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Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Tati’

Who Turned Out The Dark?: Visual Shrinkage in the Digital Age

April 24, 2012 2 comments

George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, good buddies in their student days, are frequently cited as the first Computer Boys of the film industry. Both have claimed that film itself is a technology.

Maybe they’re still saying it, but times have changed. We live in a time where film is becoming data. Digitalization of movies has been discussed at length, especially the presumed effect on preservation, fidelity, and economics. But what about us? How does it change the moviegoing experience? For decades, shooting 24 frames across the screen in one second was a miracle. Should we be bothered by all the Ones and Zeros?

Regardless of whether you have a simple crush on Jude Law or an incurable obsession with film, it’s almost guaranteed that you have seen at least a clip of something online and done so illegally. According to the NPD Group, for every legally downloaded movie in the US there are twelve pictures obtained illegally. The MPAA claims that this trend costs the industry over 20 billion dollars annually. A Nielson study states that 73% of adults avoid movie theaters because they believe the cost to be too high. But can we really blame Hollywood? The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings have accounted for a dominating share of 21st Century Hollywood income, not to mention the numerous superhero releases. Some blockbusters manage to maintain decent critical opinion, but the majority are met with disdain — even by the millions of people willing to shell out $8 to see them. Even those of us who need to constantly satiate our film addiction know that The Digital Age has changed the game. Cinephilia has always been a wild race, but now it’s a stationary sprint. Elaborate home theaters and tiny computers have replaced the Silver Screen. It used to be a global scavenger hunt for the newest restoration of Napoleon, now the adventure hardly takes us further than the laundry room. Instead of chasing down that elusive screening of Fig Leaves with our friends, we wait for a torrent or, in the worst case, Criterion to publish a $30 special edition Blu-Ray. The data and our own habits have taught us that convenience trumps quality. The Digital Age has brought history’s theater to our laps. Read more…

Play Time (Tati, 1967)

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Play Time is a film of astonishing complexity. Tati’s performance of this mammoth piece succeeds as both a satire on the absurdity of modern tourism and an unthinkable demonstration of fulfilled imagination. It is famously unwatchable in one sitting. That’s not true, but it does yield magnificent insights for those who brave this new Paris.

Tati constructs Play Time in unflinching diagonals. Like Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, from which it clearly takes influence, the film revels in the construction of right angles but is always photographed from a diagonal. This is the source of subtle visual tension which Tati is able to sustain throughout the entire process. It is a touch that renders Play Time with that elusive coherence and consistency usually absent in the presence of absurdity. Another component to the consistency is character. Barbara and Hulot share our curiosity and confusion. We are grounded in their solid construction like we would be in any more conventional narrative. Hulot is the perfect character to take us through this labyrinth. Tati, acting as Hulot, plays both our emotional (Hulot — curiosity, confusion, exploration) and physical (director — mise en scene) tour guide. Ultimately, the style is arresting. Angular tension binds with bold consistency to create an entirely watchable film.

In addition, Tati out-Altman’s Altman years before M*A*S*H made him popular. The sound is layered and marvelous, not unlike the visuals, and just as dense with gags. Primary focal points are invariably covered up. English speaking audiences will be rewarded by numerous auditory jokes in both foreground and buried deep into the background. The visual gags are numerous and often simultaneous. Scenes involve incredibly dense, complex, precise comic choreography. Not unlike Keaton, Tati possesses unshakable artistic control and a belief in the subtle comedy of location.

Play Time is an astonishing ballet of cinematic possibilities. One only has to think of someone like Malick to realize that Tati imbues every frame with electricity and spirit while making it look effortless. Is it a perfect film? If not, the accomplishment is nothing short of being, quite literally, an absurd miracle. Play Time is a grand fugue of the cinema with lighthearted subject and angular answer. It is capable of anything — arresting crescendi, subtle sequencing, revealing comedy, and simple beauty. How Tati managed to fulfill this dream will forever remain an object of fascination and a testament to the potential of genius.

98.8 (The highest rating I’ve yet assigned)

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