French actor, director, screenwriter and producer Jacques Tati’s masterful 1967 comedy “ Play Time” is a classic satire on modernist architecture, urbanisation and tourism, a perfectly orchestrated city symphony
The title of conductor seems more apt than director, for Tati oversees a veritable symphony of color, motion, and sound with virtuoso precision.
Though he made only a handful of feature films – there is a natural progression in Tati’s films from the mocked but adored countryside ( Jour de fête,) , to the stifling dullness of suburbs ( Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle ) to the crushing inhumanity of mega-cities and roads (in Play Tme and Trafic) and Parade – making Jacques Tati among the most beloved of all cinematic geniuses.
His work represents the great migration of people and objects from the countryside to the city, from the ancient world to the modern world.
In Play Time, Tati’s character, M. Hulot, and a group of American tourists attempt to navigate a futuristic Paris constructed of straight lines, modernist glass and steel high-rise buildings, multi-lane roadways, and cold, artificial furnishings.
Play Time is a very funny film with the humour created through circumstances brought about by a barrage of modern impracticalities and the bumbling Hulot’s ( plated by Tati himself) attempts to navigate the overwhelming changes that have transformed the Paris he once knew.
Tati’s gloriously choreographed, nearly wordless comedies about confusion in an age of high technology, reached their apex with Play Time where characters, story, and dialogue are all but absent, creating a lasting record questioning whether the new is really all that better than the old it is replacing.
From the clinically ordered opening sequences in the sparse, empty airport to the subtle meaning of the heart warmingly sweet gesture of Hulot’s parting gift, this is a wonderful film from a filmmaker who has never forgotten the world he grew up in and never let go of the importance of human connection within a material-minded world that has become increasingly distracted.
Many postwar cultures rebuilt their cities after the war zones raged between the Axis and the Allies and reduced much of ‘Old Europe’ to rubble.
The architectural concept of the ‘new city’ or the ‘city of the future’ consequently took on a more pragmatic and urgent function as cities literally had to be re-built. Different European cultures approached the resultant problems of design, theory, practice, purpose and usage from different perspectives.
In Tati’s view, the French seemed absurdly attracted to the new-fangled gadgetry designed to make postwar affluence into a strange puppet-like existence. As such, notions of architecture, interior design, urban planning, transport, industrial design, consumerism and the growing leisure industries are all incorporated into the look, feel and sound of his films.
Play Time portrays clearly the beginning of the rise of modern architecture and the corresponding modern lifestyle of French society.
Paris is shown as a city designed purely for aesthetic power and modernity yet unsuitable for human habitation.
In this modern, nearly unrecognizable version of Paris that was entirely constructed for the film, the viewer is repeatedly shown the absurd relationship between people and a modern environment in which everything has been standardized. Most of the film is set in cold, sterile and lifeless ultra-modern buildings and artificial furnishings made up of pods and box-shaped offices and apartments.
The movie’s carefully considered environment shows characteristics of the modernist movement at that time: repetition and regularity (the result of industrialisation) are represented from the smallest objects in the interiors to the larger scale of the city’s urban plan.
His film is about how humans wander baffled and yet hopeful through impersonal cities and sterile architecture.
Modern industrial technologies, accepted as necessary by society, are represented by Tati as obstructions to daily life and an interference to natural human interaction.
The film remains legendary for its breathtaking widescreen compositions, its exclusive reliance on medium and long shots, and the dizzying whirl of people and objects that characterizes every scene – ” A hallucinatory comic vision.”
As Monsieur Hulot and a group of American tourists repeatedly cross paths in Paris during a single 24-hour period, Tati consistently keeps his 70mm camera beyond arm’s length and clutters his soundtrack with random and overlapping snatches of dialogue, musique concrète, and gonzo sound effects.
Noel Burch noted …… “that the film has to be viewed “several times, each from a different seat in the auditorium in order to view the many small, tightly-choreographed sight gags by several different actors, sometimes displayed nearly simultaneously on the huge screen required for 70 mm film.”
Play Time is one of the most practically ambitious films ever made, and though it nourished Tati’s soul, it also destroyed his career and destabilized his life
David Bellos’s biography on Tati assesses Play Time as “an expression of wonderment at humankind’s ability to create.”
Set Design – ” Tativille “
According to Tati biographer David Bellos, the contract for “Film Tati No. 4” was signed in 1959 with the provisional title Recréation.
For his new film, Tati needed a set as vast as the streamlined public buildings and roadways that were soon to change the face of Paris forever
During pre-production, Tati visited many factories and airports throughout Europe ( including the Stockholm Arlanda airport, the German factories Siemens and AFG and some places considered as futuristic in Berlin, Brussels, Cologne, Geneva, etc. ) before his cinematographer Jean Badal came to the conclusion that he needed to build his own skyscraper.
Badal was adamant, “If you want to shoot scenes of reflected clouds moving across the glass panes of a skyscraper, you will have to have the skyscraper all to yourself” … and that was what Tati did !
Not many filmmakers get to build their own city, but that’s exactly what French film director Jacques Tati did for his masterpiece, Play Time.
On an open field east of Paris, Tati created a combination of airline terminal, city streets, shops and high rise office blocks and a traffic roundabout – all designed in the most perfect shiny emptiness of the late International Style.
The massive set known as “Tativille” was built on land leased by the Parisian city council, in Saint-Meurice, at the southeast corner of the city ( on a vacant lot close to Gravelle, Joinville )
Conceived by Tati and drawn by architect / art director Eugène Roman, Tativille gradually emerged in September 1964, from a 15,000 sq m wasteland in Joinville-Le-Pont
It is possible to think that the set of Play Time referred to the area of La Defense, but because the regulations in Paris to build high-rise buildings only changed after Charles de Gaulle got elected again in 1962, there wasn’t a lot built yet, when Tati started his Tativille.
NB – the 1967 video below shows the building of Tativille as well as following Jacques Tati around the sets – includes filming, make up, cardboard extras, moving buildings, interview and close up with Barbara, rehearsing the office cubicle scenes, interviews and commentary by Jacques, Mr Giffard and Hulot finding each other — enjoy ! — ( Best viewed in Full Screen )
The Tativille sets were covered with photographic prints of non reflective metallic surfaces, so as to make sure no crew or equipment or lights might ever be caught by accident.
The Play Time sets didn’t pretend to be real and were clearly recognizable as such and to save money, some of the building facades and the interior of the Orly set were actually giant photographs.
But, of course, it wasn’t just any city; it was the city Jacques Tati needed to continue to explore his idea of the modern city, and, in order to get the shot that he required, the office blocks were in fact on wheels and tracks and could be moved at will to satisfy the vision of the director
No ‘real city’ could have given him that flexibility.
Tati’s Specta Films built Tativille: an entire city inhabited by no one but actors – who left after each day of filming.
Specta Films employed about 100 workers laboured ceaselessly for 5 months to construct this revolutionary studio with transparent partitions, which extended over 15,000 square metres.
One estimate puts the total mass of built space and material at …….
3,400 sq mtrs of glass
3,600 sq mtrs of plastic
2,900 sq mtrs of timber
45,000sq mtrs of concrete
Tativille had its own power plant and approach road, and building number one had its own working escalator.
Each building was centrally heated by oil.
Two electricity generators guaranteed the maintenance of artificial light on a permanent basis
The film is famous for its enormous, specially constructed set and background stage which contributed significantly to the film’s large budget of some 17 million francs = 7 times its original budget of 2.5 million francs
They constructed beautifully modern spaces, vast with long hallways, glass walls, cubicles, escalators, and decorated the sets with minimal furniture and props that often became the source of his humor
Budget crises and other disasters stretched the shooting schedule to three years, including 1.4 million francs in repairs after a sizable portion of the set was damaged by storms in the Autumn of 1964 and required rebuilding.
Tati discovered that his insurance cover for ” Acts of God ” had been cancelled the previous week because his initial backers had forgotten to pay the premiums
Budget overruns forced Tati to take out large loans and personal overdrafts to cover ever-increasing production costs. Tati observed,…… “that the cost of building the set was no greater than what it would have cost to have hired Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren for the leading role “
But if he had hired Sophia Loren he would have been guaranteed a USA release when finished
To trim the budget, Tati used life-sized cardboard cutout extras, who stood in the background to “interact” with live extras.
These cutouts are noticeable in some of the cubicles when Hulot overlooks the maze of offices, and in the deep background in some of the shots at ground level from one office building to another.
The original idea (from Jacques Lagrange, a painter and Tati’s co-writer in Play time, M. Hulot and Mon oncle) had been to build real commercial buildings whose units they could sell off afterwards, with minor modifications, as offices and flats.
Tati then decided he wanted the resulting buildings to be used as a studio complex by other filmmakers and film students, and secured a promise from then-Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux that this would be the case, which laid the groundwork for what would become a financial disaster.
Finally, after 3 years of production, shooting ended in September 1967
As it turned out, Andre Malraux did not hold true to his word once Tati ran into financial trouble, and the sets were torn down.
Tativille, did not have the proper zoning for Tativille – the Parisian city plan called for road improvements on the site – and it was being demolished even as the last scenes were being shot
“I would like to have seen it retained – for the sake of young filmmakers,” Tati claimed, “but it was razed to the ground. Not a brick remains.”
Tati’s Play Time Film Making Methods
“Film making is a pen, paper, and hours of watching people and the world around you. Nothing more.“… Jacques Tati
In order to understand the unique stylistic parameters of Play Time it is necessary to start by recognizing the technical choices that Jacques Tati made during the production and post-production of the film and his total control over them
Play Time is notable for its enormous Tativille set, as well as Tati’s trademark use of subtle, yet complex visual comedy supported by creative sound effects; dialogue was frequently reduced to the level of background noise
Not only did Tati create an architectural city, he shot it like an architectural photographer using square- on shot with long perspective shots done in long takes and deep focus photography which heightens the architectural style of not only the content but the way in which the movie was made
As Play Time depended greatly on visual comedy and sound effects, Tati chose to shoot the film on the costly high-resolution 70 mm film format (with its magnificent widescreen clarity and depth) together with a complicated stereophonic soundtrack.
The big film format permitted to capture the enormous dimensions of the set and fostered the director’s obsession with long shots, deep focus, and dense mise-en-scene compositions.
Jacques Tati ….. “probably the smallest script ever to be made in 70 mm film.”
The 70 mm had a space (5 mm) for six tracks of magnetic sound that was carefully recorded, edited, and mixed by Tati and Jacques Maoumont, the sound supervisor.
