Daily Archives: April 11, 2019

Jacques Tati: Composing in Sound and Image

Written in Summer 2014 for the seven-disc Criterion Blu-Ray box set, “The Complete Jacques Tati”, and posted on Criterion’s web site on October 28. — J.R.

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Even though he was a skilled pantomimist, it’s impossible to imagine Jacques Tati as a film artist without his use of sound, and it’s not always easy to imagine his filmic universe minus color: two of his six features exist in black and white, but only the second of these, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953), was intended exclusively for that format. Tati had a sense of design in terms of both sound and image that expressed itself in painterly “touches” — strategic dabs that informed and inflected his overall compositions. (This shouldn’t be too surprising from the grandson of the man who framed van Gogh’s canvases.)

 

The fact that he always shot his films without sound and composed his soundtracks separately made it easier for him to use images and sounds interactively, employing sound in part as a way of guiding how we look at his images, by stimulating and directing our imaginations. This means that any discussion of Tati’s mise en scène has to cope with the reality that he effectively directed each of his films twice — once when he shot them and then once again when he composed and recorded their soundtracks.… Read more »

Recommended Viewing: MURDER BY CONTRACT

Although it’s belatedly become available on Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1 (along with two other particular favorites, The Big Heat and 5 Against the House), Murder by Contract (1958) doesn’t quite qualify as an undiscovered gem. But it’s certainly neglected in terms of some of its singular virtues, including a sharp Zen-like wit and a minimalist style. And what tends to be most neglected is its satirical treatment of business as murder. This is a theme it shares with Monsieur Verdoux — which makes it all the more fitting  that a climactic sequence of the film was shot in Chaplin’s old studio lot, on what remains of an exterior set used for The Great Dictator.

At least two of the main creative talents working on this black comedy about capitalism, director Irving Lerner and uncredited screenwriter Ben Maddow, were blacklisted leftists, and the terse portrayal of a hitman (Vince Edwards, the star) as an independent contractor working hard to buy a house on the Ohio River to share with his unseen girlfriend — a sort of Haliburton or Blackwater operative avant la lettre, hired by an equally unseen Cheney, and calmly regarding his work like a self-improving Zen master — is at times downright hilarious.… Read more »