I Can’t Trace Time

Grab your popcorn and settle in, because I’m giving you plenty to watch in this post.

There’s a lot to be said about cause and effect when we’re looking at time travel. For this post, the cause we’ll be focusing on is one small film. Specifically, the 28-minute, black and white, French film La Jetée, released in 1962. Whilst not the first time travel film, it’s certainly one of the earlier ones. And because it’s so short and, in my opinion, so important and enjoyable, I’m going to insist you watch it before you read on. Yes, really. You can find it on assorted paid services online, but I’m going to embed a copy I found on Vimeo and hope it doesn’t get taken down before you watch it. (If you speak French or Spanish, you can do a web search and find plenty of other copies posted online that are in French and—in some cases—have Spanish subtitles.)

1 la jetee from GCVA Manchester on Vimeo.

La Jetee promotional posterBecause of the impact of this film, you can search the internet and find many an essay on it and, in most of those, you’ll find mentions of the effects of this cause, aka the visual offspring of La Jetée. And, having drawn your attention to this film, I want to call out some of those offspring.

The most obvious to you will be the 1995 film 12 Monkeys. And it’s unabashed in that case, even acknowledging this heavy influence in the opening credits. Most striking to you may well be the method of time travel that both seem to share, and that cramped and gritty space from which the time traveller sets out on his journey.Promotional shot of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt for 12 Monkeys

(You can also then argue that the TV programme with the same name and trying to make something of the same story ought to be listed as another ripple out from this cause, but the 12 Monkeys TV programme keeps making me wish we’d be done with Time Travel month so that I never feel like I have to watch it again. I’d apologise to SyFy for that, but I feel that the viewers—and the original film—are the ones owed an apology from them.)

You might also, especially once you’ve drawn the 12 Monkeys connection, have thought of the 2011 film Source Code. (Bonus Bowie connection: Source Code is directed by Bowie’s son, a talent in his own right, Duncan Jones.) Though it’s time travel cause was far less dramatic, as was the amount the traveller journeyed back, he starts from a space that reminds us clearly of that in La Jetée and 12 Monkeys. Arguably, the theme of people without control of their own destinies being sent back to change the destiny of all humankind is also a link here, and one which I might find fascinating to discuss if I weren’t interested in getting to what’s coming later in this post.

Snapshot of Sarah Connor that guides Kyle Reese in The TerminatorAssorted writers have noted that they see the influence of La Jetée in many other films. Oft-noted are things like Total Recall (the 1990 original), The Terminator, and The Matrix. (For at least a couple of those, it is the image of a woman for whom someone is searching that is the catalyst for the story.) But the connections branch out and include films less likely to have been seen by the general modern population. Films like Alphaville; Je t’aime, je t’aime; The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; and 2046. (I haven’t seen all of these, so you’ll have to see and agree—or disagree—for yourself.)

Like any important film, it’s spawned at least one homage (Her Ghost, you can see the trailer here or watch this embed…I really hope to see this someday)

Her Ghost Trailer from MFO on Vimeo.

…and at least one parody (La Puppé, which you can watch here or embedded below).

La Puppé “Short Film” from WSF on Vimeo.

Now, before we get to the stuff that I am most pleased to include, I want to point out that La Jetée has also influenced books (or so claimed the blog that tells me Time Traveller’s Wife took cues from it…I haven’t read it…) and music (like Last Night at the Jetty by Panda Bear). I’m sure there’s other stuff I could point out, but once we get to the next bit, regular readers will suspect that we’ve finally reached the real reason I’m writing this post…

Though their lyrics aren’t necessarily about La Jetée, the film has inspired music videos for some songs, not just other films. For example, you can see the clear influence in the video for Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Dancerama.

Or in the video for Jump They Say by David Bowie.

Yes, that’s right, I fit David Bowie into another month in a completely legitimate way. Plus, whilst we’re on the topic, I feel constrained to note that someone made a film that’s something of an extended music video homage to David Bowie and that uses time travel as one of its main vehicles to move the plot forward (though, sadly, there is no actual David Bowie appearance in it). The film is called Dave and its Bowie-ish protagonist ingests Chronomycin (“For convenient time travel”) to take care of business. Watch it here or embedded below!

RSWX presents Dave from Radio Soulwax on Vimeo.

Sometimes, when we look at time travel and see how worried people can get about changing the smallest thing, it can look silly. I step on a butterfly and destroy life as I know it? Really? But pause one moment…See how much one really short French film has impacted things and tell me that the small things don’t change the course of history. We’d be irresponsible traveller’s if we didn’t tell you about the butterfly known as La Jetée.

The Prettiest Stars

Have we managed to pique your interest about glam? Want a good jumping off place for exploring it and seeing if you want to add it to your own list of likes? Here we present lists of our favourite things in glam.