Play Time’s soundtrack was completely made during post production using magnetic sound. The magnetic sound enabled the creation of a very stylized and highly defined soundtrack whose main characteristic is the proliferation of loud sound effects rich in high frequencies.
The high definition magnetic sound facilitated the creation of poly rhythms and poly phonics, and a very dynamic treatment of the different elements of the soundtrack (dialogue, music, sound effects, and ambient sounds).
For being a film from the pre Dolby era (before 1975), it is quite amazing the degree of sonic sophistication that Play Time achieves.
The method in which Jacques Tati based his artistic style and technique dates back to the timeless period of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
In a world completely absent of sound, pioneering filmmakers needed to construct a spatial playground in which the eyes did both the seeing and listening.
So infatuated to this idea was Tati, that he devoted his life and career to that very philosophy.
In what he called, Democratic Comedy, Jacques Tati took such an idea of visual observation to a completely different plane of existence.
Within the conventions of film making, it is customary to use the camera as a means of leading the audience to the focal point of the scene, something evidently recognizable in the works of such masters as Alfred Hitchcock.
But Tati does an extremely radical thing, something nearly unheard of! Play Time has no focal point.
Within the complete 126 minutes of this “observation piece,” there is no attempt to concentrate our attention, no close-ups, no noticeable camera movements to attract our awareness, and no main characters to follow.
Without close ups Tati drew the audience’s attention to particulars in a scene through audible cues.
The film is also dominated by the long take, and this observational feel is accentuated by the combined use of deep focus and deep staging.
With every inch of its super-wide frame crammed with hilarity and inventiveness Tati’s canvas is enormous, and not a single piece of the frame over the course of the film is wasted
When watching the film there is much going on that you may miss, since we do not see a clear story line, but several intertwining characters through various encounters and events throughout the day.
Everybody in the audience will, at the end, have their own unique experience. Some will notice things that others did not, and vice versa.
It is a democratic experience, one that gives people the freedom and liberty to make their own “film” from a series of events laid out on the screen.
In Play Time, everybody in the audience plays the role of the Director.
Director Jacques Tati
Cinematography Jean Badal and Andréas Winding
Screenplay Jacques Tati and Jacques Lagrange
English dialogue Art Buchwald
Music James Campbell and Francis Lemarque
Editor Gérard Pollicand
Production design Eugène Roman
Sound Jacques Maumont
Shooting began in April 1965, with a cast of non-professionals recruited by Tati’s new-found jack of all trades Marie-France Siegler, and co-starred his neighbors’ former au pair Barbara Denneke ( Barbara )
The slow pace of production was partly due to Tati’s perfectionism – “ I like team-work … as long as I’m in charge of the team.” .. Tati
Tati spent three years putting the movie together (the centerpiece restaurant sequence alone took nearly two months to shoot), built an entire mini-city, painstakingly demonstrated to each extra (or maybe that should be “inhabitant”) their movements and gestures, re-shot sequences over seemingly inconsequential structural quibbles, and drove the budget up over six times its initial projected cost.
As his own producer, and because he insisted for as long as he could on retaining distribution rights as well, Tati, through Specta Films contracted large debts with the French state sponsored film finance company UFIC and with several other banks too.
After the unseasonable rains in Autumn 1964, the cash stopped flowing, and Tati had to do what many filmmakers spend the bulk of their time doing >>> beg for money.
Meanwhile, the money just kept draining away
Nobert Terry, who acted as the film’s “product placement consultant,” put the director in touch with Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, who engineered a loan from Crédit Lyonnais.
But in order to secure the loan, Tati basically had to mortgage away his future and that of his family as well.
After 365 shooting days punctuated by long delays (due to everything from foul weather to the development of new gags to keep the film as up to the minute as possible), and after nine months of post-production, Play Time premiered in December 1967, (originally 152 min.) with the equivalent of an American “road show” presentation.
“Play Time” premiered at the Paris Empire Cinerama on Sunday, 17 December 1967 @ 137 mins.
The film premiere took place with only 400 000 viewers recorded at the box office
The March 1968 issue of Cahiers du Cinema devotes 25 pages to Tati and “Play Time” – filmography includes the notation: reduced since mid-February to 137 mins.
Under pressure from exhibitors, and to avoid an intermission, Tati kept tinkering with the film eventually cutting the film down to 123 minutes
The English-language version (dubbed) premiered at London Odeon Haymarket on 14 July 1968 @ 123 min. running time
Tati had held out for a long while to have it seen in its original format, but when U.S. distributors refused to accept it in 70mm he found discretion the better part of valor and made it available in a 35mm print with which he is apparently satisfied.
The original version of the film (besides being at least half an hour longer) also used a stereophonic sound track to great effect.
Sadly, not all of the missing footage—most of it reportedly devoted to further variations of existing gags—has been recovered, but everything else was enhanced in a 2002 65mm restoration of the original sound and image.
Results were the same upon the film’s eventual release in the U.S. in 1973 (even though it had finally been converted to a 35 mm format at the insistence of U.S. distributors and edited down to 103 minutes).
The New York Times called Play Time “Tati’s most brilliant film”, however it was no more a commercial success in the U.S. than in France.
One reason for the film’s commercial failure may have been Tati’s insistence that the film be limited to those theaters equipped with 70 mm projectors and stereophonic sound (he refused to provide a 35 mm version for smaller theaters).
Play Time was the victim of a backlash, largely based on the outsized expectations surrounding this popular artist whose desire for publicity was equalled by his supposedly arrogant need for privacy during the (lengthy) act of creation.
Moreover, despite critical appreciation, Play Time was so completely, alarmingly new in every way (plotless, starring not one or two people but a cast of hundreds, and completely dispensing with conventional notions of background and foreground) that it needed time to sink in with the public—time that it never got.
Whilst audiences worldwide had come to love Tati’s films for the character of M. Hulot; his reduction to an intermittent, occasionally supporting role in the new Tati film came as a disappointment to many Tati himself lampooned the phenomenon in an early scene in Play Time, when a rain-coated pedestrian whose back is turned to the audience is mistakenly hailed as Hulot
Others disliked its nearly plot-less story line, while those who only saw a single showing frequently missed the intricate, sometimes simultaneous comic sight gags performed in the various group scenes.
A final reason for the film’s poor reception may have been its release date; while the film’s satire of modern life may have been cutting-edge when first conceptualized in 1959, by the end of 1967 such themes were old-hat to film audiences.
As 1968 drew to a close, Tati was completely bankrupt, and he had lost his house, all the rights and the elements of his own films and his inheritance from his sister
His journey was a long one, ten years in all.
At the end of the road, there was ignominy and bankruptcy.
“It’s perhaps a good thing that Play Time didn’t make much money because I am always in the position of a new director. I feel young inside, so I feel like a student when I start a new picture. I am not making money for banks, not killing myself for a mortgage repayment; I make films.” …… Jacques Tati
He got back on his feet in 1977, five years before his death in 1982.
“Really I assure you, in all my films I did absolutely everything I wanted to do. If you don’t like that, them, I am the only one to blame” …..- Jacques Tati: Cahiers du Cinema, 1980
The Main Characters in Play Time 1967
Jacques Tati’s character, Monsieur Hulot, is essentially silent character in a world of increasingly complex and subtle sounds,
M Hulot walks with a forward lean is usually seen wearing a trench coat and hat, usually with a long-stemmed pipe in his mouth, always with pants too short and argyle socks, carries an umbrella and became enormously popular in the director’s international hits
Monsieur Hulot, is a charming symbol of humanity lost in a relentlessly modernizing modern age. He was a dinosaur, a silent comedian trapped in a land of sound, a wandering poet drowning in a sea of science.
in Play Time M. Hulot himself only wanders into the action periodically, and serves chiefly as a signifier of Tati’s own wariness about the hectic, sterile world that was emerging in the mid-twentieth century.
Tati’s work has to be seen as an oeuvre with the main character of Monsieur Hulot as the man who connects the different Tati feature films
In terms of plot Play Time opens where Mon Oncle left off, in an airport
Tati’s previous film Mon Oncle (1958 ) is about the family Arpel who live together with their son Gerard in a suburban modern villa and they own all of the latest gadgets.
Gerard prefers to hang out with his uncle Hulot who lives in the old part of the city and works for is brother in law at the Plastic factory
In Play Time, Hulot arrives in the newer part of the city to have a job interview, after he got fired from his job in the plastic factory.
Looking for a job, Monsieur Hulot has an appointment with Mr Giffard, in an ultramodern Paris city full of glass and steel.
Play Time was Tati’s third film featuring Hulot, following the acclaimed Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) and the Oscar-winning Mon Oncle (1958 ) winner of the Oscar for best foreign film
His reactions to strange modern phenomenon are an effortless form of comedy, as are the awkward situations he finds himself in and the friends he makes along the way.
However, he’s not really the main character here and this film would prove to be Tati’s most ambitious and difficult.
After the success of Mon Oncle in 1958, Jacques Tati had become fed up with Monsieur Hulot, his signature comic creation.
With international renown came a growing dissatisfaction with straightforward scenarios centered around one lovable, recognizable figure. So he slowly inched his way toward a new kind of film, a supremely democratic film that would be about “everybody.”
Tati studied the architecture of airports, offices, supermarkets, and other public institutions during his promotional trips for Mon Oncle, making observations that informed Play Time.
But nearly 10 years passed before Tati found uncertain financing for the expensive “Play Time,” and he wanted to move on from Hulot; to make a movie in which the characters might seem more or less equal and — just as important — more or less random, the people the film happens to come across.
Even when he is recognized by people, M Hulot is referred to as their ‘old friend’ from the war.
The False Hulots
People came to this movie expecting to see a “Hulot movie.”
The false Hulots are seldom more than fleeting appearances who do not necessarily have to do anything; just as often, they are simply passers-by.
Only after four false sightings at the Airport, and only after being twice misidentified and once sternly denied: “I’m not Hulot, what are you talking about?” , do we get to see the M. Hulot, who first appears as he alights from a bus – and crosses paths with another Hulot.
Just like the original, his “copies” are often busy disrupting the organised, regimented business of daily life (and at least one of them, it would seem, does so out of mischief), so that Hulot might indeed be seen as a type rather than an individual, or even something like a virus.
And like someone carrying a virus, Hulot contaminates others around him with his off-the-grid, unwittingly Situationist behaviour.
Other Jacques Tati played characters
Tati appears numerous times through the film in non-Hulot roles.
Unable to dispense with the popular character altogether, Hulot appears intermittently in Play Time, alternating between central and supporting roles.
Where possible, Tati cast non-professional actors in Play Time.
He wanted people whose inner essence matched their characters and who could move in the way he wanted.
