Study Less, Study Smart: A Longtime Psych Professor Explains How to Study (or Do Any Intellectual Work) Effectively

If you’ve left formal education, you no doubt retain a few good memories from your years as a student. None of them, safe to say, involve studying — assuming you managed to get any studying done in the first place. The unfortunate fact is that few of us ever really come to grips with what it means to study, apart from sitting by oneself with a textbook for hours on end. Despite its obvious inefficiency as a learning method, we’ve all found ourselves doing that kind of “studying” at one time or another. Having taught psychology classes for 40 years, Pierce College professor Marty Lobdell has seen thousands of students laboring, indeed suffering, under similar studying-related assumptions, and in his 8.7-million-times-viewed talk “Study Less, Study Smart,” he sets out to correct them. He has also dispensed his wisdom in a book by the same title.

Not many of us can get much out of a textbook after a few hours with it, or indeed, after more than about thirty minutes. It’s thus at such an interval that Lobdell suggests taking a regular five-minute break to listen to music, play a game, talk to a friend, meditate — to do anything but study — in order to recharge your ability to focus and head off these diminishing returns of absorption. At the end of each entire study session, you’d do well to schedule a bigger reward in order to reinforce the behavior of engaging in study sessions in the first place. Ideally, you’ll enjoy this reward in a different place than you do your studying, which itself shouldn’t be a room that comes with its own distracting primary use, like the bedroom, kitchen, or living room.

Even if you have a dedicated study area (and better yet, a dedicated study lamp that you turn on only while hitting the books), you won’t get much accomplished there if you rely on simply reading texts over and over again in hopes of eventually memorizing their contents. Lobdell recommends focusing primarily on not facts but the broader concepts that organize those facts. An effective means of checking whether you understand a concept is to try explaining it in your own words: Richard Feynman premised his “notebook technique” for learning, previously featured here on Open Culture, on just such a process. You’ll also want to make use of the notes you take in class, but only if you take them in a useful way, which necessitates a process of expansion and revision immediately after each class.

Lobdell has much more advice to offer throughout the full, hourlong talk. In it he also covers the value of study groups; the more questionable value of highlighting; genuine remembering versus simple recognition; the necessity of a good night’s sleep; the “survey, question, read, recite, review” approach to textbooks; and the usefulness of mnemonics (even, or perhaps especially, silly ones). If you’re a student, you can make use of Lobdell’s techniques right away, and if you once were a student, you may find yourself wishing you’d known about them back then. But properly adapted, they can benefit the intellectual work you do at any stage of life. Never, after all, does concentration become less valuable, and never can we claim to have learned something unless we can first make it understood to others – or indeed, to ourselves.

If you want the cliff notes version of the Study Less, Study Smart lecture, watch the video below:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Uncanny Children’s Book Illustrations of Sigmund’s Freud’s Niece, Tom Seidmann-Freud

In 1919, Sigmund Freud published “The ‘Uncanny,’” his rare attempt as a psychoanalyst “to investigate the subject of aesthetics.” The essay arrived in the midst of a modernist revolution Freud himself unwittingly inspired in the work of Surrealists like Salvador Dali, Andre Breton, and many others. He also had an influence on another artist of the period: his niece Martha-Gertrud Freud, who started going by the name “Tom” after the age of 15, and who became known as children’s book author and illustrator Tom Seidmann-Freud after she married Jakob Seidmann and the two established their own publishing house in 1921.

Seidmann-Freud’s work cannot help but remind students of her uncle’s work of the unheimlich—that which is both frightening and familiar at once. Uncanniness is a feeling of traumatic dislocation: something is where it does not belong and yet it seems to have always been there. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Seidmann-Freud’s named their publishing company Peregrin, which comes from “the Latin, Peregrinos,” notes an exhibition catalogue, “meaning ‘foreigner,’ or ‘from abroad’—a title used during the Roman Empire to identify individuals who were not Roman citizens.”

Uncanny dislocation was a theme explored by many an artist—many of them Jewish—who would later be labeled “decadent” by the Nazis and killed or forced into exile. Seidmann-Freud herself had migrated often in her young life, from Vienna to London, where she studied art, then to Munich to finish her studies, and finally to Berlin with her husband. She became familiar with the Jewish philosopher and mystic Gershom Scholem, who interested her in illustrating a Hebrew alphabet book. The project fell through, but she continued to write and publish her own children’s books in Hebrew.

