Jacques Tati directed only six feature films, meaning you could watch his entire ouevre in a day. And what a fun day that would be. I can’t decide if my favorite is Mon Oncle, his bemused meditation on late ’50s modernism (which features the slightly creepy fish fountain above), or Playtime, his 70mm anti-epic that, like Citizen Kane, was unappreciated in its time but is now considered a masterpiece.
The documentary Magnificent Tati, playing at NWFF this Sunday at 5:00, is a good introduction to Tati’s life and art. We learn about his family’s business (picture framing – how perfect!), influences on his performance style (mimes, Buster Keaton), and his personal problems (mostly financial). But my favorite sections deal with the anti-Hollywood formal qualities of his films, which favor mis-en-scene over story, use dialogue mostly as a sound effect, and (especially in Playtime) give us so much to look at in any given scene that each viewer is forced to create their own version of the film. (Jim Emerson recently talked about Playtime in this context on his blog, where you can find a representative clip. )
And don’t miss the interview with the film’s director, Michael House, posted below.