As part of this world of constraint, guides herd the American tourists here and there.
They are enduring one of the American Express-type tours: ” If it’s Tuesday, then this must be Brussels.” One day in Paris they spend their time looking at modern gadgets at the Expo Show and not at the historic Paris of old !
Among these American tourists ( mostly women ) the film singles out “Barbara” (played by a German non-professional, Barbara Denneke – her American English was dubbed post production)
Like Martine in M. Hulot’s Holiday or the concierge’s daughter in Mon Oncle, she is the amused onlooker.
She is, in one sense, a surrogate for us. She demonstrates for us the attitude of tolerant enjoyment that we should adopt (as Tati does) toward the human foibles that he films for us.
But she also takes pictures, and, with her camera, she is, like Tati, a perfectionist.
In that sense, Barbara mediates. She stands both for us and for Tati. She stands between us, an outsider whom we watch, yet someone we identify with.
She is a connection.
The American Tourists Group
The film casually follows the activities of a group of American tourists on a day out in Paris.
The tourists arrive, taking snapshots of office blocks while ignoring the historical Paris landmarks, which show up from time to time as ghostly reflections in highly polished windows
The management of the tourists is part of this standardization, they are moved around in tour groups, directed by guides, as well as the architecture, from one space to the next, often shown being directed onto escalators.
They are treated like a product on a conveyer belt or a herd of cattle being shuffled from one location to the next completely oblivious about where they are going next and only aware of what immediately surrounds them
Drawn to consumer showrooms and led by the nose from hotel to designated restaurant and back, the tourists uniformly collect Eiffel Tower knick-knacks, but can’t seem to see the monument’s essence any more than we can in its two-dimensional appearance on a travel poster or its fleeting reflection in a glass door.
Play Time, explores the difference between the tourist and the citizen in what might be considered modern society
In this modernized world, uniformity is synonymous with sophistication.
The tourists are portrayed as unsophisticated as they do not integrate into the overly designed surroundings.
The locals, on the other hand are integrated to the point that they become part of the setting and part of the sites that these tourists are viewing.
The American tourists are immediately corralled by waiters off to the side, away from the Parisian diners.
They receive negative attention from the local clientele who make comments such as “how tourist” and “it’s a flood of tourists”.
The dresses worn by the American women stand out from the neutrality of the crowd and setting, as does their attitude.
Particular attention is given to the green colour of one of the tourist’s dress.
The woman in red seems especially excited by the prospect of dancing and joyously ignorant of the demure disposition of the locals around her.
The American Businessmen
The running gag throughout Play Time is that modern culture has eaten the old world.
As part of his concern with connections between people and nations, Tati plays with the Americanization of Europe and, in particular, Paris.
Tati gives us 2 stereotypical American businessmen –
a) Mr. Lacs (John Abbey), an American businessman obsessed with neatness and business.
He joins M. Hulot in the waiting room, but he is all efficiency as opposed to M. Hulot who is all bumble.
Lacs turns up later in the restaurant.
b) Mr. Schultz (Billy Hearns), a prototypical Ugly American
He is loud, rude, intrusive and abusive. He throws his money around.
But he turns out to be the joyous Bacchus who provides the party spirit for the second half of the movie.
And he won’t let Lacs into the impromptu bistro he sets up as he is too preoccupied with business.
The Office Workers
One of the themes of the film was that working in the modern, business world turns people into robots and the world becomes a very dull place.
The conformity which could not be found in the tourists, however, is accustomed to the office workers.
The office workers get to work at the same time, walk to their cars ( 1964 Simca 1300 GL ) , start the engines and drive off with almost an exact gestures and timing.
By using muted colors, Tati was successful in avoiding vibrant colors that would have shattered his intentions to show the lifelessness that can come about in a world filled with career-driven, business workers.
The hundreds of white-collared workers in the film seemed to be on a tight schedule and were always in a rush to get to their destination.
Every person drove the same car and everyone even dressed similar with top hats and formal clothes. Each person worked and lived in the same cubicle. Each person is focused on his or herself and their ultimate focus is their work. Each person walked in straight lines and turned on sharp right angles.
Some Important Play Time Recurring Themes
1. Architectural Styling
Tati’s “Play Time” is a critique on modernism and its contemporary architectural stylings.
As it is entirely shot on built sets, Tati has incorporated steel, glass, and concrete, the “holy trinity” of modernist architectural materiality, into nearly every shot.
Tati’s focus on the physical makeup of the space we inhabit, experience, and move through and begs us to analyse and pay more attention to the modernist world built around us and how it changes the way we interact with each other in the world.
Play Time is not a manifesto against modern architecture or modernity in general.
Tati ……….. ” that if he had been against modern architecture, he’d have shown ugly buildings ” .. he did the opposite.
Tativille’s metal and glass landscapes can be bleak, desolate even, but you cannot fail to register their austere beauty, which is not accidental as it was planned down to the minutest detail.
Tati identifies the lack of character and spirit of modern architecture, which becomes very clear with the design of the office buildings, displaying a very orthogonal and repetitive language in their overall shape, color and materials
In the 1950s and 60s a number of these hermetically sealed ‘glass boxes’ were built in New York and expressed the city’s commercial and cultural dominance.
The Lever House (1952) of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and the Seagram Building (1958) made by Mies van der Rohe were the first project to offer the modernist image of efficiency and standardisation to a corporate client.
The large sculpture on the plaza and the elegant high modernist interior, epitomised by interior designers such as the Knoll planning unit, became the new international language of business and success.
With the widespread use of air-conditioning and fluorescent lighting, these new high-rise buildings could have highly efficient deep and open floors. There was now no longer an imperative to have natural lighting, whether from windows or skylights, or to be near an opening window for ventilation. The suspended ceiling took over these functions, containing lighting and air distribution.
The office had successfully become fully autonomous from the exterior environment.
This formula was influential worldwide.
Tati ….. “ I am not at all against modern architecture, I only think that as well as the permit to build, there should also be a permit to inhabit.”
Le Corbusier, father of modern architecture, had a strong argument on how architecture and cities should behave.
He mentioned that everything should be in a form of a mass production and a standardization. Everything should be arranged and perform its function efficiently. It should be a system.
Le Corbusier’s city is homogeneous, identical and uniform.
Modernism neutralizes everything. Individuals are the same, they dress the same, and act the same. Foreigners cannot be differentiated unless they speak. Same types of dresses, same car, same unit of houses, make everything seems ordinary.
In Play Time Tati is mocking Corbusier’s modern architecture showing a unique and funny side of how modernism can effect and cause problem to a new comer of the city.
The big joke of Play Time is that the generic universal space of modernism engenders an ambiguity so profound as to be unsuitable to the specificity of human life.
Almost 20 years ago the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas proclaimed: “The city is no longer” in his essay ‘The Generic City’.
A generic city is a city without properties. It is non-specific. Everything looks the same and it looks like any other modern city.
And even if the city still contains city specific sights, because of tourism the historical character is reduced to a superficial iconic value.
More strongly than anything Rem Koolhaas has ever written, Play Time is a manifesto for messiness in architecture
Tati built his sets around modernist architectural styles using predominately squares and right angles
The square office worker cubicles are echoed in the shots of the square cubed apartments and then again in the square, ordered, lined tables of the Royal Garden.
Even though Corbusier wanted to make everything identical and function efficiently, Tati worried about the indiscriminate proliferation of modules everywhere, without concern for suitability, adaptability or the diminishing returns of repetition.
“My job is not to rubbish the architecture,” said Tati “I’m there to try to defend the individual and the personality that is his. ”
The architecture and the set design creates the space for the parody, as the modern, crisp, structure presents order while the actions of the characters are unordered, creating the humor.
The comedy of the film comes from the irony of a world attempting order but filled with disorder.
About the mechanisation not only of work but of thought and behaviour; the abandonment of individual creativity – of personality – for mass production, standardisation, streamlined practicality
The kind of progress Tati opposed was rigid, unaccommodating, it elbowed out any way of life that did not fit its patterns: no doubt, cities made up of endless rows of identical buildings would require undifferentiated people to inhabit them.
Salvador Dalí ……. “ the first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot. ”
3. Straight Lines
” Play time’s plot was a movement from straight lines to curves ”
“In the first part of Play Time, I direct the people to follow the architect’s guidelines.
Everybody is filmed as if moving in straight lines and feeling prisoners of their surroundings. Modern architecture would like typists to sit straight, would like everyone to take themselves very seriously. In the first part of the film, the architecture plays a leading role but gradually, warm, contact and friendship as well as the individual I defend, take over this international setting and then neon advertisements make their entrance and the world starts to swirl and it all ends up in a merry-go-round.
There are no more straight angles at the end of the film.” ……….. Jacques Tati
This progression is carried out in numerous ways.
The opening sequences are all about people moving in rigid straight lines; living within the boundaries that modernity has laid out for them. The entire environment is constructed to maximise organisation.
Only working-class construction workers (representing Hulot’s ‘old Paris’, celebrated in Mon Oncle) and two music-loving teenagers move in a curvaceous and naturally human way.
The conformity of the people, although being portrayed in the clothes they are wearing or even the behavior, in which they are trying to walk in a group or a line; they couldn’t help but make a scene and chaos.
This very much contradicts to the rigid and organized setting of the airport and the officers, showing that people, by nature, could not restraint or limit themselves to the highly strict regulations or style.
Some of this robot like behavior begins to loosen in the restaurant scene near the end of the film, as the participants set aside their assigned roles and learn to enjoy themselves after a plague of opening-night disasters.
Throughout the film, the American tourists are continually lined up and counted, though Barbara keeps escaping and must be frequently called back to conform with the others.
By the end, she has united the curve and the line – Hulot’s gift, a square scarf ( with iconic Parisian sights ), is fitted to her round head; her straight bus ride back to the airport becomes lost in a seemingly endless traffic circle that has the atmosphere of a carnival ride.
Happily, however, the drive towards organisation cannot quite keep up, and as it progressively falters, so do the denizens of Tativille unwind.
This movement is accompanied by a gradual increase in vibrant colours.
One of the sight-seeing destinations for the group of American tourists, is a travel agency covered in near-identical posters representing travel destinations all over the world.
The Posters show the same juxtaposing building and are not at all different – one could hardly tell where the scene is actually located.
As Tati notes in this sly joke that globalization and industrial progress are eliminating the differences between cities. The posters point out the rigidity and inflexibility of modernism
5. Interior Design furniture
The writers added further comedy to the Play Time plot by poking fun at modern design
The idea of the clean lined approach to buildings and furniture is seen to be a negative and comical extravagance as the buildings are hard to navigate and the furniture functions poorly.