In Berlin, the couple established themselves in the Charlottenburg neighborhood, the center of the Hebrew publishing industry. Seidmann-Freud’s books were part of a larger effort to establish a specifically Jewish modernism. Tom “was a typical example of the busy dawn of the 1920s,” Christine Brinck writes at Der Tagesspiegel. Scholem called the chain-smoking artist an “authentic Bohèmienne” and an “illustrator… bordering on genius.” Her work shows evidence of a “close familiarity with the world of dreams and the subconscious,” writes Hadar Ben-Yehuda, and a fascination with the fear and wonder of childhood.

In her 1923 The Fish’s Journey, Seidmann-Freud draws on a personal trauma, “the first real tragedy to have struck her young life when her beloved brother Theodor died by drowning.” Other works illustrate texts—chosen by Jakob and the couple’s business partner, poet Hayim Nahman Bialik—by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, “with drawings adapted to the landscapes of a Mediterranean community,” “a Jewish, socialist notion… added to the texts,” “and the difference between boys and girls made indecipherable,” the Seidmann-Freud exhibition catalogue points out.

These books were part of a larger mission to “introduce Hebrew-speaking children to world literature, as part of establishing a modern Hebrew society in Palestine.” Tragically, the publishing venture failed, and Jakob hung himself, the event that precipitated Tom’s own tragic end, as Ben-Yehuda tells it:

The delicate, sensitive illustrator never recovered from her husband’s death. She fell into depression and stopped eating. She was hospitalized, but no one from her family and friends, not even her uncle Sigmund Freud who came to visit and to care for her was able to lift her spirits. After a few months, she died of anorexia at the age of thirty-eight.

Seidmann-Freud passed away in 1930, “the same year that the liberal democracy in Germany, the Weimar Republic, started it frenzied downward descent,” a biography written by her family points out. Her work was burned by the Nazis, but copies of her books survived in the hands of the couple’s only daughter, Angela, who changed her name to Aviva and “emigrated to Israel just before the outbreak of World War II.”

The “whimsically apocalyptic” illustrations in books like Buch Der Hasengeschichten, or The Book of Rabbit Stories from 1924, may seem more ominous in hindsight. But we can also say that Tom, like her uncle and like so many contemporary avant-garde artists, drew from a general sense of uncanniness that permeated the 1920s and often seemed to anticipate more full-blown horror. See more Seidmann-Freud illustrations at 50 Watts, the Freud Museum London, KulturPort, and at her family-maintained site, where you can also purchase prints of her many weird and wonderful scenes.

via 50 Watts

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Gruesome Dollhouse Death Scenes That Reinvented Murder Investigations

Who can resist miniatures?

Wee food, painstakingly rendered in felted wool

Matchbook-sized books you can actually read…

Classic record albums shrunk down for mice…

The late Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) definitely loved miniatures, and excelled at their creation, knitting socks on pins, hand rolling real tobacco into tiny cigarettes, and making sure the victims in her realistic murder scene dioramas exhibited the proper degree of rigor mortis and lividity.

Lee began work on her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death at the age of 65, as part of a lifelong interest in homicide investigation.

Her preoccupation began with the Sherlock Holmes stories she read as a girl.

In the 1930s, the wealthy divorcee used part of a sizable inheritance to endow Harvard University with enough money for the creation of its Department of Legal Medicine.

Its first chairman was her friend, George Burgess Magrath, a medical examiner who had shared his distress that criminals were literally getting away with murder because coroners and police investigators lacked appropriate training for forensic analysis.

The library to which Lee donated a thousand books on the topic was named in his honor.

The homemade dioramas offered a more vivid experience than could be found in any book.

Each Nutshell Study required almost half a year’s work, and cost about the same as a house would have at the time. ($6000 in the 1940s.)

“Luckily, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Lee remarked. “It gives me the time and money to follow my hobby of scientific crime detection.”

Although Lee had been brought up in a luxurious 13 bedroom home (8 were for servants’ use), the domestic settings of the Nutshell Studies are more modest, reflective of the victims’ circumstances.

She drew inspiration from actual crimes, but had no interest in replicating their actual scenes. The crimes she authored for her little rooms were composites of the ones she had studied, with invented victims and in rooms decorated according to her imagination.

Her intent was to provide investigators with virgin crime scenes to meticulously examine, culling indirect evidence from the painstakingly detailed props she was a stickler for getting right.