Amber: Choosing favourites in any situation is something I dread (even more than I dread keeping my word count low). Especially in this context, where you’re surely going to pull out your expectations or judgements about how I ought to go for obscure things. But I put blood, sweat, and glitter into this, and I stand by my list…for at least the next week.

  • Brett Smiley on the cover of his biography, named The Prettiest Star (also the title of a David Bowie song)Favourite glam album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  • Favourite original glam artist: David Bowie
  • Favourite modern glam/glam-influenced artist: Placebo
  • Favourite glam film: Velvet Goldmine (and the soundtrack is a nice place to get exposure to some non-Ziggy music)
  • Favourite glam video: Evening in Space by Daphne Guinness
  • Favourite glam aesthetic: Glitter, of course!
  • Favourite glam theme: Aliens (and alienation)
  • Favourite thing I discovered whilst writing for this month: Brett Smiley
  • Favourite thing about doing glam now (aka why I’m okay I missed the 70s): The internet. Seriously. With it, I can find inspiration, tools, and tutorials for realising the look I want; more music to inspire me; and friends all over who love me as I am.
  • Favourite life changer: Glam showed me that I was freer than society wanted me to think in terms of defining and discovering my authentic self. (I could write a whole essay on that alone.)

Cat: Again, I am the outsider coming on in this scene (which might make me more glam than anyone? Or not…), so my list of favorites is very much influenced by the main players, plus those things that come across as uniquely glam.  Some of them are the early tastemakers, some are just my own likes manipulated to fit the formula, and some are things only I might see as glam, but which I just can’t shake.

  • Favorite glam artist: David Bowie, that gorgeous ethereal man.
  • Favorite poet referenced by glam: Lord Byron
  • Favorite glam performance aspect: Giant sets!  Production!  Stagecraft!
  • Favorite glam movie: Well, Strictly Ballroom totally counts, right?
  • Favorite glam album: The New York Dolls. Has all the roughness I love, plus it might be the only glam album other than Ziggy I’ve listened to regularly.
  • Favorite remnants of the glam movement: The fluctuations between feminine and masculine aesthetics.  I guess you could call it gender fluidity?  But more with regards to fashions.  The garish clothes, men’s painted nails, a respect for an entire spectrum.
  • Favorite glam trope: Dance! Moving to music.
  • Favorite glam discovery this month: Ewan McGregor’s performance in Velvet Goldmine.
  • Most appealing aspect of glam: Overt, unapologetic self-acceptance.
  • Favorite glam reincarnation: The Darkness, a rocking band that had the spark of fun needed in music.

Hooked to the Silver Screen

The visual aspect of things is an important part of glam. So, obviously, we needed to parade some videos in front of you. For those of you who’ve only experienced glam music in the context of Velvet Goldmine, a little extra commentary might be useful.

Trevor Bolder and David BowieGlam has some range and some fuzzy edges. Like many musical genres, especially in decades past, the press likes to look for trends among new bands that don’t easily fit existing niches and lump them together with a new genre title. Which is why you’ll see/hear bands that sound like very macho rock or whose members look like macho guys in the clothes that they or their advisors wisely saw might help (hey, loads of people do it; that doesn’t mean their music isn’t good). And, right next to that (maybe in the same band), you’ll hear music with a little more strings or piano or whose members are pretty and seem to comfortably and naturally wear makeup and androgynous/dramatic clothing.

One of the struggles with the initial idea of making a playlist of glam videos is that, in the early 70s, making music videos wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. And much of the available live footage is, at best, 70s TV quality and not lit to the standards of the modern viewer. As Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, drummer for David Bowie’s band the Spiders from Mars, explains:

Bowie opened the …Spiders to culture, even the ballet. “But to watch the lights, not the performance,” explained Woody. “In those days rock lighting was red and green. He’d say: ‘Watch how they use the lighting at the ballet to create atmosphere on stage.’ People in pop didn’t do that then.” (From The Guardian’s How the Spiders from Hull changed rock music forever.)

Glam had a massive impact, in large and in subtle ways, on all the rock that came after it. The theatricality (not just standing around looking pretty), the costuming, the interesting lights, even (and this is true) male bandmates being able to put an arm around each other whilst playing can thank glam. So even the modern bands you’ll find here have range. Most of them play with androgyny or gender roles. And one of them, the last, is as glam as anything you’ve seen or heard.

At the end of this post is the YouTube playlist I created. I considered saying a little about each, because the world of music on stage and in video is so very different now, but the video and music should speak for themselves this time. I don’t even necessarily love every video here, but I feel like you need to see the evolution. I’ve got them here in chronological order (or as near as I can sort it out). Don’t forget that you can click for the list at the top of the video screen and skip around if something isn’t connecting with you. Enjoy! And be sure to share your own glam video love in the comments.

