This invention, built almost entirely out of black and white photographs taken with a Pentax Spotmatic and a brief piece of footage captured by a 35mm Arriflex, worked more perfectly than Marker could possibly have anticipated. Viewers who were exposed to projections of the aforementioned elements found themselves transported to a post-apocalyptic future, in which they encountered a man intent on achieving the opposite task – he needed to travel back in time and prevent the catastrophes that had ruined his own future world.
This strange man and his entourage of viewers were able to travel backwards and forwards through temporal barriers at will, and before long they repaired the future and secured a more prosperous existence for humanity. The mysterious man did not fare so well, and in one horrifying moment, he found himself sucked into a strange, beautiful but terrifyingly infinite loop comprised of both his beginning and his end. This unnamed stranger’s fate was sealed, and he was doomed to repeat his journey again-and-again in theatres across the world. The viewers were allowed to leave, but the stranger kept going.
In 1995, another madman, endowed with exceptional creative genius, built a time machine of his own. His name was Terry Gilliam, and strangely enough, he called this machine, 12 Monkeys. This man used very different materials from his predecessor, and was aided in his task by equally brilliant linguistic engineers, David and Janet Peoples. The window his machine provided into the future was both clearer and more frantic than Marker’s. It was equally profound, yet less precise. But most importantly, this image of the future was slightly different. As viewer’s clambered aboard, they once again encountered the strange man from the future, but this time he gave his name. He was James Cole.
Cole was still dealing with his temporal conundrum, but over time tiny variations in each loop had changed events, expanded details and opened up new possibilities. Soon enough, Gilliam’s machine was out of control, and Cole’s visage was appearing in millions of homes around the world.
One might have expected that all this would have seen an end put to any further ambitions regarding time travel. But now we hear that another device is being built by Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, to be helmed by Jeffrey Reiner. This time the narrative possibilities will be expanded, but as a consequence we might expect the profundity of the original achievement to have dissipated. Perhaps they only wish to visit Cole again? Perhaps they wish to rescue him from his seemingly interminable loop? It’s a brave mission. Let’s hope it’s not a disaster.
La Jetee (1962)