Students were provided with a flashlight, a magnifying glass, and witness statements. Her attention to detail ensured that they would use the full ninety minutes they had been allotted analyzing the scene. Their goal was not to crack the case but to carefully document observations on which a case could be built.

The flawlessness of her 1:12 scale renderings also speaks to her determination to be taken seriously in what was then an exclusively male world. (Women now dominate the field of forensic science.)

Nothing was overlooked.

As she wrote to Dr. Alan Moritz, the Department of Legal Medicine’s second chair, in a letter reviewing proposed changes to some early scenes:

I found myself constantly tempted to add more clues and details and am afraid I may get them “gadgety” in the process. I hope you will watch over this and stop me when I go too far. Since you and I have perpetrated these crimes ourselves we are in the unique position of being able to give complete descriptions of them even if there were no witnesses—very much in the manner of the novelist who is able to tell the inmost thoughts of his characters.

It’s no accident that many of the Nutshell Studies’ little corpses are female.

Lee did not want officers to treat victims dismissively because of gender-related assumptions, whether the scenario involved a prostitute whose throat has been cut, or a housewife dead on the floor of her kitchen, the burners of her stove all switched to the on position.

Would you like to test your powers of observation?

Above are the remains of Maggie Wilson, discovered in the Dark Bathroom‘s tub by a fellow boarder, Lizzie Miller, who gave the following statement:

I roomed in the same house as Maggie Wilson, but knew her only from we met in the hall. I think she had ‘fits’ [seizures]. A couple of male friends came to see her fairly regularly. On Sunday night, the men were there and there was a lot of drinking going on. Some time after the men left, I heard the water running in the bathroom. I opened the door and found her as you see her.

Grim, eh?

Not nearly as grim as what you’ll find in the Parsonage or the Three-Room Dwelling belonging to shoe factory foreman Robert Judson, his wife, Kate, and their baby, Linda Mae.

The period-accurate mini furnishings and fashions may create a false impression that the Mother of Forensic Science’s Nutshell Studies should be relegated to a museum.

In truth, their abundance of detail remains so effective that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore continues to use 18 of them in training seminars to help homicide investigators “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.”

Explore 5 Nutshell Studies—Woodman’s Shack, Attic, Living Room, Garage, and Parsonage Parlor—in 360º compliments of The Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery’s exhibit Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Speak: Watch the Lecture on Effective Communication That Became an MIT Tradition for Over 40 Years

In his legendary MIT lecture “How to Speak,” professor Patrick Winston opens with a story about seeing Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton at a Celebrity Ski Weekend. It was immediately clear to him that he was the better skier, but not because he had more innate athletic ability than an Olympic gold medalist, but because he had more knowledge and practice. These, Winston says, are the key qualities we need to become better communicators. Inherent talent helps, he says, but “notice that the T is very small. What really matters is what you know.”

What some of us know about communicating effectively could fill a greeting card, but it’s hardly our fault, says Winston. Schools that send students into the world without the ability to speak and write well are as criminally liable as officers who send soldiers into battle without weapons. For over 40 years, Winston has been trying to remedy the situation with his “How to Speak” lecture, offered every January,” notes MIT, “usually to overflow crowds.” It became “so popular, in fact, that the annual talk had to be limited to the first 300 participants.”

Now it’s available online, in both video and transcript form, in the talk’s final form from 2018 (it evolved quite a bit over the decades). Professor Winston passed away last year, but his wisdom lives on. Rather than present us with a dry theory of rhetoric and composition, the onetime director of the MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory offers “a few heuristic rules” distilled from “praxis in communication approaches that incorporate Neurolinguistics, Linguistics, Paleoanthropology, Cognitive Science and Computer Science,” writes Minnie Kasyoka.

Winston’s research on “creating machines with the same thought patterns as humans” led him to the following conclusions about effective speaking and writing—observations that have borne themselves out in the careers of thousands of public speakers, job seekers, and professionals of every kind. Many of his heuristics contradict decades of folk opinion on public speaking, as well as contemporary technological trends. For one thing, he says, avoid opening with a joke.

