Play for Today

The nice people at Criterion have published a blog post by yours truly. And that’s all I shall say about it. Link.

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10 Responses to “Play for Today”

  1. Playtime is one of those very rare movies that actually altered the way I saw the world. I first saw it fifteen years ago or so, haven’t seen it at all for at least ten, yet I regularly find that when I’m out in the world a scene will register as a Playtime scene–something about the movement of a crowd, or the play of light and reflections on modernist glass–and the day is transformed.

    I think it’s time to see it again. (Now that I think about it, the last time I saw it was on video, cropped, on a too-small screen. It didn’t work at all that way; it was a hideous way to try to watch this movie. Bigger TV, letterboxing, all should be reasonably well now.)

  2. I think it REALLY works on a big, big screen in 70mm, but scaled down to a biggish TV and a DVD in the right ratio, you’ve still got an impressive good time on your hands. And I completely agree about it changing the world — I always get this when I come out of a screening, and the last time I saw it I got it on the way in, also.

    Emerging, I snapped a photo of a pot of blue paint sitting on a restaurant table: an absurdly apt image, it seemed at the time.

  3. What always struck me about PLAYTIME was the strong sense of melancholy in the film. How each characters try and fail to connect, like M. Hulot trying to find time with the American tourist in the green dress and actually while its always been celebrated as a film where Tati shows that a comic star like Chaplin/Keaton/Tati isn’t needed to be funny and that its an ideal of democracy, I’ve always felt that it was the opposite, that the multiple M. Hulot’s that pop up show how identities get fragmented, its just as bleak as L’ECLISSE and like that film its pool of aesthetic invention is rich and free enough that it makes the film optimistic.

  4. The fact you’re forgetting is that Playtime is made complete by the presence of an audience — who mirror the people on screen. The scene with the glass plate makes that clear.

  5. The first half or so is all missed connections, then the characters enjoy a blissful night of truly belonging, to each other and their surroundings, but in the morning, even as Paris becomes a funfair, Hulot is prevented from giving his gift to the tourist. It’s a moment of bleakness amid the joy.

    A critic friend calls it the combined Purgatory and Paradise of an informal cinematic Divine Comedy, with Salo as Hell.

    Parade really embraces the idea of the audience as participants, but maybe the presence of witnesses/audience for so many scenes in Playtime helps account for the movie’s world-changing quality: you come out of the cinema seeing the world with fresh eyes, as Levi remarked.

  6. Parade is a curtain call — as is Rivette’s highly Tati-inspired 36 vue de Pic Saint-Loup,/i>

  7. Agreed, David: the audience is key. They’re central to the urban feel of the film, that sense, familiar to any true city dweller, that even as you live within and enjoy the anonymity of the city, you are at the same time always on stage. In Playtime, that juxtaposition is used as well as in any film I know: the gags and oddities and revelries are ever-conscious, or, at least, sub-conscious, of their anonymous audience.

    And David Cairns: you should tell the folks at Criterion that you’ve succeeded in at least one traceable case: I’m going right now to buy the Criterion DVD of the film. It’s just been too many years since my wife and I have seen it.

  8. By the way, David C., BEST BANNER YET!

  9. What’s surprising to me is how the film’s reputation has grown considerably over the years. When I first saw it in a terrible VHS copy, however badly, I could see something special (it’s what kept me buying new versions). However, outside of a staunch defender like Jonathan Rosenbaum, I didn’t find good reviews for this film anywhere.

  10. Thanks, Arthur. It comes from The Telltale Heart animation, although I worried I was completely obscuring it with lettering…

    Mark, agree that the movie lacked defenders for a long time. I thought TV killed it when I saw it pan-and-scanned, so I can sort of understand it being neglected after its release, but why almost nobody noticed how great it was ON release is a mystery to me. Right film at the wrong time, I guess.

    Levi, wish I’d included an Amazon link!

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