Everything seems fairly standard until he presses on the upholstery, air is then squeezed out of the seams, creating a vacuum within.
The comical aspect is the air’s amusing popping noise as the fabric expands to let air in again.
Multiple other times during the film the same designed chair makes this noise, becoming increasingly hilarious the more times it happens.
Another poke at modernist furniture is the design of the barstools in the restaurant bar area
The design of the 3 legged bar stool is modern in its fabrication, boasting steel construction that appears very stable as the legs do taper to a wider stance at the bottom, however in reality the stool itself is fairly easy for a drunk person to tip it.
Multiple times the stool is toppled by an intoxicated bar patron, creating comic visuals., as the person is quickly ejected out of the club as soon as he becomes to drunk to sit on the stool.
The drunk quickly returns again to the bar only now to have the bar stool flipped upside down and now act as a standing enclosure aid for a drunk man to stand while he drinks
Another poorly designed furniture item are the restaurant chairs used by the patrons to sit on at the dining tables.
The chairs were designed with a trident looking prongs for the back support of the chair back. Resulting in both bare skin and fabric dresses and jackets showing a trident impression after the person has sat back
Here Tati is highlighting how modern furniture is seen to be sub-par or quirky because of an aspect of the design
Glass is the key element of Play time.
It represents two things in Tati’s universe… that of
a) deception – in its ability to be present and invisible at the same time and
b) reflection (in its reminder of the “true” Paris seen only in the reflection of the glass)
The presence of this transparent, invisible material that is normality in the modernist society is suddenly brought to the visual forefront in the film.
Tati believes that the invisible barrier of glass adds to this atmosphere.
With glass, Tati focuses on not only their division of rooms in space, but their visual effect, their brittleness, seemingly smooth and perfect surfaces, and their tactility.
Glazing is unique in architecture as the material that allows sight across its bounds, but not movement.
Tati never lets us forget this, showing shots of windows tilting and shifting its reflections, or a cleaner wiping a window with an unbearable squeak
Glass walls are a challenge throughout the film; at one point, Hulot breaks a glass door and the enterprising doorman simply holds the large brass handle in midair and opens and closes an invisible door, collecting his tips all the same.
None of the patrons notice, or even seem to care, except for the people in charge of maintaining the place.
The relentless transparency repels occupation – people seem as trapped inside as a deer in headlights – and provides a visual sense of unity that is ultimately a frustrating illusion.
We encounter this theme very early in the film, when a man with a cigarette leans in towards a security guard to get a light, only to be waved brusquely away.
For a split-second, we think the guard is simply being rude, until we realize that he’s waving the man with the cigarette away because they are on opposite sides of a huge pane of glass.
Glass would seem to let us make connections, but here it only adds to the confusion with reflections that create the illusion of connection: the glass panels and doors of the office block; the windows of the tourists’ bus; the “real” Paris reflected in glass.
Interestingly for a film that derives so much from glass, no use is made of mirrors. In fact, mirrors may be absent altogether.
But even without mirrors, Hulot multiplies; and, as nearly everything about this film, this multiplicity admits of almost opposed readings.
7. Connections & Doors
In large part Play Time is about our human need to make connections with other humans as tourists, as business people, customers, and so on.
Doors allow connections, and Tati plays constantly with doors in this film.
There are all the confusing glass doors in the office block, the non-door to the night club, and a silent door that makes no noise when you knock on it, plus any number of doors that make noises when openend.
There is even a character derived from doors eg M. Giffard (Georges Montant) is a functionary in French government and business buildings who opens and closes doors and runs other errands.
He is supposed to lead Hulot to his appointment with some American somewhere in the depths of the huge office block, but of course he never does.
Instead he bangs his nose on, what else ? ….. but a glass door. !
Elsewhere throughout the movie Electronic devices, telephones, loudspeakers, and television sets–they too seem to connect people, but don’t, really.
Tati uses clever framing and lighting to take advantage of reflections in windows and off the floor to enhance his commentary on the banality of modernity.
There is but a handful of sights of a recognisable Paris in the entire film, all of which will appear only as reflections on glass doors.
In Play Time we are surrounded by modern architecture, but glass doors reflect the Eiffel Tower, the Church of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre and the deep blue sky.
The gag works by accumulation: the sadness of the idea dissipates a little each time, until the final iteration is purely amusing, and to an extent even slightly defiant.
Whilst most movies in the 1960’s were in the throes of full on technicolor rainbow assaults, Tati meticulously removed almost all color from the Play Time movie.
Tati wanted the film to be in color but look like it was filmed in black and white – an effect he had previously employed to some extent in Mon Oncle.
Tati connects things with his color scheme.
The primary theme and message that Tati conveyed was to show a progression from the dull beginning of the movie to a more natural way of living at the climax of the film.
He used a strict color scheme for the first half, steely blue, beige, gray, white, black — office colors.
Every wall and floor, every chair or desk, every dress or suit is a variation on monotone colours and then suddenly, tantalizing glimpses of reds and greens
Tati was reflecting on the modern world losing its soul to the homogenized sterility of mechanization is pretty basic and once photographed by Tati, a master of framing, rendered essentially meaningless.
Green and red are used as occasional accent colors: for example, the greenish hue of patrons lit by a neon sign in a sterile and modern lunch counter, or the flashing red light on an office intercom.
Tati tried to have one red object in every image.
Red was added to accentuate the shots and in order to make the story seem livable.
Whenever you see something red in this film, it is special and important eg the red light in the dreadful panel for announcing visitors; the red rosettes of the Legion of Honor worn by the executives in the big photos in the waiting room; the red dessert in Le Drugstore (part of Tati’s food theme).
The contrast in the overall hue of the dining space and the preparation space
The way in which the green hue creates a divide between the dining and the preparation spaces serves to create a kind of social division between production and consumption.
Except for some plastic flower pots outside the restaurant – and the old woman’s flower stall, there are no genuine green plants or trees on the set
Thus, when the character of Barbara arrives at the Royal Garden restaurant in an emerald green dress seen as ‘dated’ by the other whispering female patrons clothed in dark attire, she visually contrasts not only with the other diners, but also with the entire physical environment of the film
As the characters in the restaurant scene begin to lose their normal social inhibitions and revel in the unraveling of their surroundings, Tati intensifies both color and lighting accordingly: late arrivals to the restaurant are less conservative, arriving in vibrant, often patterned clothing.
In the material and dynamic issues involved in framing, camera movement, focal plains, set design and spatial organization, Tati highlights how sound is involved at every possible level.
In other words, Tati rigorously allows the sound track to co-inhabit the visual plane.
1. if a character enters a space – we hear them walk on the material surface of that space;
2. if a character touches any object in that space – we hear them not only touch that object, but also hear the ‘character’ of that object;
3. we then see how the human character reacts to the sonic ‘character’ of the object; and
4. if the character can see into any other space or hear any other space – we are given a dynamic audio-visual interaction between the character’s dislocated experience between two spaces (eg. hearing one space while hearing another, and vice versa).
Every collision caused by a person’s movement with a material such as the foot with the floor, or a plate on the counter top is carefully tracked due to Tati’s use of sound effects
As well as the visual impact created by the sets, Tati also relied extensively on soundscapes to create and portray the adequate atmospheres required by the scenes, blending the sounds of the city such as traffic, construction workers and street vendors with the dialogues of the characters, sometimes even losing them mid-conversation in order to allow a feeling of chaos and noise to take over the scenes.
As with most Tati films, sound effects were utilized to intensify comedic effect e.g his use of sound in the foyer lobby intercom scene emphasizes the concierge’s error, it also enhances the concierge’s frustration with the machine as it bleeps angrily at him.
He used sound rather than visual cues to direct the audience’s attention; with the large image size, sound could be both high and low in the image as well as left and right.
A genius for rendered sound was displayed throughout Play Time e.g the sound of the balls traveling along the electric broom handle, the click of heels down a vast hallway
But more importantly, the localized sound possible with Stereophony allows Tati to focus attention within the wide frame (he considered the close up an inelegant practice).
By almost erasing dialogue, Tati’s prevents us from focusing solely on the speaker. Watching with ears open becomes necessary as the viewer is often at a loss for the visual centre of the frame
It is this visual democracy that makes Play Time such a humane and hilarious delight.
The boundary of the interior and exterior is only differentiated through sounds which are noisy with cars and vehicles once a glass door is opened, and silence once being closed.
This irritating buzz-tone coming from the green neon sign, is used to signify the harshness of communication (via signage) – from the swirling arrow of the Royale restaurant to the sickly green glow of the chemist sign which interferes with the delicatessen’s glass cabinet display of food
The use of the green hue , when combined with the sounds created, create a compelling and alienating feel to the space. One simply does not want to linger in such a space
11. Languages & Speech
Speech also connects.
The sound track of the film is international: people speak French, German, English, sometimes all at once (the German executives) in a globalised mixture
Tati ….. “the words have invaded the vocabulary. People living in the “buildings,” they put their car at the “parking”, they eat the “snack” or to the “self,” do their shopping in drug “stores” or “supermarkets.”
Dialogue wasn’t too important to his films, not because he was taking especial care to create purely visual cinema – there was nothing “pure” about his project – but because his ideal spectators should be more than that, and rather than sit in respectful silence, they should be able to comment on the action between themselves: look there, did you see that ?
12. Movement & Motion
Certainly, one of Tati’s major themes in this movie as in his others is movement.
People in this film are always in motion, always looking for something. People walk, run, drive, ride busses, or take elevators and escalators.
M. Hulot spends the whole day going here, there, and everywhere trying to find the American with whom he has an appointment.
Here the camera shows the reverse side of the airplane ticket salesperson’s counter, and we see his balletic movements on the wheeled office chair syncing with his rhythmic tapping and vocal interjections.
The film opens with the big, black office building > an immovable object but we see reflected on it the slowly moving clouds
At key points in the film we see cars trying to make their way through Paris’ traffic. Certainly we get to a notable traffic circle in the ending and then the film finishes with cars’ taillights going into the night and the lights of Paris.
Tati has described this film …. “ As going from straight lines at the beginning to circles and zig-zags at the end.”
13. Product Placement
He anticipated ( partly through financial neccessity ) the potential earnings opportunity presented with commercial product placement within the movie
He believed that the modern world would become a consumerist society dominated by advertising, and so he arranged for product placement, the first in French films.
The density of commercial images in Play Time is much less than in the modern world, was partially a failure of imagination by Tati and partly because Mr Terry ( his product placement advisor ) ability to convince advertisers that their products would be seen to their commercial advantage in Tati’s film.
