Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Jacques Tati: Playtime et Trafic

Two more enduring comedies:
PLAYTIME, 1967: Regarded by many as Jacques Tati's masterpiece, PLAYTIME is a surreal, comic vision of modern life (and this was the 1960s, 50 years ago) in which the director's much-loved character, Monsieur Hulot - accompanied by a cast of tourists and well-heeled Parisians - turns unintentional anarchist when set loose in an unrecognisable Paris of steel skyscrapers, chrome-plated shopping malls and futuristic night spots, not to mention that nightmare cube office! It all look fabulous on Blu-ray, as though shot yesterday ...

Monsieur Hulot has to contact an American official in Paris, but he gets lost in the maze of modern architecture which is filled with the latest technical gadgets. Caught in the tourist invasion, Hulot roams around Paris with a group of American tourists, causing chaos in his usual manner.
The action is divided into the following: Arrivals at Paris airport / the office maze / Barbara's photos / The trade fair / The travel agency / Rush hour / Apartment windows / The restaurant opening / The Royal Garden / At the Drugstore / Demolition / Last-minute shopping / Carousel and departure.
The centre-piece for me is the long, hilarious restaurant sequence where chic Parisians try to dance on the tiny dance-floor as the lounge music grows more insistent and the harried waiters serve the tables, its just got to be seen to be appreciated. Then there is the nightmare office sequence with workers in their separate cubes, as well as looking it at all those glass windows of apartments, and the all glass travel agency, rush hour on the buses as we follow those bemused tourists around. Hilarous too is the tourist Barbara trying to photograph the precariously-placed old flower-seller on that crowded pavement!

PLAYTIME is not all about Mr Hulot, who is an interloper here, the set though is amazing conjuring up a real yet absurd version of Paris - or indeed any large city. The set was dubbed "Tativille", where 100 construction workers built two buildings using 11,700 square feet of glass, 38,700 square feet of plastic, 31,500 square feet of timber, and 486,000 square feet of concrete, but the film was not a financial success at the time, leaving Tati in debt for years. 

TRAFIC, 1971, Tati's final outing as Mr Hulot, is equally enjoyable and has that authentic fuzzy 70s look. Who knew watching people driving could be so much fun. Here, we have the bumbling, amiable Hulot as the designer of an absurd camper van which has to go to a motor show in Amsterdam. He accompanies the the van as the satire on man's obsession with motor transport mixes wonderful observational comedy with some laugh out-loud moments, as every possible disaster happens en route so the show is over by the time they finally arrive. When I saw this originally in the cinema it was so funny when the fluffy dog was mistaken for the sheepskin jacket under the car-wheel ! Tati's typically subtle choreography of people and cars is a rewarding lesson in how to see the world anew, as the blurb ideally puts it. 
Again, the centre-piece is a brilliantly choreographed traffic accident with cars banging into each other as bits fall off, and that delirious scene at the police station as they have to display the camper van in it's his glory to the traffic cops. Amusing too is the PR girl, Maria Kimberley, with the fluffy dog and her snazzy yellow sports car whizzing in and out of traffic, who starts off a pain but becomes more human by the end, as she and Hulot disappear into the wet throng of people with umbrellas. 
One should keep Tati's films near to hand for wet boring afternoons or for when one needs a lift. Like Buster Keaton he is one of cinema's great clowns and innovators. One has to go back now to MON UNCLE and his earlier films. Tati (1907-1982) died of pneumonia aged 75, but his legacy goes on. Whenever I want a good laugh in future I am putting on that restaurant scene in PLAYTIME!

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