Criterion: Parade, Jacques Tati, 1974
I wrapped up my discussion of Trafic by quoting Tati from an interview about why he made so few films. His answer was that he did not want to make something that failed to meet his standards. His quote was that, “in life, you only have so many ideas.” Parade is most certainly one of his big ideas. It is ultimately his lifelong idea, a culmination of all his years working in the entertainment industry, beginning in the music hall, continuing with his mime training, and to a lesser extent, his experience in films. This is Tati the showman, which was ultimately what he was all his life, even if that side of him was disguised in his most popular works because the real Tati was somewhere within the character of Hulot.
By that same token, ideas for a variety show on TV and a feature film are drastically different. Parade stands apart from all of Tati’s cinematic output because (and apologies to Jafar Panahi), this is not a film. This is a TV show that was later converted to film. As a TV, show it would be quality entertainment. As a stage show, it would be an experience one would never forget. As a film, it is a decent and fleeting experience. As a Tati film, it is the outlier, the movie that does not belong and cannot be measured or even categorized with all of his previous efforts. For that reason, Parade is a disappointment.
The show is a form of a circus with Tati as the host. There are acts of juggling, balloons, magic, animals, and musicians (especially during the latter third of the film). The acts that take place when Tati is not on the stage are at times enjoyable, at others trite and uninspired.
It is when Tati is on screen that the film shines. He does a few pantomimes. My favorite was his attempt at boxing. His act is coordinated with the drummer to register the punches and the end of the round. It is short, but absolutely hilarious. Other acts are also good. The soccer goalie is a joy, whereas the tennis match is a riot, especially when he performs his mime in slow motion and captures the anguish of the tennis player on every shot to comedic effect.
The audience participates in the escapades. During the tennis match, they look left and right using the sound effect of the ball as their cue. At times it is clear that they are plants, such as when an audience member does a magic act that upstages the amateur on stage who fails at his act. There is also a husband and wife couple in the audience during the mule sequence. The husband is tempted to walk onto the stage and try his hand at the mule, but his wife gets in the way. When he finally gets away from her and onto the stage, he manages to ride the mule. He follows it up with a couple pratfalls and we catch on that the joke is on us. He was part of the entertainment. There is another family with two small children who are given a great deal of reaction shots during the entirety of the film with no explanation as to why, but they come back into “play” at the end of the film. It was probably a blast for the children, but as a film finale, it was unsatisfying.
It begs to wonder why Tati brought this to screen in the first place. The simplest explanation is the lure of money. He had been critical of the idea of ‘selling out’ to get a paycheck, but after two failures in PlayTime and Traffic, he may have had no choice. He may have needed the cash. On the other hand, he is clearly proud of his background as a pantomime and entertainer, and what better way to exhibit such hidden talents than on a TV screen? Given that he shot it in video (and it shows), it also begs to wonder whether this is something he wanted to stand on the same footing as his artistic films. Whatever his reasoning, it is a disappointment that this is the final appearance on film for such a cinematic genius.
Film Rating: 3/10
In the Ring – This is Stéphane Goudet’s critical analysis. He has provided a lot of the better content on this box set. His commentary is useful here in pointing out some of the background of the production, such as the fact that this was the first French movie filmed on video that was shown in theaters. He points out that the cinematographer was Gunnar Fischer, the same DP who filmed many of Ingmar Bergman’s classics (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Smiles of a Summer Night). The filming style is different than Tati’s other works, not just because it is filmed on video, but it also has close-ups and zooms, which capture the action of the performance. Of course Tati’s traditional long shots would not work with this type of production.
He provides some background on what Tati brought to his performance. Many of the acts were developed 40 years earlier as he was a developing pantomime and comedic actor. Goudet is fond of this work because it shows that side of Tati, and he dismisses the argument from a Tati biographer that this was a tragic mistake. Goudet feels like this is an extension of Tati’s earlier work. I disagree with Goudet, as is clear in my write-up above.
“In the Footsteps of Monsieur Hulot” – This documentary is one of the better special features of the set. It was directed by his daughter Sophie Tatischeff, and separated into two parts. The first part is about Tati’s early life, how he developed his comic sensibilities, and through the filming and exhibition of Mon Oncle. It shows a lot of 1930s footage of Tati doing his mime acts in the music hall as a young man, and these are a treasure to see. There are interviews of Tati, and he discusses his move into short films, the first of which he considers to be terrible, but he learned from it, and eventually made features. He wrote Jour de Fete while in the war, stationed at Saint-Severe, and promised to return to film there. He kept his promise and that launched his film career. The whole town participated. He based Hulot on someone he had met in the military, someone good natured and goofy. From there, as we know, he made Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle, the latter of which launched him to international stardom.
Part two follows the remainder of his career. He tours the world for Mon Oncle. He wins at Cannes and an Academy Award. He gets to meet the star of his choice after winning the Oscar, and chooses Buster Keaton, and eventually spends time with Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Mack Sennett, and Stan Laurel. From there they cover PlayTime, with the construction and destruction of “Tativille,” and the economic failure of Tati. Traffic is glossed over, but Parade is cherished by Tati. He made it in Sweden because he felt they had supported him in his career, even during the bad times. It ends with him giving a parting quote: “If I’ve managed to bring a little smile to people’s everyday lives, in the end [ … ] I think I did well in choosing this marvelous means of expression.” You did well, Jacques.
“An Homage to Jacques Tati” – This is a 1982 episode of the French TV show Magazine. Artist and set designer Jacques Lagrange pays tribute to his friend. He talks about how he created the Arpel house from a sketch, and they received letters of outrage from architects, all of which they cherished. He talks about the process by which they would write their gags, which was carefully thought out and visualized.
Even if the film itself is not up to the quality of the rest of Tati’s work, the disc is worth watching for the supplements, especially Tatischeff’s feature length documentary.
Criterion Rating: 6/10