People still settling into their seats will be too distracted to pay attention and you won’t get the laugh. Instead, open with an analogy or a story, like his Mary Lou Retton gambit, then tell people, directly, what they’re going to get from your talk. Then tell them again. And again. “It’s a good idea to cycle on the subject,” says Winston. “Go around it. Go round it again. Go round it again.” It’s not that we should assume our audience is unintelligent, but rather that “at any given moment, about 20%” of them “will be fogged out no matter what the lecture is.” It’s just how the human mind works, shifting attention all over the place.

Like all great works on effective communication, Winston’s talk illustrates his methods as it explains them: he fills the lecture with memorable images—like “building a fence” around his idea to distinguish it from other similar ideas. He continues to use interesting little stories to make things concrete, like an anecdote about a Serbian nun who was offended by him putting his hands behind his back. This is offered in service of his lengthy defense of the blackboard, contra PowerPoint, as the ultimate visual aid. “Now, you have something to do with your hands.”

The talk is relaxed, humorous, and informative, and not a step-by-step method. As Winston says, you can dip in and out of the copious advice he presents, taking rules you think might work best for your particular style of communication and your communication needs. We should all, he emphasizes, hone our own way of speaking and writing. But, “while he never explicitly stresses the ultimate need for rhetorical devices,” Kasyoka points out, he demonstrates that they are imperative.

Professor Winston masterfully uses persuasive techniques to hammer on this point. For example, the use of anadiplosis, that is the repetition of a clause in a sentence for emphasis, is very manifest in this snippet from his talk: “Your careers will be determined largely by how well you speak, by how well you write, and by the quality of your ideas… in that order.” 

How do we learn to use rhetoric as effectively as Winston? We listen to and read effective rhetoric like his. Do so in the video lecture at the top and on the “How to Speak” course page, which has transcripts for download and additional resources for further study.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Foreign Exchange Students Debate Whether American Teenagers Have Too Much Freedom (1954)

The teenager was invented in the 1950s. Of course, the stages of physical development that characterize those years taking us from childhood to adulthood haven’t fundamentally changed as long as Homo sapiens has existed. But even though there were “teenagers” in, say, ancient Rome, they weren’t teenagers as we’ve known them over the past three or four generations. It happened amid the economic growth of the years after World War II, first in the United Kingdom and even more so the United States: adolescents, especially high-school students, turned from mere immature adults into a distinct demographic group with its own tastes, politics, spaces, mobility, and culture.

Before teenagers invaded the rest of the world, they must have struck visitors to America as by turns thrilling and troubling. So it was with the students in the video above, who came to the U.S. in 1955 — the year of Rebel Without a Cause — as participants in the New York Herald Tribune‘s World Youth Forum.

This filmed discussion on the curious phenomenon of the American teenager features Minji Karibo of Nigeria, Nasreen Ahmad of Pakistan, Paik Nak-chung of South Korea, and Ava Leitenan of Finland, all of whom had just spent a few months visiting American schools. Leitenan begins on a positive note: “I didn’t know there would be so much smile,” she says. “I can just feel the friendliness flow against me.”

But as many a first-time traveler in America has discovered, that characteristic (and sometimes overwhelming) friendliness masks a more complex realty. Karibo criticizes American girls who “think it’s fashionable to tell lies about going on dates during weekends, when as a matter of fact they sat at home all the time.” After reminding everyone that “you cannot judge the amount of freedom the American children have by your standard,” Paik admits that “I see such an informality between the ages and between the sexes, I get rather shocked, but the fact that it is shocking does not necessarily mean it is not good for them.”

None of these exchange-student panelists shows more skepticism about America than Ahmad, whose glimpses of dating and education there have confirmed her preference for arranged marriage and sex-segregated schools. Maybe it works for American teenagers, but “if we were given suddenly this amount of freedom,” she says, “I’m afraid you would get fearful consequences.” However much the four disagree about the benefits and dangers of that freedom, they all seem to believe that Americans could stand to reflect on how to make better use of it than they do. “I think it is a lack of intellectual capacity to use their freedom properly,” says the young Paik, trying delicately to pin down the problem with American life.