However they were able to garner commercial support from a number of key sponsors through contribution in kind e.g dozens of Simca 1500 cars, hundreds of pairs of Vitos stockings, Prisunic supermarket counters, Inno metal carts, Moet and Chandon champagne in addition to construction of service stations and other exhibition stands.
These commercial sponsorships covered about 10% of the cost of the films
Key Movie Chapters / Scenes
Instead of plot it has a cascade of incidents, instead of central characters it has a cast of hundreds, instead of being a comedy it is a wondrous act of observation
As Philip Kemp expressed, .. “Play Time has no plot, it is merely a succession of incidences in a succession of venues.”
Just as the people inhabiting his ultra-modern approximation of Paris gradually learn to circumvent the right-angled jungle of contemporary urban architecture, Tati’s film weans willing viewers from their fixations with linear, structured movie storytelling.
Play Time doesn’t really have much of a narrative structure to speak of. Tati’s script may have been small, but there’s such depth of content in each setup.
The film is a series of giddy encounters between people and things, the wonders of “modern life” relinquishing their functionality in favor of an unaccountably rapturous beauty.
The film is linked by two characters ( M hulot and Barbara) who repeatedly meet one another in the course of one 24 hour day: The movie’s first half seems unusually sterile for a comedy. It’s not until the movie’s second hour when, vis-à-vis a showstopping sequence in a just-opened restaurant and nightclub, Tati’s characters begin to live outside the boxes
As the characters tear apart an already fragile interior, Play Time lifts off.
Play Time begins with some shrill jazz contrasted to fleecy, slightly moving clouds over which the opening credits play.
Primitive rhythms frenetically played with jazz intonation.
This musical theme recurs when chaos enters into a scene when all social ordering breaks down.
This opening theme – set against a brilliant sky – idealizes the natural state of rhythms which throughout the film are intercepted, reorganized and effectively ‘tamed’ by a variety of social design discourses.
After the title cards clear away from the clouds the shot pans right through the clouds before jump cutting to a carefully composed shot of the top of a large modern office building.
It is something that interferes with movement, which is one of Tati’s favorite themes, running all through this film – movement.
Play Time is told over a series of 12 episodes according to the linear progression of time with out having any flashback, fast-forward, ellipsis, or parallel actions.
There are also little periods of transition between each episode that are set up in the modernized streets of Paris that serve as bridges between the different episodes
A. American tourists arrive to Paris’s Airport
B. Bus ride to the hotel
C. Monsieur Hulot tries to meet Monsieur Giffard at the Office Building
D. Monsieur Hulot wanders through the International Home Fair and crosses paths with the American tourists
E. Monsieur Hulot enters the Travel agency and crosses paths again with the American tourists
F. Monsieur Hulot visits a friend in the Apartment complex
G. At the Royal Garden Restaurant opens its doors its guests
H. Monsieur Hulot eats a sandwich at the Drugstore and is found by a friend who works as a door man in the Royal Garden
I. Monsieur Hulot goes to the Royal Garden opening party and meets Barbara while the whole restaurant falls apart
J. Monsieur Hulot and Barbara have breakfast at the Drugstore
K. Barbara and Monsieur Hulot walk together through the streets and enter a supermarket
L. The tourist bus picks up Barbara and takes her, along with the other American tourist to the airport
A. The Airport:
Play Time begins in a vast sterile, boxed modernist styled building concourse, where all who inhabit it travel in strict straight thrusts of movement and change directions at exact 90-degree angles.
From the first shot of human activity we recognize the homogeny of everything. The scene appears to be very institutional
This world is manipulated by the architecture, the very creation designed from man’s obsession of “streamline” and “sleek.”
People flow in and out, like an assembly line, always confined in their movements to the architecture’s design.
This is the domain of the straight line, the very world that had only begun with the rise of minimalist modernization.
The very intent of such a design was meant to make contemporary life “easier” and uniform, but man has been reduced to a beeline… moving not because he wills it, but because he is forced to.
Following the guidelines of the architects, people operate at right angles to the decor, and feel trapped by it.
Nothing seems out of place, everyone is dressed so as not to stick out …
In the foreground, a wife is reassuring her husband that she has packed his cigarettes and pyjamas, and he wearily acknowledges her concern as though he is about to be admitted
A man in a white coat looks doctor-like and seems to be pushing a hospital cart
A woman goes by seeming to push a wheelchair
A pair of nuns march past in step, their wimples bobbing up and down in unison
A baby’s carriage is revealed to us with the quiet sigh of the child
A woman dressed like a nurse carrying towels
We understandably conclude that this is the waiting room of a hospital
When the janitor walks out to clean the floor he notices that the floor is already dazzlingly clean and he has nothing to sweep. He stares awkwardly at the floor for a while and then glances around and then wanders off
Increased industrialisation was translated into increased levels of unemployment and an ever increasing pressure to increase productivity on those still in work. Tati’s cleaner is a very subtle reference to this reality.
The janitor is a traditional worker whose job is now under threat. The threat comes from a new form of industrialised, aesthetically minimalist architecture that discourages building users to litter or clutter and seemingly keeps itself clean.
In numerous ways then, the buildings of Tativille are seen to alienate, confuse and disorientate their users.
But as other figures appear, an army officer, a band of school children, then chimes sound, we realize that this is fact something more than a hospital
Then a group of tourists invades and the tail fin of a jetliner glides past a window and we know we’re in an airport.
The whole building has slipped on a disguise and then let it drop
The opening hospital-airport confusion sets the tone for the film’s first movement, a purgatorial comedy of frustration in which the people of ” Play Time” are beset by problems brought about by the un-ergonomic design of the city and the universe’s tendency to put on false faces to confuse and deceive.
A group of American tourists arrive and though they’re in the fabled city of lights, the lights are mostly neon and they see little of the romantic Paris, spending much of their time in grey modern buildings of glass and steel
Impenetrable announcements boom from the sound system.
The sterile airport environment is on the one hand designed to silence people in order for smooth traffic flow, but on the other hand ends up amplifying their presence.
The airport scene shows people totally unaware of how their sound collapses the pristine silence of the sterile environment.
Note also how each character is conveyed by their footwear and the way that walk, and how M. Hulot marks his entrance by dropping his umbrella causing everyone else to momentarily be silent.
A false Mr. Hulot’s entrance is easy to miss; while babbling tourists fill the foreground, he walks into an empty space in the middle distance, drops his umbrella, picks it up and walks off again.
Because everything had been planned and decided on by developers and the architects of the complex so that the umbrella should not be dropped in Orly.
The architect might be there, saying his piece,….. ‘Sir, when we designed this place we didn’t envisage you dropping your umbrella.”
Orly Airport – South Terminal
The South Terminal of Paris Orly Airport would become one of the major inspirations for Play time.
Tati set the film’s “first act” there, and even filmed some – not all – of it on location: one of the very few locations used in the film
Orly South Terminal in the early 1960’s – the excitement of travel and modernity
Best viewed in Full Screen
Inaugurated in 1961, it was celebrated as an architectural landmark and a symbol of French modernity
Well, Tati made no bones about calling it sterile, odourless, inhuman, uninspiring. Tati never commented on aesthetics or design – all he was concerned with was what he perceived as the barrenness of the place.
B. Bus ride to the hotel
The tourists are efficiently shuttled off to buses for their whirlwind Paris visit, but this isn’t the Paris of ancient brick buildings and romantic bridges and historical monuments, but of skyscrapers of steel and walls of glass looking out onto paved streets packed with commuters and buses and pedestrians in a hurry.
Once we see the buses driving away from the airport, we are treated to a lovely shot of what is a post-modern world that could really be anywhere, even though we see French-language signs.
Throughout his work, Tati uses ‘arrows’ as symbols to suggest the confusion of modernity.
The endless array of arrows that guide drivers to their respective destinations are, of course, exaggerated to convey this sense of spatial confusion.
But they are also visual signs of the giving over of our responsibility and freedom to technology.
It seems reasonable to argue that the more arrows, the more confused the characters become. However, we must also say that the beauty of this disorientation is that everyone eventually finds their way.
For instance, in Traffic the arrows are strewn throughout the entirety of the film, and are often directly responsible for creating havoc.
The American tour group finally arrive into Tati’s modernist Paris and hop off the bus for their 24 hours of discovery
C. Monsieur Hulot tries to meet Monsieur Giffard at the Office Building
It is here that Hulot has arranged to present for a job interview in this office building
In Play Time, we now enter the office world of plate glass and steel, endless corridors, work stations, elevators, air conditioning.
Tati also makes a commentary on the architecture of the modern city, by filling his office set with grey walls, shiny floors and glass walls
Tati emphasizes the banality of “sleek modernity” and modernity’s elimination of a few fundamental aspects of architecture.
Undermining every design feature of the intercom: the guard can’t read and talk simultaneously ; he doesn’t punch in the right code and sets the alarms off; the speaker is nearly incomprehensible; etc.
Nonetheless the intercom machine is given character not by its visual design but through the aural sounds of its attempt to communicate and signify ie the various electronic beeps, etc
Tati doesn’t just allude to the way the inhuman scale of these buildings grinds the human soul to dust, he makes the audience experience it, too.
Witness the excruciatingly long take of Hulot’s business contact coming down the hallway to meet him where the shot is one minute and fifteen seconds long, of which forty long seconds are spent waiting, with Hulot, for the man to walk down the entire length of the hallway.
Hulot thinking the man is near, while the guard and the audience can see how far away he is.Another example of how the acoustic effect of a designed space often contradicts the visual formalism of that space.
When he finally reaches Hulot he just quickly ushers him into a waiting room and leaves
Hulot is put on display in a glass waiting room, where he becomes distracted by the rude whooshing sounds the chair cushions make and then keeps missing his contact.
When the new other man enters, he marks his own presence in the space not by touching anything in it, but by making himself as a self-contained efficient unit.
His precision is exaggerated by the clipped synchronous sound effects he makes with every physical gesture
The common and funny problem Hulot encounters in the office building is his misunderstanding of location.
Since all the buildings were covered with clear glass windows, and reflection is everywhere, Hulot continuously misunderstands the location of the man he was expected to meet.
Hulot looks through to what he thinks is the man in the opposite glass-paneled building only to reveal to us that he was looking at the man’s reflection. The man was actually in the same building.
Visuals throughout the film often lie; sound gives us (or would give us if we could hear it) the truth of a spatial situation.
The lack of walls and the transparency of the curtain walls blurs the indoor and outdoor spaces, causing many characters to confuse them with when the walls were taken out, causing them to bump into them.
