Tati, Anarchism, Aesthetics

My new article on Jacques Tati, entitled “Somatic Geometry: Jacques Tati’s anarchist aesthetics” has just been published here at One+One: Filmmakers Journal. I’ve been crazy about Tati’s work since I saw Playtime (1967) more than a decade ago and I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk about the formal composition of his films and how, in addition to providing light-hearted entertainment, they might communicate an anarchist critique of modern society. The article deals specifically with Mon Oncle (1958) yet, as I indicate, there’s reason to believe that his other films (notably Playtime) conduct a similar affirmative engagement with anarchy and anarchistic themes.

One point I find of interest in Tati’s films, which unfortunately didn’t make it into this paper but which I hope to find time to theorise elsewhere, is his obsession with surface: smooth, metallic, shining surfaces abound (particularly in Playtime) reflecting the weird absence of accent and depth in his shots that I like to call “pellicular flattening” (after pellicule, for film-stock). Not that in his films people don’t go in and out of doors, recede from view, reappear etc. but rather there appears a reticence to elevate any one element of a composition over another.

We are used to filmmakers, through strategic deployment of certain emphasis (colour, size, positioning), drawing our eye to one part of the screen, commanding our attention in order to adequately develop plot or convey impression of a character or perhaps even signal discord. In comedy, for instance, the contributory features of a scene will often be overtly indicated in advance (there’s the tube of KY Jelly; there’s the tube of superglue…) telegraphing the humour to the audience and marshalling their response. Yet in Tati’s shots, each element appears equally weighed: an object, a gesture, a movement, a sound – all expressed in the same bluish-grey tones. His work seems patient and restrained: it gives the impression that it’s waiting for humour to evolve out of disparate elements. This is why, I think, his films bear repeated viewings: the significance of every squeak or turn or slight variation in colour is ultimately inexhaustable…

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~ by schoolboyerrors on December 4, 2011.

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