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Criterion: Parade, Jacques Tati, 1974

Tati_Parade_DVD

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

Supplements:

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

Criterion: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

MONSIEUR HULOT’S HOLIDAY, JACQUES TATI, 1953

Tati_Hulot_DVD

Summer vacation is a time to get away, to adventure, relax, and get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Jacques Tati plays with this logic, as some of his characters make the most of their vacation, while others bring their city lives with them. At the center is the theatrical debut of Monsieur Hulot, who aligns with and is arguably the catalyst for people enjoying themselves during their time off.

From his first appearance as he is driving his meager, sputtering and backfiring, tine Samdon A3, Hulot is introduced as a different type of character. He’s odd, clumsy, sometimes uncomfortable in his own skin, and his unconventional behavior and tastes make him an outlier compared with the traditional vacationers. He barely speaks, and is the center of the comedic gags that take place. He is also the embodiment of the central theme of Tati’s film (and those to come) of tradition versus modernity. Hulot initially seems not to belong because he awkwardly interacts modern technology, but he ends up belonging in his own way.

Holiday is ultimately a comedy, and bears a strong resemblance to the silent comedies that inspired him. He does pack in quite a lot of big gags, the type of which would be familiar in a Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd picture. One example is the shark scene, which was added to the 1978 version in order to satire the recently released Jaws. There are other big laughs, like in his unconventional method of tennis playing, where he trounces his opponents by playing by a different set of standards and rules, not unlike how he behaves during personal interactions.

There are plenty of little laughs as well, like him painting a boat and the paint can rolls away from and towards him without his noticing. Or the older man who casually throws away seashells as his wife collects them. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are countless subtle oddities that Tati throws into the scene, many of which are humorous and sometimes are hidden. He rewards people for paying attention to the details.

There are plenty of other scenes that are not funny, nor are they intended to be, and this is what separates a Tati film from plenty of other comedies. He slows things down and lets the film breathe. This is, after all, a vacation, and he conveys the sense of getting away.

Not all of the characters participate in the vacation. The businessman is constantly taking calls about his stock purchases. A young political idealist is consumed by continually talking about intellectual matters. The characters who interact the moat with Hulot, however, appear to leave life’s trappings behind them. The children take to Hulot, and they are at home away from home, caring only for enjoyment, music and treats. A number of females also take to Hulot, although not so much in the romantic sense. One young, attractive lady finds herself a dancing partner that keeps a comfortable distance. Another older Englishwoman is delighted by the klutzy Frenchman, and she embraces his quirkiness. Even the older couple adore Hulot,and they spend most of their vacation walking around quietly and peacefully.

Those who accept and enjoy Hulot get the most out of their vacation, and that’s because they challenge their comfort zone. They don’t just follow the herd of modern trappings, but they embrace being outsiders and distant from this quagmire of a society.

Film Rating: 8/10

Supplements:

Terry Jones introduction. The Monty Python member gives a short introduction by Criterion standards and basically highlights his favorite scenes. His presence on the disc speaks more for the influence of Tati. His influence on people like Rowan Atkinson is obvious — the Pythons less so.

Clear Skies, Light Breeze: Critical essay. This is a French critical essay by Stéphane Goudet. She talks about Tati’s art and his comedy, how he embraces the middle class and ridicules bureaucracy and technology. One example is the untillegible speaker at the train station, which people follow blindly. She compares many of these same themes to Tati’s later films.

Sounds of Silence: Interview with Michael Chion. He talks about Tati’s use of sound. The sounds in the film do not fill up spaces, but they are used to complement the space. Tati uses sound to guide our eye to the object (like the swinging door in the restaurant). It enhances the silence. There’s actually quite a bit of sound in Tati films, like the sea in Hulot and the music, and there’s lots of dialogue, but it seems to be primarily in the background.

Cine Regard. This is a French TV program where Tati watches clips from his films and discusses them. He begins by telling a funny story about how he went to a screening of Holiday anonymously, entering in the dark so that nobody would recognize him. He sits next to a man who laughs throughout the film, nudges Tati and constantly calls the director an asshole, not realizing the object of his ridicule is sitting next to him. Tati shares a bit of insight into his films, but it is clear during the discussion that he is protective of their integrity. They are like his children.

1953 version of the film. This original version is not the primary version on the disc, because Tati was a proponent of adapting and improving his films over time, which in my opinion he succeeded with Holiday. Many of the changes are cosmetic, especially with the sound. The older version is busier and slightly more political. The older version is also about 10 minutes longer. Unlike a lot of directors, Tati didn’t mind cutting things out to increase the flow, and he did the same with Jour de Fete.

Criterion Rating: 9/10