He takes an elevator trip by accident. As Hulot steps into the elevator to read the sign, the doors close and he misses Giffard again.
Hulot’s confusion also stems from the lack of defining architectonic elements that dictated the small room as an elevator.
Tati deploys various techniques and elements to portray the ridiculous monotony of working scene of modern Paris.
The most obvious is the architectural plan of uniform box offices and the workers of their ants-like movements as Hulot sees from above.
From the airy vacuum-quality silence of a glass-sealed room, to the unmistakable sound of a hinged glass door swinging open and closing with a swish of air and a throaty metallic clunk, Tati captures in a way any documentarian would envy the full visceral experience of what it is like to occupy these spaces.
Tati makes it extra clear to the audience by this extravagant emphasis of such a rigid setting of working conditions.
Attempting to meet a business associate, Hulot becomes lost in the labyrinth of office cubicles, in which the sole landmark is a centrally located telephone receptionist who further perplexes him by swivelling through 360 degrees, so that each time he sees her, his internal map is altered.
Not only is the setting baffling for Hulot; the other characters, who should be adapt to the conditions, are also equally confused eg the attendants are also seemingly lost while hurriedly trying to execute business in and out of the boxes.
And there is that euphoric, soft and gentle but endlessly consistent muzak that plays as Hulot roams the maze. The entire jumbling murmur and its cohesive assimilation with the constant phone rings and the sound of shuffling paper, and brainwashing office muzak become alienating.
In the end, the music, which was supposedly the only guide for the audience, betrays and seamlessly aligns with the whole confusion
D. Monsieur Hulot wanders through the International Home Fair and crosses paths with the American tourists.
Eventually finding his way out of the office cubicle maze, Hulot stumbles into a Ideal Home exhibition in the adjacent building
The American tourists also are brought to the Ideal Home exhibition and upon entering Barbara catches a reflection of the Eiffel Tower on the glass door; she pauses, and looks back wistfully while the Paris of legend goes all but unnoticed
One of the tourist group comments, “Wait till you see how modern it is!”
The tourists spend their time admiring banal products ” that could have come from anywhere or nowhere” rather than discovering the city of Paris itself
As images and sound become confusing simulations, the patrons of the pavilion become confused as to what is real and what is not; what is a model and what is an actual object; who is a customer and who is an attendant
Hulot and the American tourists are introduced to the latest modern gadgets including a broom with headlights
A woman demonstrates a pair of dark, thick-framed glasses whose lenses flip up separately, so that its wearer can apply makeup, one eye at a time.
Shortly after that, we’re introduced to the owner of a firm that makes silent doors, whose dark, thick-framed glasses later break in the middle, repeating the visual of the one-up, one-down lenses on the first pair of glasses.
It is no accident that an accident creates the same effect that some company has mass-produced and offered for sale.
Accidents frequently open an avenue between previously segregated groups of people in Play Time
One of the more incisive illustrations of this comes in the Ideal Home section, when Tati shows us precisely what place he fears classical culture is likely to occupy in modern homes.
Here an Ancient Greek inspired pedal bin atttempts to highlight classic beauty combined with modern convenience !
The expo is a kind of mini-Babel, with French, English and German spoken, accompanied by bland muzak.
Hulot is mistaken for another man and is berated by a German businessman.
A perverse play on silencing a human energy manifestation: the angered door slam.
People bang doors to mark their exit acoustically so as to rupture the silence of a space – yet here is an invention which circumvents that very usage. Note the ad line: “Slam your door in golden silence”.
A faux Hulot mistakes the silent door exhibit for an extension of an adjacent exhibitor selling office desks.
While the door salesman is demonstrating the silence to a potential customer, the faux Hulot rifles through the desk, empties his pipe in the ashtray, and generally helps himself in a way most offensive to the salesman—who can’t do anything because he’s distracted by a sales prospect.
The owner of the silent door company turns up a few moments later, and his salesman complains about the man in a hat and raincoat carrying a pipe. The salesman walks off and Hulot appears. The owner mistakes him for the impolite not-Hulot and berates the oblivious Hulot.
The mistaken-identity gag could also represent Tati’s impatience with the popularity of the Hulot character.
The characters seem distracted by endless gadgets, sleek metallic furniture and glossy surfaces.
Objects have been invented or introduced in the modern world which should make our lives easier, simply complicate our lives.
In some sense un-neccessary and confusing objects to replace common sense and simplicity
Apparently Tati’s visit to the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels influenced him to show modern life as an exhibited way of life.
Life as a showroom – Tati uses these material items in his film to tie into our everyday life.
While Tati’s attitude may seem nostalgic or old-fashioned, the question of what is sacrificed in the name of progressive and commerce is as potent and necessary as ever.
Clearly, Tati feels that if we continue to create mindless inventions, then human development will lose its way
E. Monsieur Hulot enters the Travel agency and crosses paths again with the American tourists.
Again Hulot and Barbara cross paths – this time in the travel agency
Tati again suggests that architecture has become so derivative in the modern world that cities have lost their originality
This time he makes his point by using the imagery of the travel destination posters hanging on the walls of the travel agency showing the same modernist building in each of the different destinations and presenting only subtle differences according to the place that the poster advertises
Again this becomes an interesting nod to modernism taking over the world.
F. Monsieur Hulot visits a friend in the Apartment complex.
As Hulot leaves the Home expo, an old army buddy invites him around to his sparsely furnished, ultra-modern and glass-fronted, department store like apartment.
Tativille’s blocks of apartments are beautiful, radiant, spacious, harmoniously proportioned. The apartment building has walls of plate-glass windows, and the residents live in full view of the street.
This sequence is filmed entirely from the street, observing Hulot and other building residents through uncurtained floor-to-ceiling picture windows.
The inhabitants are presented as if in goldfish bowls, and appear to follow uniform behaviour patterns
We watch from outside, as they sit, chat, and watch TV as a kind of public spectacle
Tati films this scene from the perspective of the street, so the sound from inside the apartments are blocked out
It is not important to hear what the characters are discussing , rather it’s important to notice the movements of these characters and their actions. This emphasises the visuals Tati creates observers from his audience
This was evident in a scene of the film where the on-goings of two apartment rooms, side by side to each other, can be seen from outside the streets. Soon their actions appear to interact with the neighbors
A series of synchronous gags then develop between the two adjoining rooms as we are led to read that there is an invisible wall between the two rooms – when in fact there is an actual wall.
There is a sense of unformity within the apartments – similar furniture placed in similar ways – bringing into question modernity architecture and space once again
The sense of unthinking conformism that is conjured up is actually a scathing comment on the modern setting and the people who live there.
The apartments feature the modern rectilinear chairs that don’t quite squish like normal seats and couches, but pop in and snap back out.
Barbara is shown in her hotel room, with a similar looking window to the other modernist buildings, facing the street.
The hotel room looks uncomfortably small and features a rectilinear bed that looks equally as uncomfortable as the chairs.
Tati explores the otion that just because people can create large, wall-sized windows, or rigid chairs that retain their shape through stiffness, does not mean that they should.
It is almost impossible to live a comfortable life in these settings
G. At the Royal Garden Restaurant opens its doors its guests.
The Royal Garden sequence, making up roughly half of the film, may be the most formidable example of mise-en-scène in the history of cinema…. Jonathan Rosenbaum
The process begins with the introduction of the Royal Garden Restaurant, which is built, opens, and collapses on the same night
The last long sequence in the film involves the opening night of a restaurant at which everything goes wrong, and the more it goes wrong, the more the customers are able to relax and enjoy themselves.
It is difficult to think of a scene of similar length, complexity and ambition. It is certainly the most Brueghel-like in its expansion of the principle—that life and history unfold in a plethora of small, almost indiscernible details
A little more than halfway through Play Time, Tati slowly reverses the pattern of perplexity, allowing the characters to become aware of the world’s capacity for transformation and letting them take control of it.
Play Time’s centerpiece is undoubtedly an extended sequence set at the opening night of a high-class restaurant where the staff and designers are still putting the finishing touches on the place even as the first customers arrive
The restaurant employees and the carpenter analyze the basic problem with the food pickup window from the kitchen being too small as the platters food are served are fairly awkward and hard to work with.
The conversing characters, all contemplating an elementary problem and finally the concierge simply implying that it is unnecessary to modify the window size, but to simply use the door.
The waiter moves towards the door only to almost be hit with it swinging out.
When listening to the sounds of this scene you can hear all the intricate elements that have been added – for example when the tool box of the carpenter is set down the sound of a wiggling saw can be subtly heard
The stereo sound technique combined with the dubbed dialogue offer a layered story to be communicated in one simple scene.
From the moment when we arrive to the Royal Garden, inefficiency takes over for good.
H. Monsieur Hulot eats a sandwich at the Drugstore and is found by a friend who works as a door man in the Royal Garden.
Tati renders spatial confusion through out the Play Time movie
One such hybrid space is created at the ” drugstore ” described as “part pharmacy, part café-bar, where even the food acquires a greenish tint more suited to clinical spaces than to a snack-bar”.
Spatial ambiguity and homogeneity between different spaces are also created by sounds design such as thegreen neon pharmacy sign in the drugstore
Many of the shots of the modernist interiors of Playtime are accompanied by a droning mechanical hum or (in counterpoint) an absolute silence, both of which are the product of a non-human or, rather, unnatural mediation of the sonic environment.
I. Monsieur Hulot goes to the Royal Garden opening party and meets Barbara while the whole restaurant falls apart.
Tati’s ability to express his discontent with modern conventions of living are made obvious during this scene.
The restaurant is opening before it is finished, and absolutely everything that can go wrong, does.
The Royal Restaurant opening sequence took nearly two months to shoot
There’s such depth of content in each setup.
While the nightclub staff are frantic to create that alienating environment for the characters of the first part, they hadn’t counted on M. Hulot, who innocently brings the whole thing down.
Thanks to him, the construction workers are drinking with the oil millionaires and the drunks off the street are drinking with the white collar drunks.
At the restaurant, Hulot reunites with several characters he has periodically encountered during the day.
The doorman who had to deal with the glass door shattering had been pretending it was still there and holding on the brass door fixture floating in the place.
He continues to provide this service and create the illusion that everything is going well but he is stressing out – so he turns to the barman ( still with the brass door handle in hand) and gets a drink to calm his nerves.
The barman slyly sneaks him a shot of alcohol, while tring to see through the low height bar decorations
Then there are the calm, assertive locals who seem to casually carry on with all their daily tasks in the background of scenes.
The restaurant space moves through a series of atmospheric/ambient movements based on how both sounds and people fill the space
A stylish Parisian woman gets her heel stuck in a crack in the floor as she struts across the restaurant.
