From La Jetée, the cathedral is destroyed by World War III
From La Jetée, the Cathedral is destroyed by World War III

Many things entered my mind as I watched, while waiting for a flight in Toronto's main airport, live footage of the cathedral burning in Paris. In this post, I want to mention only one of these things, which connected the images on the flat screen above a bar operated by an elderly Canadian woman with a series of images in the black-and-white 1962 experimental film, La Jetée. Directed by Chris Marker, and composed of photos that have the feel and mood of a movie, La Jetée has a sequence that, in my mind, dubs the destruction viewed on screens around the world: the flames, the smoke, the hell-hot lead.

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The sequence in La Jetée occurs right after the hero of the story sees something strange at an airport jetty. Then World War III happens. Then there is a haunting image of Paris: A skeletal Eiffel tower, Napolean's tomb, the Gothic spire of the cathedral, the sky on fire. Accompanying this apocalyptic image—which is followed by others that show rubble in the streets, rubble in the river, rubble piled up in a cathedral—is an otherworldly Russian Orthodox liturgy arranged and conducted by Piotr V. Spassky and is called "Krestu Tvoyemu." In La Jetée, it sounds exactly like the end of the world, and also like how that smoke-engulfed spire went down in flames and the roof of the cathedral crashed.

La Jetée

There is even an image in the La Jetée sequence of the war's aftermath that will resemble the cathedral after the fires die and smoke clears. This is dub time, which is significant because Marker's film is about time-travel. In fact, the hero is caught in a temporal loop: the woman's face, the airport, the war, the eternal return. It all recalls that those dub experiments that have an echo come before the sound from which it originates. It is the ghost before its thingness. It moves back to its sources, as the music moves forward in time. This illusion is beautiful, and scrambles one's sense of time. The future before the past. And so it is with the destroyed cathedral; it is moving back in time, as time moves forward, to its source, which is in La Jetée.

As for the sudden, unexpected destruction of an ancient building that was, for many (maybe too many), an icon of permanence (an imposing structure that "sailed the centuries," as Proust described the fictional cathedral in Swann's Way)—please don't cry over it. It's only, as Grace Jones once put it, the rhythm. Also, I recommend demolishing the whole old business and making it into what it truly aspired to be, but ultimately failed to become due to the period's rude technologies: spiritual. This effect can be achieved with 3D light projectors. The Christian spiritual is closer to light than stone. If you have any doubts about a 3D cathedral, I recommend you see the renewed Buddhas in Afghanistan. After the Taliban blew "apart and left in rubble" the 6th century Buddhas in 2001, the computer technology that "gives us images of Tupac Shakur or Michael Jackson in concert" was applied with great success on the Bamiyan Buddhas. The same could be true for the cathedral. Wipe your eyes and appreciate the possibility of a stoneless future for the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.