France, 6 min
Written by: Chris Marker
Starring: Arielle Dombasle (voice)Junkopia (1981) is only my second film from Chris Marker – after the breathtaking, poetic La Jetée (1962) – but the two works are not all that dissimilar. Indeed, out of a purely documentary framework, Marker (with co-directors John Chapman and Frank Simeone) seems to have constructed a work of science-fiction. Like his previous masterwork, Junkopia exists without dialogue (and, in this case, characters) and also eschews movement (though not as dramatically as the other film's still images), both by the camera and its subjects. There is one marked exception to this rule. Just as La Jetée climaxed in an unforgettable shot of a woman's eyes fluttering open, Marker ends this film by swiftly and unexpectedly zooming out from a model ship floating in the ocean, startlingly reinforcing the vast, alienating landscape that is his subject. In fact, "alien" is an ideal adjective to describe the film. Michel Krasna's electronic score wails insistently on the soundtrack, as eerily disconcerting as Kubrick's use of Ligeti's "Atmospheres" in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Junkopia opens into a landscape that, peculiarly, struck me as otherwordly. Man-made sculptures – first an aeroplane, then a montage of figures assembled from junk – roost in the depths of the ocean, anchored in a body of water that seems infinitely vast and deep. The soundtrack blends synthesised music with atmospheric sound effects; a radio transmission appears to source from a sculpture of a lunar module, emphasising the directors' focus on what seems a genuinely alien environment. Birds flutter occasionally across the frame, but life otherwise seems muted: aside from his leftover junk, humans seemingly have no part in this unfamiliar specter of reality. But then the film pulls its most intriguing twist. Alternate angles of the sculptures reveal their close proximity to civilisation – beside bustling roadways, nestled before the looming skyline of a metropolis. We are in San Francisco. The surreal landscape was that of our own making, the detritus of human existence hugging the fringes of nature. For five minutes, we were looking at the human world through someone else's eyes.