David Bowie’s Music Video “Jump They Say” Pays Tribute to Marker’s La Jetée, Godard’s Alphaville, Welles’ The Trial & Kubrick’s 2001

Last week we fea­tured William Gib­son’s mem­o­ry of the first time he saw La Jetée, Chris Mark­er’s influ­en­tial 1962 sci­ence-fic­tion short film con­struct­ed almost entire­ly out of still pho­tographs. In the Guardian arti­cle on the film’s lega­cy that quotes Gib­son, we also hear from direc­tor Mark Romanek, who speaks of being “exposed to Chris Mark­er’s work at a par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sion­able age.” Romanek, known for the fea­ture films One Hour Pho­to and Nev­er Let Me Go, has worked pri­mar­i­ly as a music video direc­tor, and in 1993 he got the chance to do a trib­ute to Mark­er in the video for David Bowie’s “Jump They Say.”

“Bowie and I shared an admi­ra­tion for La Jetée, so we con­trived to pay homage to it,” says Romanek. “The idea of mak­ing those icon­ic still images move seemed both excit­ing and some­how a lit­tle sac­ri­le­gious.” The obser­vant Mark­er fan will notice strong echoes of the film in the char­ac­ters and the events of the music video, espe­cial­ly when Bowie’s char­ac­ter gets dragged off by a pack of post-apoc­a­lyp­ti­cal­ly Gal­lic-look­ing tech­no-thugs and strapped into what looks like the very same wired-up ham­mock and mask used to send the pro­tag­o­nist of La Jetée back through time.

But much more went into this influ­ence-rich project than an appre­ci­a­tion for Chris Mark­er. Bowie described the song itself to the New Musi­cal Express as “semi-based on my impres­sion of my step­broth­er” Ter­ry Burns, who had tak­en his own life eight years ear­li­er. In the video, the singer’s char­ac­ter winds up tak­ing a fly­ing leap from the 29th floor of an office build­ing, thus escap­ing the oppres­sion and para­noia of his slick­ly sin­is­ter near-future cor­po­rate set­ting, which owes much to the ver­sion of Paris that Jean-Luc Godard offered up in his 1965 sci-fi noir Alphav­ille.

We might say that the sharp-suit­ed, sharp­er-haired incar­na­tion of Bowie here jumps as a way out of a world with which he can­not rea­son, and artists who want to depict such a world have often looked to the work of Franz Kaf­ka as an exam­ple. In this case, Bowie and Romanek draw from Orson Welles’ film adap­ta­tion of Kafka’s The Tri­al (espe­cial­ly its use of cor­ri­dors), which came out the very same year as La Jetée did. Enthu­si­asts of 1960s film will also notice that 2001: A Space Odyssey also had its impact on the pro­duc­tion design (espe­cial­ly as regards female cos­tum­ing). But what did the man behind the main inspi­ra­tion think? “I was deeply relieved,” says Romanek, “to hear that Mr. Mark­er was pleased and not offend­ed by the ges­ture.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie Releas­es 36 Music Videos of His Clas­sic Songs from the 1970s and 1980s

How “Space Odd­i­ty” Launched David Bowie to Star­dom: Watch the Orig­i­nal Music Video From 1969

The Sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust: How David Bowie Cre­at­ed the Char­ac­ter that Made Him Famous

How Chris Marker’s Rad­i­cal Sci­Fi Film, La Jetée, Changed the Life of Cyber­punk Prophet, William Gib­son

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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