"Playtime" Blu-Ray Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 1 Old 11-09-09, 05:30 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
Posts: 792
"Playtime" Blu-Ray Review

I went to my local library and was very surprised to discover that they had a shelf
of Blu-Ray DVDs that I could take out. They're the only one in my area that offers
them. Among them was Jacques Tati's "Playtime" which is a very expensive Criterion

As I covered in my previous review of Tati's "Mr. Hulot's Holiday", "Platime" was his
epic folly that destroyed the actor/director's career.

Tati was an 'auterist' in every sense of the word which meant he had talent but
extreme liabilities. The 'auteur' theory of film was developed in France and
introduced in the US by film critic, Andrew Sarris. It's approach to film-making was
the polar opposite of the way most Hollywood features were created. An 'auteur'
(author) was a director who had complete creative control over his movies without
interference. It was his vision on film, no one elses. Most studio films in the US were
collaborations although there were a handful of producer/directors like Hitchcock,
Welles and Capra that did retain relative creative control over their pictures.
They were the exception rather than the rule. While it's very interesting
to examine the influences of auteur film-makers, many
great movies were made as collaborations (i.e. "Singin' in the Rain", "The Wizard of
Oz", "Casablanca"). One method of production is not necessarily better than

The flaws of the auteur theory were that if they that lacked discipline or
business sense could lose their investors and distributors millions which was
the case with "Playtime". Other auteurs who had epic visions that cost astronomical
sums of money include Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", Coppola's "Apocalypse Now"
and Cimino's "Heaven's Gate". Kubrick's vision was a hit, Coppola's eventually made
money and Cinino's closed the producing studio and ruined his career. So you can
see the full range of possibilities with the 'auteur' theory as it applies to exhibition.

Tati was a quirky, talented but undisciplined 'auteur'.
His earlier films starring his character, Mr. Hulot, were very successful and
popular but low budget productions. He used them to persuade people to
invest ten million dollars on a massive, epic undertaking that could not possibly
recoup it's costs since his movies only played small art houses which was a minor
market at the time. Tati also insisted that theaters show the movie in 70mm
which was virtually impossible in the US since those were large screen movie palaces
that booked Hollywood pictures like "The Sound of Music". This delayed the release
by a year when he agreed to allow 35mm reduction prints in mono to be shown

To illustrate how eccentric Tati was, his decision to shoot in 65mm made
this film the most expensive French production in it's history. Not only that,
but Tati didn't like the aspect ratio of 2.21 x 1 so he masked off the sides
of the frame to create a 1.85 image on 65mm film stock. And rather than
utilize the six channels of magnetic stereo, he only used two channel stereo.
Sound flakey? Well it was. For less money he could've shot the film in 35mm
VistaVision and ended up with the same ratio and image quality but Tati had
his own vision and he wasn't going to let any crass commercial considerations like
budget or time bother him. This movie took four years to make (1964-1967)
with an incredible two year shooting schedule. Rather than secure modern
buildings he actually built enormous sets for the airport, convention center
and restaurant outside of Paris. They were so huge they were called "Tativille".
Of course he went bankrupt after the picture bombed at the box-office. 1967-1968
was the era of "New Hollywood" where the counter-culture dominated cinema.
This mild mannered comedy seemed completely out of place compared to controversial
movies like "The Graduate" and "Midnight Cowboy".

How is the film? Well if you liked his earlier films like "My Uncle" and "Mr. Hulot's
Holiday", you'll enjoy this one providing you give it a lot of leeway. Tati's humor
is very low key and done entirely in long shots. No close ups. He creates
complex compositions where all kinds of nutty things are happening within the
frame. You have to let your eyes wander around. Aside from the eccentric
Hulot character, Tati has a strange way of looking at things in his environment.
He finds ordinary people funny if you examine them through his eyes. Two nuns
walk by and their white hats with the flaps make it look like wings flying. A group
of women with flowers on their hats are in a restaurant and a waiter is pouring them
water but in Tati's angle it appears as if he's watering their flowers.

Like all Hulot movies, this film is plotless. The main character gets lost in the locations
and wanders around getting into trouble or creating chaos in the sterile environment.
Tati is obsessed with modern technology and architecture which he believes is
de-humanizing the country. He seems very anti-electronics. While he's able to
derive humor from these concepts, all of us here are pro-technology so
it's a bit hard to relate to his objections. If anything, things like the internet allowed
people to stay in touch with friends and relatives around the world whereas it would
be quite expensive to make phone calls before most people had home computers.

The quality of the Blu-Ray is quite good and the main feature is razor sharp in high
definition with a lot of detail in the 16:9 frame. The two channel stereo sound is
primarily funny sound effects with little dialogue. The only flaw in the transfer are
the opening credits which have some kind of streaky chemical stain on it. I did
some on line research and they had quite a challenge restoring this movie. The 65mm
negative was a mess in rusty cans with missing frames and scenes. They were able
to piece it back together from different elements and clean up the image.

"Playtime" Premiered at 2 hours and 35 minutes but this running time was objected
to by theaters so Tati cut it to 2 hours and five minutes which is considered the
'authorized' international version. In the US the prints ran 95 minutes which is the
version I saw when I was at NYU. To be honest, the short version probably worked
better for most audiences. This restored version is much too long for the premise and
the restaurant sequence seems to drag on endlessly. Fortunately, the final scene is
very charming with a traffic jam choreographed to resemble an amusement park carousel.
My problem is...if Tati is so opposed to technology and machines, then why does
he make an amusing merry-go-round out of machines in his final sequence?

Tati is an acquired taste and you have to be in the right mood to see this film and the other
three Hulot features. They play like one continuous story if that word is applicable. Tati
never explained who Hulot was or why he spent most of his time wandering around aimlessly
getting into trouble. Since the director started as a mime I guess he's similar to Chaplin's
Tramp in that he had no history and is lost soul in a complex world. However, his style
of comedy is not slapstick like Chaplin but a combination of Buster Keaton and
Mr. Bean. I'm sure Rowan Atkinson was influenced by Tati.

The supplements include documentaries about the director and interviews with Tati.
The man interviewing him was British and while Tati spoke English it was clearly
a second language to him. He didn't express himself well and often discussed
things unrelated to the question. Or, Tati was so eccentric that he wasn't
able to explain his style of comedy and just worked on instinct.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-11-09 at 05:30 AM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


"playtime" , blu-ray , review

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