Rather than acknowledge that her heel is stuck by showing some sign of surprise or embarrassment, she attempts to discretely and gracefully wiggle her shoe out of the crack before continuing to sashay across the floor.
It’s as though admitting to any kind of altercation with this modernized world, would disrupt the conformity and be uncivilized.
One of the main characteristics of this movie is the differentiating contrast between the two main groups of people the tourists and the “modernized” Parisians.
The tourists are a bunch of clumsy, seemingly naive people attempting to experience the Parisian modernity.
While the tourists seem to accept the inhumane quality of the architecture as part of the foreign world that they are exploring, the locals embrace it without question as part of modern life.
Both cases result in absurdity and an extremely amusing commentary on modernity in the 1960s.
Despite the constant activity and hum, Tati is always in control and he orchestrates and choreographs the people with precision, rhythm and grace
Several ongoing jokes continue to unravel : the fact that everything is coming together quite horribly allows humor to rise to the front – the restaurant is slowly filling up and issues continue to arise.
The chaos of the dinner sequence is highlighted by the lack of expertise of the restaurant’s staff.
In an astonishingly elaborate, relentless descent into chaos that lasts close to an hour the restaurant’s fancy façade begins to disintegrate, as one mishap after another shatters its fragile and counter intuitive construction –
The kitchen runs out of food
The lights short out
Too many people show up
A dance floor tiles comes loose
Hulot walks through a glass door
Waiters’ uniforms malfunction or rip on the crown backed chairs
The stylish chairs leave crown-shaped indentations in the customers backs
The wooden designs above the bar block the view between the bartender and his patrons
The air-conditioning unit is located in a huge pillar that is perpetually in the way of the maître d’
The air conditioning faulters
The unfed patrons become progressively drunker
Hulot brings down part of the ceiling – a clear consequence of poor workmanship – triggering the collapse of a whole side of the restaurant’s décor, and, with it, a general thawing out of the customers demeanours
The Restaurant Royale, the pinnacle of upper-class modernity, scarcely manages to serve any food.
That dreadful turbot à la Royale, seasoned and re-seasoned, sauced and re-sauced, and flambéed, but never eaten
As more trolleys and dishes enter the scene, a symphony of cutlery and culinary tools builds up
Above we see M. Hulot is giving directions to a stranger using a grey scale map of the city.
The image below shows the stranger getting so lost in deciphering the map that he mistakes the patterns of the grey marble wall as the map.
With these two scenes, the director makes a direct comparison between Modern Paris and the marble.
Tati implies that Modern Paris is like marble in that it has become grey, solid, flat, shiny, and cold.
A waiter who ripped his uniform plays maybe the most important or standout role as the scene comes back to him every few minutes to continue the joke.
He tears his trousers on one of the spikes from the crowns that decorate the backs of the restaurant’s chairs. These are the same crowns that get imprinted on patrons’ backs.
As he hides behind a column in embarrassment of his uniform, he communicates with another waiter to help him out and in turn as other waiters uniforms malfunction they all go to him to leave him with the defected outfit parts and take his undamaged ones.
The unfortunate waiter gets immediately shunted out of view –and out of the restaurant itself, in fact – and from employee, turns into a spare part repository, as his colleagues start to scavenge him for articles of clothing, item by item, whenever they soil or damage their own uniforms
The stereo sound continues to offer more story than meets the eye as conversations and music mix together.
Once the jazz musicians start playing it is evident that customers slowly start to become more real and less robotic.
The use of the continuous jazz music track, that meanders through instrument solos, lets the scene float around and give the impression of a more relaxed atmosphere.
The diners escape the constricted space of their individual booths, where the waiters pushed the tables back into position to lock them in like a vise.
This leads shortly to a final cacophony of people, voices, movements, doors, objects, music, and accidents builds to a crescendo of the space being totally inhabited by people despite the designed features of the space and how they intend to control people flow, behaviour and usage – in other words: a grand celebration of people existing and working within a space;
Hulot himself triggers the worst of the disasters, accidentally pulling down a large section of the ceiling, which has the effect of sectioning off one area of the restaurant into an ad hoc VIP section with a boorish American tourist playing bouncer.
The American man’s insistence on sitting at the restaurant table he likes, as opposed to the one he has reserved, is an early clue to his desire to make the world work
A collapsing ceiling cordons off part of the room, and he uses the imprints left on the diners’ backs by the poorly designed chairs to determine who will be allowed entrance to his private establishment.
The majority of the customers continue on the dance floor and at their tables
The more the restaurant falls apart, the more the people there seem to enjoy themselves, and the staid, ordinary dinner transforms into a wild, frenetic party with a packed dance floor and little pockets of merry-making scattered around the room.
Indeed they are joined by new customers entering the restaurant, all seemingly blithely indifferent to this little world falling apart
Barbara now steps up on a stage that had been abandoned by the band when the ceiling caved in, and begins to play the piano.
Her solo instrumental piano playing soothes everyone, returning them to their original carefree state
M. Hulot brings her a drink, and some food.
The crucial catalyst of this sequence is the music, played by two successive bands and then sung by an old-fashioned chanteuse, who’s eventually joined by the customers—an element that helps us to cope creatively with Tati’s overload of invention by furnishing a rhythmic base to work from
A social fervour rebuilds and gains momentum as the French woman gets everyone to sing a 3/4 patriotic-sounding ballad.
Soon he has his own music playing, and everybody is having a whale of a time.
As their elegant surroundings crumble around them, and they become increasingly drunk, staff and guests lose their haughty aloofness, with its implicit boundaries of class, and the restaurant is transformed from a ritual of affluence to a giant, rowdy playground.
It’s as if the restaurant itself has grown drunk, and in the process, the design loses its compulsion to control in favor of becoming a reflection of the very flawed human beings it was built for
” Little by little, the warmth, the contract, the friendship, the individual that I am trying to defend begin to take precedence over this international decor.” ….. Jacques Tati
In Play Time, the destruction not only liberates, it finds a place of grace.
The theme of adapting to the built environment, rather than the built environment accommodating the occupants, is consistent throughout the film.
J. Monsieur Hulot and Barbara have breakfast at the Drugstore.
This third phase of Tati’s film comments on the other two.
In the first, modernity, its architecture and machines and communication, controls and constrains the humans in it.
In the second phase, the crazy restaurant, the humans break down the architecture in their “Play Time” after working hours.
But in the third phase, they come to terms with their biological animal nature.
They eat and drink and enjoy the company of others.
A most surprising thing occurs as the characters exit the Café Royale in search of food ( as they are starving from the Royale Restaurants inability to feed everyone )
When they finally emerge from the restaurant the next morning, the world is transformed around them.
As they come out of the Royal Garden, one of our first sights is a dug up portion of the pavement.
As if to signal a turn toward biological reality, a totally improbable rooster crows.
The characters amble into Le Drugstore, looking for food.
Following the all night riotous party at the Royale Restaurant , now the local workmen, american tourists and french society types mingle, all driven by the common human, biological imperative: the need to eat.
The American Mr. Schultz has set up a joyous gathering in one corner of the Royale Cafe bistro
To underscore the transformation, Tati gives us the final reflected image of Paris, on the drugstore doors.
It happens to be the Sacré-Cœur / Montmartre, which means a benevolent presence, a blessing.
K. Barbara and Monsieur Hulot walk together through the streets and enter a supermarket.
The real France is only ever hinted at in reflections or off in the distance behind “more important modern things.
” All of Tati’s/Hulot’s beloved old France has been relegated to a single street corner, in the form of a woman selling flowers under an umbrella.
Barbara doesn’t respond to the flower seller as a person – all she sees is a tourist image – “ this is the real Paris ! ” she says and any potential customers are shooed away, so as not to disturb the ideal photograph.
M. Hulot helps Barbara to finally get her photo.
Once she has got the photo she wanted Barbara happily goes away, without a thought of buying any flowers. In any case, a positive transformation has indeed occurred.
Near the end, M. Hulot buys a going-away gift for Barbara (Barbara Dennek) as she is about to leave Paris with her tour group.
Hulot is attempting to leave a small and crowded magasin with a souvenier gift scarf for Barbara.
He manoeuvres around a set of pot handles sticking into the aisle, only to be told he must go back and exit through a turnstile which now looks remarkably like…a bunch of pot handles sticking out.
Hulot can’t reach her in time, but the encounter is saved by an intermediary faux hulot, who passes the souvenir on to Barbara as she boards the bus for the airport.
L. The tourist bus picks up Barbara and takes her, along with the other American tourist to the airport.
By the end of Play Time, the once controlled atmosphere of the architect has turned into a circus.
People are looser and happier, and colour has fully invaded the grey streets.
In fact, you could almost say Tativille has gone full circle back to Tasti’s earlier feature film set in a small town fair ( Jour de fête (1949).)
Tati leaves us with, a traffic jam that generates joy instead of numbness, a problem that solves itself by turning into a party, continuing the revolution begun at the Royal Garden and bringing about the triumph of what Tati called the indomitable French spirit.
Nothing is moving in a straight line… everything is moving around a roundabout, which one could either consider celebratory (the reassertion of smiles and enjoyment) or ironically pessimistic (everyone is in motion, but no one is going anywhere).
Overall, there is optimism in humanity; even in a world constricted by formality and straight lines… the curve will still find its outlet
The final musical theme ironically comments on the choreographed movements of the tourists, the traffic flow, and the whole urban crowd control design principles which attempt to order and constrain social dynamics.
In effect, this music functions as simile: the people move like marionettes on a rotating fairground display.
Now the bus seems to rise and fall as a workman reflects it in a glass he is cleaning.
In the second, the tourists look out from their bus at what appears to be either a mechanic or fuel station at cars being inspected and going up and down on hydrolic platforms.
Now a technician in working clothes on a mechanical lift shouting to his colleague on the ground, trying to communicate with him, amidst a sea of cars below and around.
And all of this is being seen by the tourists through their bus windows.
These scenes are all in stark contrast to the first half of the film, creating two great counterpoints essentially hinged by the dinner scene between them.
On a basic level, the arc of the film in this way transitions from the sterile line to the fluid curve.
This is not a modern Paris in which everything is controlled, designed, calculated, and trimmed of excess like the earlier scenes of the protagonist man lost in the modern buildings and their modern furniture exhibition centers.
This is instead a Paris where things are happening slightly in a more “natural,” unplanned manner.
Barbara opens her gift box from Hulot and covers her head with the scarf – like the nuns at the beginning of the movie.
