Sunday, 8 January 2012


Playtime (1967)
By Jaques Tati
125 min

Sunday 29th January | Doors 7pm | Free admission

52-56 Lancaster St
London SE1


Jacques Tati's Playtime is perhaps the only epic achievement of the modernist cinema, a film that not only accomplishes the standard modernist goals of breaking away from closed classical narration and discovering a new, open form of story-telling, but also uses that form to produce an image of an entire society. After building a solid international audience through the 1950s with his comedies Jour de fête , Mr. Hulot's Holiday , and Mon oncle , Tati spent ten years on the planning and execution of what was to be his masterpiece, selling the rights to all his old films to raise the money he needed to construct the immense glass and steel set—nicknamed "Tativille"—that was his vision of modern Paris. The film—two hours and 35 minutes long, in 70mm and stereophonic sound—opened in France in 1967, and was an instant failure.

Playtime is what its title suggests—an idyll for the audience, in which Tati asks us to relax and enjoy ourselves in the open space his film creates, a space cleared of the plot-line tyranny of "what happens next?," of enforced audience identification with star performers, and of the rhetorical tricks of mise-en-scène and montage meant to keep the audience in the grip of pre-ordained emotions. Tati leaves us free to invent our own movie from the multitude of material he offers.

One of the ways in which Tati creates the free space of Playtime is by completely disregarding conventional notions of comic timing and cutting. There is no emphasis in the montage to tell us when to laugh, no separation in the mise-en-scène of the gag from the world around it. Instead of using his camera to break down a comic situation—to analyze it into individual shots and isolated movement—he uses deep-focus images to preserve the physical wholeness of the event and long takes to preserve its temporal integrity. Other gags and bits of business are placed in the foreground and background; small patterns, of gestures echoed and shapes reduplicated, ripple across the surface of the image. We can't look at Playtime as we look at an ordinary film, which is to say, passively, through the eyes of the director. We have to roam the image—search it, work it, play with it.

With its universe of Mies van der Rohe boxes, Playtime is often described as a satire on the horrors of modern architecture. But the glass and steel of Playtime is also a metaphor for all rigid structures, from the sterile environments that divide city dwellers to the inflexible patterns of thought that divide and compartmentalize experience, separating comedy from drama, work from play. The architecture of Playtime is also an image for the rhetorical structures of classical filmmaking: the hard, straight lines are the lines of plot, and the plate glass windows are the shots that divide the world into digested, inert fragments.

By Dave Kehr

Read more:

  So Let Me Have My Fun!
A Canzonetta by Aldo Palazzeschi

Twee twee twee,
froo froo froo,
eehu eehu eehu,
uhee uhee uhee!
The poet’s having fun,
he’s insane,
he’s out of control!
Don’t insult him,
let him have his fun –
poor guy,
these little pranks
are his only pleasure.

Cocca docca,
Cocca docca,
What are these vulgarities,
these oafish strophes?
Liberties, liberties,
poetic liberties!
They’re my passion.

Know what this is?
It’s very advanced stuff,
nothing silly –
it’s the chaff
of other poems.