Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mon Oncle (1958) & Playtime (1967)

One of the greatest things about living in Los Angeles is the opportunity to see a lot of movies on film prints that are only available to most of the rest of the country on DVD - it definitely makes up for the traffic and pollution. Once or twice a year the American Cinematheque will show 70mm prints of a selection of movies, usually including stuff like 2001, Apocalypse Now, and Jacques Tati's Playtime. While I've been a big fan of Tati's M. Hulot's Holiday for years and years, I had somehow never seen any of his other films, so I went down to Santa Monica this last Sunday to catch up.

Playtime is the kind of film that, after seeing it for the first time in 70mm, you wonder how you ever got along without it. It's a spectacular achievement, a reconstruction from the ground up of what modern life in Paris felt like in the 1960s, reconfigured and choreographed into a gentle comic ballet. Tati constructed entire office buildings and streets in a Paris backlot, shot for something like three years, went bankrupt, but emerged with this amazing film.

When I see people commenting lately about the Wachowski brothers 'reinventing cinema' with Speed Racer and its frenetic rush of images, I want to counter with this film, which has a very leisurely editing pace but crams so many characters and activities and motivations into every frame. One film scholar has said that the film not only needs to be seen multiple times, but from multiple different areas of the theater, to be fully appreciated, which sounds right to me, especially in the madcap hour-long sequence set inside a fancy restaurant on opening night in which all hell breaks loose.

Afterwards I watched the DVD of Tati's Mon Oncle, which is set partially in a modern suburban house full of uncomfortable furniture and electric gizmos, and therefore bridges the gap between M. Hulot's Holiday, set in a small seaside resort town, and Playtime. Mon Oncle is probably the least of the three films, lacking the unity or purpose of each of them, but even a relatively weaker Tati film is still pretty much a masterpiece, especially when it involves both a satiric critique of the French bourgeoisie, and watching people walk face-first into streetlamps.

Mon Oncle: 8/10
Playtime: 10/10


K. Bowen said...

I've never seen, but it's on my list. Maybe there's a thought for the weekend.

K. Bowen said...


I'm missing a word.

Alexander Coleman said...

Playtime is a masterpiece, and, I think, the real summit of Tati's art. Definitely recommended, K. Bowen.

Craig Kennedy said...

Not even really sure where to begin with Tati. He has his roots in silent comedy of course, but there's something else about him.

There's a beguiling gentleness at play in his work. I find myself smiling more than busting a gut while I'm watching him, but this is a good thing. His films never attain the kind of obnoxious, manic quality you get so often with this kind of thing.

I also saw Playtime via the American Cinematheque. Last year I think.

An LA treasure.