She then gets a sprig of the ” lily-of-the-valley ” flower which was under the scarf.
Tati cuts from the lily of the valley to the street lights that the bus is driving under.
The street lights “rhyme” with the lily of the valley, and remind the viewer of the bus ride from Orly airport at the start of Play Time
That the streetlights should offer so rich and emotional an ending shows how carefully Tati arranged and filmed every little bit of this movie.
The film finishes with a stream of cars, their taillights disappearing into the night.
The finishing scenes of the movie continues the idea of transport and movement.
This imagery at the film’s ending can be considered as a direct opposite to all that is connoted by the film’s opening title sequence:
opening / ending
no people / mass of people
sky & nature / city & man
air & floating / earth & gravity-bound
still clouds / patterns of traffic movement
silent / noisy
primal drumming / overtly-coded waltz
It’s a perfect close to the entire narrative on modernity.
About Jacques Tati
1967: Play Time
1958: Mon oncle
1953: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot
1948: Jour de fête
1947: L’Ecole des facteurs
1935: Gai dimanche
1932: Oscar, champion de tennis
Jacques Tati (Titischev) was born on October 9, 1908 i.n Le Pecq on the outskirts of St Germain en Laye, Paris France.
His father Georges Emmanuel Tatischeff was Russian
His mother Marcelle Claire Van Hoof was French
His mother was of Dutch origin, something which, he claimed, shaped his meticulous approach to comedy. “It is almost impossible to make the Dutch laugh,” he once said.
His paternal grandfather was a Russian General, hereditary Count Dmitri Tatischeff, military attaché to the Imperial Russian Embassy in Paris in the 1870’s.
“It used to take him a week to go around his lands! It takes me 8 seconds. If all the Russian Generals were like that it’s not surprising that there was a revolution over there !!
His maternal grandfather, a Dutch picture framer called Van Hoof, was a friend of Van Gogh and counted Toulouse Lautrec among his clients.
Van Hoof made Van Gogh’s frames ( but refused to buy his paintings ) Georges-Emmanuel, his father, “not a lot of laughs”, took over the prestigious framing company, Cadres Van Hoof, near the Place Vendôme.
Tati had grown up in a big family home full of servants, on the road to Versailles
He spent holidays in Deauville, and his parents had their own framing shop just off the chic Place Vendôme in central Paris.
There they mixed with all the great artists of the day and assumed their son would take over the business
Jacques intial research into comedy arose from his numerous difficulties at school ” I was lucky to be sent to the corner fairly often. From this view point you notice that the teacher who had looked so perfect when close up has now pulled down his socks a little and is scratching his calves. In other words you see the reverse side of the decor ! ”
This was my first lesson in the art of observation, in that way I began to understand that people are not always flawlessly correct”
After graduating from college in Saint-Germain, Jacques helps his father in his craft and preparing to enter the National School of Arts and Crafts.
Young Jacques knew well what awaited him as a successor in the family business.
The prospect held little attraction: Jacques said that he would “rather be framed than a framer”
Though he received art training so that he could enter his father’s art restoration and picture-framing business, much to his parents’ disgust, he became a mime and then began to get bit parts in movies.
Military service was held at Saint-Germain en Laye, in the barracks in the Royal Square (16th Dragoons).
His research into comedy blossomed at the regiment The character Hulot was conceived at the Dragoons and is based on a horse groomsman who knew absolutely nothing about horses
Jacques was very fond of sports.
He played football and tennis, boxing, rode on horseback.
When he had helped his father in the studio, he took vocational training in England, he discovered rugby.
Jacques played professional Rugby joining the Racing Club de Paris in the French first division ( playing 2nd row ) and whose captain at the time was Alfred Sauvy.
It was here that he discovered his talents as a comic. – “By the third half I’d already got my teammates laughing by impersonating spectators, or the referee. It was my pals who told me I should try to make a go of it.”
The first performance in public Tati took place in 1931 during Racing rugby club dinners. The reception was such that it has opened up new horizons for Tati.
Between 1931 and 1932 the global economic crisis reached France at the same time he left both the Racing Club de France and his apprenticeship at Cadres Van Hoof.
Giving up a relatively comfortable middle class lifestyle for one of a struggling performing artist during this difficult economic time, he developed a collection of highly physical mimes that would become his Impressions Sportives (Sporting Impressions).
Each year from 1931 to 1934 he would participate in an amateur show organised by Alfred Sauvy.
So began the long, tough struggle of the performing artist, moving from city to city, from music hall to circus, from theater to cabaret show – where his speciality was a comic mime of sportsmen.
By 1931 he had put all thoughts of picture framing behind him. For two years he tried unsuccessfully to break into the Parisian scene, and only in 1933, he made his debut in Cabaret Louis Lepley, where the maitre d ‘portrayed.
But really it can be considered as his debut sporting pantomime, which he showed in Ritse in 1934 at a party in honor of the ship Normandie.
He acted in several comic shorts in the 1930s, which included Watch Your Left (1936) by Rene Clement.
He embarked on a long and painful road music-hall artist, traveling from town to town, moving from theater to the circus, the circus at the cabaret.
Tati then goes to the theater Michel.
It was following a disastrous audition at the Finsbury Park Empire, after the war, that Tati decided to renounce the stage and pick up the camera.
The switch was not unusual: music halls were dying out, film was attracting big crowds.
He longed to record his own comic routines and made a short film about François, a rural postman.
The first short film in which he played required husky / On demande un brute / (1934), was a complete failure,
The second Sunday Gay / Gai dimanche / (1935) was adopted less cold.
This was followed by other short films:from 1932-1938 he took Train left / (1936), Oscar, champion tennis / (1932) and return to the land (1938).
In 1939, he was going on tour in Italy when he was drafted into the army.
He was stationed at Cambrai
To avoid conscription to a work camp in Germany he took refuge in the unoccupied zone of France near the village of Sainte Severe sur Indre with his friend the scriptwriter Henri Marquet
After demobilization, he went to live in the province of the Indre, where the idea comes to him and the film received the final name Festive Day / Jour de fete / (1949).
In 1944 he married Micheline Winter, they had two children, Sofie Catherine (1946 – 2001 ) and Pierre ( 1949 ) born in Le Pecq
After the Second World War, he is back on the screen as actor in Sylvie et le fantôme and Diable au corps by Claude Autant-Lara
Tati already had acting experience, too, with the pre-war shorts Oscar, champion de tennis and René Clément’s little gem about a country boy turned boxing maestro, Soigne ton gauche.
The latter, along with his own L’Ecole des facteurs (1947)
He spent the war hiding with a group of friends in a village in central France and returned there in 1947 to make his first movie, Jour de Fête.
The film tells the story of a country postman who tries to adapt his bicycle delivery round to “efficient” American methods.
It introduces the themes which dominate Tati’s six, surviving movies: the desperate, or over-optimistic, but always comic efforts of mankind to cope with empowering, but belittling, modern devices, buildings and lifestyles.
After the war, he plays a small role in Sylvia and ghost / Sylvie et le Fantome / (1945) and Devil in the flesh / Diable au corps, Le / (1946)
In 1947 Rene Clement wanted to make postmen School / Ecole des facteurs, L ‘/ (1947), but fell ill, and then decided to replace its chief writer and performer.
He directed his own short School for Postmen in 1947.
This short feature impressed the audience as well as the producer so much that he wanted it to be expanded into Tati’s first feature Jour de fete (Holiday, 1949).
But the shorts were not profitable, therefore, due to the good reception of the film, decided to turn it into a feature.
So there was a festive day / Jour de fete / (1949).
Producers were asked to make a sequel adventure postman. But Jacques Tati courageously decided to do something else.
François’ adventures were expanded into a feature, Jour de Fête, in which he becomes obsessed with American efficiency and is determined to apply modern methods (unsuccessfully) to his bicycle delivery route.
The film was printed in an idiosyncratic black and white process; in some scenes selected objects were hand colored.
Filming Vacation / Vacances de M.Hulot, Les / (1953) began in 1951 but were suspended due to lack of money.
By the film back in 1952 and was completed in October of that year.
As in the previous case, it has caused distrust among distributors (there’s nothing there!), But predpokaz dispelled all doubts.
The film was a success in France, and America is a triumph.
Jour de Fête’s enthusiastic reception led to M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) the second of Tati’s “films de copains” made with his friends on a low budget.
My uncle / Mon oncle / (1958) was filmed more efficiently and with less improvisation
Mon Oncle (1958) was another success, emphasizing M. Hulot’s warmth and idiosyncratic personality as he vied with the stresses and strains of contemporary life.
The film saw the creation of a new comic hero Mr Hulot, who is as distinctive and endearing as Chaplin’s Charlie.
“Hulot is not a doer,” said Tati.
“He is perhaps more childish. He does not dare. He is not necessarily funny to everybody. Some spectators do not laugh at him” (Bellos)
Partly inspired by Tati misadventures of this Mr. Hulot, a chemical engineer from Angena.
However, he insisted on the participation of non-professional actors.
Play Time (1967) required three years of preparation, a year of filming, and then, the installation and filming consumed all the money received for the previous Tati movies.
After Play Time, Tati directed two more feature films (Trafic 1971 and Parade 1974), the final being a Swedish Television production
At the time of his death, Tati was, in fact, working on one more motion picture, a film that would reunite him and his old friend, Hulot.
It would have been another ambitious project, perhaps at the same impressive range as Play Time.
Jacques Tati died in 1982, before realising his seventh feature film project Confusion, which he couldn’t even start due to unavailabity of funds or a producer !
He died in November 4, 1982 from pulmonary edema / blood clots to the lungs
- Bellos, David (2012). Jacques Tati. Random House. ISBN 9781409021827.
- “Film historian Philip Kemp, commentary for the British Film Institute, on the Play Time DVD.
- Maltin, Leonard, A Movie Lover’s Journal: Jacques Tati, www.leonardmaltin.com
- Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian “Play Time” Interiors Journal (15 September 2012)
- “6th Moscow International Film Festival (1969)”. MIFF. Retrieved 2012-12-17.
- “Play Time”. British Film Institute. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
Playtime by Kent Jones.
The Dance of Playtime by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Roger Ebert on Playtime, one of his Great Movies.
Le main droite de M Hulot about Tati’s collaborator, artist Jacques Lagrange, including details about his work on Playtime, by Kristin Thompson. (She argues elsewhere, convincingly, for the title as two words.)
Jonathan Rosenbaum’s essay on Playtime from Criterion.
David Bordwell’s post on “Funny Framings” starts off with a Tati example from Playtime.
Dan North’s post on Playtime: “Modern Life is Noisy”