Saturday, October 27, 2007


This week’s movie:

A comedy of epic proportions!

The people who put up the money to make movies generally only amass a huge budget for action movies, or war epics, or star-studded thrillers, or science fiction, or FX extravaganzas. They generally don’t throw big bucks at comedies. That’s why French film-maker and actor Jacques Tati put up his own money to make Playtime exactly the way he wanted it. The result is probably the greatest biggest most ambitious most thought provoking ……..and funniest comedy of all time. But let me explain a little, because everybody has a different idea of what’s funny.

This is not the crude Porky’sAmerican Pie – the girl gets her top ripped off and then some poor schmo ends up eating poop - kind of funny. It’s also not the witty Tracey & Hepburn or sophisticated Some Like it Hot kind of funny. It’s not even the kind of dialog-driven intellectual give and take between two people where they talk about a variety of topics and the comedy arises from the juxtaposition of both mundane and absurd content, all with an underlying theme stretching the arc of the film and which is either resolved – or at least better understood by the end – such as in the similar (sarcasm) films Clerks and My Dinner With Andre.

Most comedies derive their laughs from dialog. Shoot out those one-liners, two-liners – certainly not more than three-liners. Some of it is situation comedy where they set up a thing where the characters misinterpret something and go through the movie completely clueless – hilarity ensues. In PLAY TIME, there’s practically no dialog, it isn’t necessary. Instead, the comedy (as well as other things – awe, social observation, etc.) is physical – or at least, visual. This put PLAY TIME on the same footing as say Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (a FranksFilms favorite), or the films of Buster Keaton. Jacques Tati was indeed the Charlie Chaplin of his day – but PLAY TIME is in no way, a silent film. For one thing, it was released in 1967. Secondly, it far surpasses most movies in sheer visual scope. There are only a small handful of films that transcend the visual medium, that transcends its own genre to deliver a film-maker’s artistic vision – this is one of them.

“But Frank, why should I see it? It sounds pretentious! What if I don’t like it?”

No guarantees, but here are a few things to consider.

  1. Cinephiles (film nuts, like me) will tell you that the only way to really see this film is on the big screen in the theatre (Cinephiles always use the “” spelling in stead of the “.er” spelling as in theater. That’s how you know they’re Cinephiles.) That’s because there aren’t a lot of close-ups. Most, if not all, of the camera work is in long shots, back from the main action, with lots of stuff going on on the screen – and you need a big screen to get it all in. While this is true in principle, I do believe that it’s no longer playing in the theatres (or theaters for that matter). However, with the proliferation of large screen plasma and LCD televisions, it’s not bad. I, myself, recently watched it on my 28 year old – nowhere near being flat screened – tiny CRT television, and enjoyed it just fine.
  2. The film was recently restored and released on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection. They did an excellent job revitalizing the color and sound track. Pass up the older VHS version and look for the DVD.
  3. Being an older movie, local video rental stores may not carry it (mine doesn’t). You may find it at your local library (I did). If not, the most on-line sources carry it.
  4. Don’t confuse this with the 1994 film, also called Play Time. You may see more than you bargained for.
  5. Like Chaplin’s “Modern Times”, it portrays people trying to navigate a modern technological world.
  6. The film takes place in Paris – but this is not the real Paris. Tati constructed a replica of Paris on his movie set at huge cost. It is the essence of Paris – actually of any large modern city. In this way, he was able to eliminate the clutter of a real city, and show only those elements necessary for the film (there has never been a cleaner or nicer Paris anywhere). Today, he would have used CGI. In 1967, it had to be built from scratch.
  7. There is no equivalent to Jacques Tati today. PLAY TIME was his masterpiece, but it’s not like ordinary films. It has no plot, it has no dialog to speak of, there’s no real narrative. If you start watching this film expecting conventional movie story elements, you may be disappointed. But if you keep an open mind, you won’t soon forget it.
  8. If you want to get a better feel for Tati comedy, try some of his other films like Mon oncle, or M. Hulot’s Holiday. Like PLAY TIME they also feature Tati’s alter ego Monsieur Hulot.
  9. Scores a 100% on the tomatometer. Not 99% - 100% ! Read some of the critical reviews there.
  10. You can read film critic, Roger Ebert’s review of PLAYTIME here.
  11. As always, Jacques Tati’s films are suitable for the whole family. Even the dog.

You deserve a little PLAY TIME


view trailer


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