After the World Youth Forum, Paik traveled the world before finishing high school in Korea. He would then return to the U.S. to study at Brown University before starting his career as a literary critic and public intellectual in his homeland. In 2018 he gave a speech at the University of Chicago on Korea’s “Candlelight Revolution,” and this past summer he published a new book on D.H. Lawrence, which Korean-speakers can hear him interviewed about here. He’s one of the success stories among the many participants in the World Youth Forum, more of whose 1950s discussions — on race, on social relations, the Middle-East conflict — you can watch on this Youtube playlist. 65 years later, no matter our age or nationality, we all have something of the American teenager about us. Whether that’s good or bad remains a matter for debate.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The 1937 Experiment in Distance Learning: When Chicago Schools Went Remote, Over Radio, During a Polio Outbreak

As all of us have noticed in recent months, living in a viral pandemic really messes with your sense of time. A few months feels like a decade. Time slows to a crawl. If you’re a parent, however, you have before you walking, talking, growing, complaining reminders that no matter what’s happening in the world, children still grow up just the same. They need new experiences and new clothes just as before, and they need to keep their brains engaged and try, at least, to build on prior knowledge.

Maybe we’re learning new things, too. (Adult brains also need exercise.) Or not. We have some control over the situation; kids don’t. “Learning loss” over inactive months is real, and the government still has the responsibility (for what the word is worth) to educate them. Online learning may feel like a bad compromise for many families, and its success seems largely dependent—as in regular school—on parent involvement and access to resources. But it’s better than eight months of the more mindless kind of screen time.

It may help to know that remote learning isn’t new, even if we’re still adjusting to technology that lets teachers (and bosses) into our homes with cameras and microphones. The challenges “may seem unprecedented,” Stanford professor Michael Hines writes at The Washington Post, but “educators may be surprised to learn that almost 100 years ago Chicago’s schools faced similar circumstances” during the polio epidemic and met them in a similar way. In 1937, an outbreak forced the city to close schools, and prompted “widespread alarm about lost instructional time and students left to their own devices” (so to speak).

Administrators were “determined to continue instructions for the district’s nearly 325,000 elementary age students” through the only remote technology available, radio, “still fairly new and largely untested in education in the 1930s.” According to Hines, a historian of education in the U.S., the program was very well organized, the lessons were engaging, and educators “actively sought to involve parents and communities” through telephone hotlines they could call with questions or comments. On the first day, they logged over 1,000 calls and added five additional teachers.

You might be wondering—given digital divide problems of online learning today—whether all the students served actually owned a radio and telephone. Katherine Foss, a professor of Media Studies at Middle Tennessee State University, notes that in the late 1930s, “over 80% of U.S. households owned at least one radio, though fewer were found in homes in the southern U.S., in rural areas and among people of color.” Those who didn’t were left out, and school authorities had no way to track attendance. “Access issues received little attention” in the media. School Superintendent William Johnson had no idea how many students tuned in.

The local program lasted less than three weeks before schools reopened. Some felt the instruction moved too quickly and “students who needed more attention or remediation struggled through one-size-fits-all radio lessons,” notes Hines. Educators today will sympathize with the overall sense at the time that those who benefitted most from the radio lessons were students who needed them least.

Learn more about the experiment in Hines’ history lesson (also see Foss’ recent article), and consider the lessons we can apply to the present. Remote education still has flaws, and parents still struggle to find time for involvement, but the technology has made it a viable option for much longer than three weeks, and maybe, given future uncertainties, far longer than that.

via The Conversation

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Explore a Digital Archive of Student Notebooks from Around the World (1773-Present)

To bring back memories of your schooldays, there’s nothing quite like the sight of your old exercise books. This holds true whether you went to school in Ghana in the 2010sItaly in the 90s, France in the 80sChina in the 70sJapan in the 60s, or India in the 50s. All of these examples and many more have come available to view at the Exercise Book Archive, an “ever-growing, participatory archive of old exercise books that allows everyone to discover the history, education, and daily life of children and youth of the past.” All of the entries include the relevant book’s front cover — already a Proustian viewing experience for any who had them growing up — and some feature scans of the interior pages, student writing and all.

One girl’s notebook describes the bombing of her small town in 1940s Switzerland,” writes Collectors Weekly‘s Hunter Oatman-Stanford. “Another boy’s journal chronicles daily life in rural Pennsylvania during the 1890s; the diary of a Chinese teenager recounts his experiences in prison during the 1980s.” The article quotes Thomas Pololi, co-founder of the organization behind the Exercise Book Archive, on the historical value of books containing “compositions about war, propaganda, or political events that we now recognize as terrible.

But in the narration of children, there is often enthusiasm about the swastika in Germany, or the Duce in Italy (dictator Benito Mussolini), or for Mao in China.” (Thanks to the work of volunteers, these and other exercise-book writings have been transcribed and translated into English.)