Wham Bam Thank You Glam!

I suspect letting our first month be Glam Month (or, as I call it, month) was Cat’s way of making sure to suck me in early. Of course, that means I’m writing this introduction to the month’s topic without any precedents of length to follow, which could get dangerous. So I’m going to try to stick to “why glam?” in order to ward off excessive wordiness on my part. After all, if you want to know what glam is or what music is considered glam or any other Facts, you clearly have internet access and can hunt that down.

Why glam?album cover cropped with a black bar for anonymity

Because it spoke to tiny me. Due to the great luck of having a dad who loves rock music and not being the oldest kid in my family, I was raised on things other people’s parents considered noise. My family was pretty eclectic in their musical tastes, but the first thing I remember being struck by as a child was a glam album (and, yes, we’ll cover that later in the month). The first mental images that wee Amber had of what she wanted to grow up to be were all very “glam rockstar on stage” ones. And I’m sure my parents were thrilled with the glitter I trailed behind me any time I had a chance to touch the stuff. (Excess glitter from art projects was shaken off into my hair, naturally.)

Why glam?

shot of alan cummings in cabaret, naturallyBecause it was behind every bit of adolescent me. I’d grown up with this love of glam, even if I didn’t always know to call it that. As a teenager, that left me with no doubt that I ought to run to the theatre for a warm bosom to hide in (where I learned the thrill of applause, of creating costumes and makeup, of lighting done well).

As a teenager struggling with gender/sexism issues, even if I didn’t know to call it that at the time, the androgyny of glam felt right. It also meant that I was not using makeup in the fashion my parents expected when they bought it for me. And that makeup and the acting and costuming and uninhibited ardour for music and looking to the stars (there’s no denying the glam/scifi connection) bolstered me up enough to survive those years of literal and dangerous self-loathing. In a world that seemed ugly, I found that my dusting of glitter helped. That owning my atypical traits allowed me to make peace with (and eventually learn to love) them more effectively than trying to deny them ever had. Plus, as an adolescent, the strength and joy in sexuality, along with the whimsy of it and the cleverness of the subtler innuendos, finally made sense to me.

Why glam?

a super-glam era placeboBecause it kept me strongly myself once I left adolescence behind. As others gave in to pressures to, in every way “grow up” once they reached legal ages or particular adult achievements, I rarely saw that as a solution. I hesitate to condemn others’ paths, but I can see how wrong they would have been for me (yes, I made legitimate efforts a few times, and all ended in misery). I was just fine clinging to fairy stories and passionate love for aliens as I paid my bills. Glam, fortunately, didn’t fully disappear in the mid-70s. What seems to me a resurgence in the mid-90s meant it still felt relevant. Things like the film Velvet Goldmine (which I’ll write a post on next) or the band Placebo (who, to these eyes and ears, seem impacted by glam even if not obvious twins of the original bands who birthed and wallowed in the early years of glam) were new touchstones. Reminders that I wasn’t the only one who still felt that path. More to go to, along with all that came before, when I wanted to feel most in touch with myself, to be reminded of what has always spoken most strongly to me. And following the new touchstones led me to communities where I made some incredible, like-minded friends who make my life more beautiful.

Why glam?

Because lessons I learned watching and listening to glam bands inform me as I make and perform my own music. I don’t ape them, but I do owe them some thanks. (Small paragraph, but a massively important part of my life.)

Why glam?

a shot from the video with eyes blacked out for anonymityBecause a music video last year (and, yes, we’ll get to that this month as well) stopped me short. In a moment of self-analysis, of asking myself what felt most truly me and what I might have accidentally let recent events push me away from, I first saw this video. So, so glam. Dripping and oozing with so much of what spoke to me. And, pushing through my jealousy that someone else had gone there and I had not (yet…someday, I will…), I realised some of what had been set aside. I’m not claiming I’m 100% glam; I’m too multi-faceted and eclectic and in favour of not confining myself to labels to even consider that. But many of my most joyful and vibrant bits tie to my glam facets. And my understanding of my gender, of my attractions, of the social norms I’m turned off by certainly tie back to a three-year-old toddler in a flat on the other side of the ocean, wide-eyed, innocent, and dreaming of leaving a glitter trail to the stars.

Yes, glam leaves behind a little innocence, but the parts of me that dream deepest and that are most in touch with my unsullied and childlike self are rooted in that shimmering and magical place.

If you’re hunting down a general education on glam, I’d suggest you find (if possible; it’s not currently available on the official site), the two-part BBC Radio 6 Glory of Glam series. I’ve also just today received a parcel containing the Glam! The Performance of Style companion book (oh, how I wish I’d seen the exhibit…), and it looks promising.