Movies

La Jetee: The Grumpiest Monkey Watches the Inspiration for 12 Monkeys

La Jetee
Directed by Chris Marker
1962
Starring Davos Hanich and Hélène Chatelain

“La Jeteé” is a 1962 black and white short film that is best known for being the inspiration for the 1995 Terry Gilliam film “12 Monkeys.”

“12 Monkeys,” for those of you not familiar with the film, is the story of a man from a bleak post-apocalyptic future (Bruce Willis) who is sent back in time to stop the release of a devastating virus that wiped out most of mankind in the 1990s and sent the rest scurrying underground.

While traveling through the past, Willis’ character meets a sympathetic psychiatric (Madeline Stowe) and an eccentric animal rights activist (Brad Pitt), both of whom may play a pivotal role in creating the future world that Willis inhabits.

“La Jeteé” is also the story of a man from a post-apocalyptic future who travels through time, meets a woman in the past, and tries to find answers. This 28 minute black and white film tells the story almost entirely through still images, with a voice-over narration providing the plot points.

Your Monkey has always been a big fan of “12 Monkeys.” It manages to be both a rousing sci-fi thriller and an interesting thought piece on time travel, fate, and inevitability.

So the big questions your Monkey Movie Fan had in sitting down with “La Jeteé” were:

  1. How and why did this 1962 film inspire Terry Gilliam to make 12 Monkeys more than 30 years later?
  2. What elements from the original made it into the remake? What was changed?
  3. Which is the better film?

So how does “La Jeteé” compare to “12 Monkeys”?

Well, the framework for Gilliam’s film is all there in Marker’s earlier work. In fact, “La Jeteé” almost seems like a storyboard draft for “12 Monkeys.”

We have all the same major plot points. And instead of seeing them play out in live action, we see them as a series of photographs.

Marker’s work is more spare from a storytelling standpoint as well He doesn’t tell us much about the man, or the woman, or the worlds in which they live. He doesn’t delve into the emotions of his characters, but lets us fill in the blanks.

The use of black and white still photography for the vast majority of the film creates an interesting effect. Much like a time traveler, we feel like we are just getting brief glimpses of another world, rather than actually living in it.

But in this Monkey’s humble opinion, Gilliam’s movie is much more well rounded. We have more characters, a more detailed plot, and overall a more satisfying viewing experience. He took the shell that Marker created with “La Jeteé” and filled it in with a much more emotionally resonant film.

So is “La Jeteé” worth seeing?

It is if you are a fan of “12 Monkeys.” It’s interesting to see what another artist does with the same basic story framework. At a paltry 28 minutes, it’s not too big of a time investment.

And it is available on DVD from Netflix in a Criterion Collection edition that includes a second film. So you get two shows for the price of one!*

Here is the trailer from “La Jeteé”:

* Unfortunately, that second film is an interminably long travelogue about a photographer’s journeys in Africa and Japan. You may want to avoid it like the apocalyptic plague in “12 Monkeys.”

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Music

Yesterday’s Psychedelic Music Interlude Will Be Posted Today

Who needs to worry about the rules of the space-time continuum when you’ve got some good old fashioned psychedelic freak out music to enjoy?

Certainly not this Monkey, who has been enjoying the recent spate of bands that have been employing classic Beach Boys-style harmonies in new and unusual ways.

One of the best of these groups is The Besnard Lakes, who have crafted an entrancing album that manages to be smooth & melodic one moment and dark & unsettling the next.

The album is called The Besnard Lakes are The Dark Horse. The track is called Devastation.

The label is Jagjaguwar, which is putting out some of the best music in the business right now (Bon Iver, Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, Parts and Labor). Link to the label is here.

I would send you to the individual band site, but it’s a bit of a mess at the moment.

The video for Devastation is a wild animated ride featuring a dark horse and  a hairy monster. It reminds this monkey of a low budget Saturday morning cartoon. Or the background art of an original Scooby Doo episode.

Enjoy.

And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for today’s psychedelic music interlude, which is now a day late.