These young students “tended to see the positive side of traumatic things, perhaps because their main goal is to grow up, and they needed to do it the world they lived in.” Their exercise books thus offer reflections of their societies, in not just content but design as well: “In Spain or in China,” for example, “you see beautiful illustrations of propaganda themes. They are often aesthetically appealing because they were meant to persuade children to do or think something.” Educational trends also come through: “Before, there were mainly exercises of calligraphy with dictated sentences about how you have to behave in your life, with phrases like ‘Emulation seldom fails,'” which to Pololi’s mind “implies that if you are yourself, you risk failing. That’s the opposite of what we teach children nowadays.”

Somehow the most mundane of these student compositions can also be among the most interesting. Take the journal of a group of Finnish girl scouts from the early 1950s. “The train to Leppävaara arrived quickly,” writes the author of one entry from April 1950. “At the station it started to rain. We walked to the youth house, where we sang ‘Exalt the joy’ etc. Then we went to the sauna where we had to be. We sang and prayed. We then ate some sandwiches.” Could she have possibly imagined people all around the world reading of this girl-scout day trip with great interest seventy years later? And what would the young man doing his penmanship nearly a quarter-millennium ago in Shropshire think if he know how eager we were to look at his exercise book? Better us than his schoolmaster, no doubt. Enter the Exercise Book Archive here.

via Collectors Weekly

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Understanding Chris Marker’s Radical Sci-Fi Film La Jetée: A Study Guide Distributed to High Schools in the 1970s

Pop quiz, hot shot. World War III has devastated civilization. As a prisoner of survivors living beneath the ruins of Paris, you’re made to go travel back in time, to the era of your own childhood, in order to secure aid for the present from the past. What do you do? You probably never faced this question in school — unless you were in one of the classrooms of the 1970s that received the study guide for Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Like the innovative 1962 science-fiction short itself, this educational pamphlet was distributed (and recently tweeted out again) by Janus Films, the company that first brought to American audiences the work of auteurs like Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa.

Written by Connecticut prep-school teacher Tom Andrews, this study guide describes La Jetée as “a brilliant mixture of fantasy and pseudo-scientific romance” that “explores new dramatic territory and forms, and rushes with a stunning logic and a powerful impact to its shocking climax.”

The film does all this “almost entirely in still photographs, their static state corresponding to the stratification of memory.” More practically speaking, at “twenty-seven minutes in length, La Jetée is an ideal class-period vehicle” that “can help students speculate on the awesome potential of life as it may exist after a third world war” as well as “man’s inhumanity to man, not only as it may occur in the future, but as it already has occurred in our past.”

“Why do you suppose Marker filmed La Jetée in still photographs? What significance does the one moment of live action have?” “How does Marker’s concept of time and space compare with that of H.G. Wells in the latter’s novel, The Time Machine?” “If the man of this story has helped his captors to perfect the technique of time travel, why do they wish to liquidate him?” These and other suggested discussion questions appear at the end of the study guide, all of whose pages you can read at Socks. It was produced for Films for Now and The Human Condition, “two repertories for high school assemblies and group discussions” based on Janus’ formidable cinema library. (François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows also looks to have been among their educational offerings.) You can see further analysis of La Jetée in A.O. Scott’s New York Times Critics’ Picks video, as well as the Criterion Collection video essay Echo Chamber: Listening to La Jetée.

Much later, in the mid-1990s, Terry Gilliam would pay tribute with his Hollywood homage 12 Monkeys, and Marker himself still had many films to make, including his second masterpiece, the equally unconventional Sans Soleil. But at time of this study guide’s publication, La Jetée’s considerable influence had only just begun to manifest. It was around then that pioneering cyberpunk novelist William Gibson viewed the film in college. “I left the lecture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, profoundly alone,” he later remembered. “My sense of what science fiction could be had been permanently altered.” Perhaps his instructor heeded Andrews’ advice that “teachers would probably do better not to ‘prepare’ their students for viewing this film.” Not that anyone, in the 58 years of the film’s existence, has anyone ever truly been prepared for their first viewing of La Jetée.

Related Content:

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

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

Petite Planète: Discover Chris Marker’s Influential 1950s Travel Photobook Series

A Concise Breakdown of How Time Travel Works in Popular Movies, Books & TV Shows

Free MIT Course Teaches You to Watch Movies Like a Critic: Watch Lectures from The Film Experience

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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