, but also the activation of unwanted, traumatic memory-images through the involuntary synaptic firings of our neurons. These new images, created out of the repetition and difference from their point of origin, are also informed by embedded references to the works of other artists resulting in a visual narrative that is a multi-layered experience of still images that are never still, of a cosmos made out of textures and distortions, of stories told in pictures and in their dissolution.
Taking up where La Jetée left off, the sound design for Her Ghost pillages and redeploys the original score and sound effects from Marker’s film. Trevor Duncan’s stock library music (that was already in circulation when Marker’s film first surfaced) is transformed into asymmetric loops, shimmering drones and curdled washes, evoking the temporal dislocation of the narrative whilst squeezing out some surplus pathos. In La Jetée, pounding war drums mark out a visceral heartbeat that simultaneously keeps time in a film which has otherwise gone off the grid. Her Ghost accelerates these traits of the original, with the throbbing pulses becoming warped, reversed and intensified, mutating into the irregular pulse of something not exactly, or rather, impossibly alive. From an organic ticking clock, they now mark a ‘time out of joint’, non-metric and möebian in their involutions. One of the few sounds that did not originate from the original score and sound design is an icey ‘clinking’ capturing the shattered crystal of time of the narrative.
Drawing, then, from the original stills, narrative and soundscape of La Jetée, Her Ghost suggestively recasts, further complicates and asks questions of its ‘parent’, and is performed live, but off-stage, from within the middle of its audience. As a responsive piece between both its parts and environment, Her Ghost is mutalogical, performed differently each time.
Her Ghost (2011-12, UK & DE)
Script Development and Direction – Kode9, MFO and Ms.Haptic
Video – MFO
Sound design – Kode9
Narrator – Ms.Haptic