many people in the general public of the USA today know who Jacques Tati is?
Film buffs, certainly, but not many others. It’s a shame, for in the 1950s and
60s, Tati was world famous and well known for his on-screen persona, the
bumbling but well-meaning Monsieur Hulot. After all, one of the Hulot pictures,
Mon Oncle, won the Oscar for Best
Foreign Film of 1958. Jacques Tati was once a big deal. The Criterion
Collection’s new release on Blu-ray of a boxed set containing Tati’s entire
catalog should provide sufficient firepower to make Jacques Tati a big deal all
short, The Complete Jacques Tati is a
magnificent package. The Frenchman’s genius is well documented, not only in the
six feature films and seven shorts included in the set, but in the multitude of
excellent extras—documentaries, vintage footage, and visual essays that
Criterion has assembled. The collection could easily be one of the best Blu-ray
releases the company—or any home video label—has ever done. It’s that good.
are seven discs—one for each of the six features and one for the shorts. A 62-page
booklet containing essays by critics James Quandt, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Kristin
Ross, and David Cairns completes the package.
those unfamiliar with the artist, Jacques Tati (1907-1982) was a comedian and
mime who drew his influences from the old school—Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd—and
thus created a comic style highly dependent on visual sight gags. But what Tati
did beyond the three silent film stars was incorporate the use of sound effects
for humor. The features are full of odd and funny aural jokes—the thoink of a swinging door as it opens
and closes, the ridiculous beeps and blurts of a machine, or the
mumbling-style dialogue of eccentric characters (it doesn’t matter what they’re
saying, it’s more about the sound of their speech). Tati made some shorts in
the 1930s; after the war, he formed his own company with a fellow producer and
began his journey into making movies. Tati, in his later works, liked to
explore the theme of how “modern” technology is taking over a purer essence of life.
Most of all, Tati himself, as an actor, is a wonderfully physical comedian.
Just the way he appears as Mr. Hulot—with trademark hat, pipe, raincoat, and
entire book could be written about Tati’s work, herewith is a brief description
of each of the films.
Jour de Fête (aka The Big Day),
1949. Tati’s first feature film is a disarming comedy in which the super-tall
actor portrays a postman. Very different from the Mr. Hulot character, Tati’s
postman is fussy, ornery, and prone to “lose it” when a traveling fair comes to
town and messes up his route. It’s an affectionate look at French rural life.
The 2K digital restoration is in black and white, as was the original
theatrical release—however, Tati always meant for the picture to be in color.
He therefore revisited the film later in order to make it so. Extras include two alternate versions of the film on
the same disc—Tati’s own 1964 re-edit featuring hand-colored objects and newly
incorporated footage, and a full-color 1995 re-release completed from Tati’s
original color negatives. Stéphane Goudet, a
Tati expert, presents a 2013 visual essay that tracks the evolution of Tati’s
comedy. A 1988 documentary traces the restoration of the film to Tati’s color
1953. Mr. Hulot is introduced in this charming look at how the French often
took holidays at a seaside resort. Well-choreographed sight gags dominate the
free-flowing, plotless narrative that features many odd characters, dogs,
boats, and drooping taffy. The main version on the disk is a 2K digital
restoration of Tati’s 1978 re-release. Extras include the original 1953 version;
an introduction by Terry Jones; another visual essay by Stéphane
Goudet about the debut of Hulot; an interview with Tati from 1978; a new
interview with composer/critic Michel Chion on Tati’s use of sound design; and
an optional English-language soundtrack for the re-release version.
Mon Oncle, 1958. Tati’s
Oscar-winner could very well be his best work. This one, in color, is the story
of how Mr. Hulot becomes the relative-of-choice for his young nephew, whose
parents are too caught up in being “modern” (their house, car, automatic garage
door, and that awful fish fountain) to properly pay attention to their son. The
garden party sequence and the plastic hose factory scene are timeless. The new
2K digital restoration looks fabulous. Extras include another introduction by
Terry Jones; My Uncle—the English
language edit of the film; a documentary from 2008 on the making of the film; a
2005 program on the film’s fashion, architecture, and furniture; a Stéphane
Goudet visual essay comparing the film to other Hulot pictures; and a 1977
French TV episode featuring Tati.
Playtime (also written as Play Time or PlayTime), 1967. What an amazing, highly original film! Francois
Truffaut once said that Playtime is a
movie that might have been made “on another planet where they don’t make films
like we do here.” Hulot is one of many characters in this collage about the
clash of modernity and humanity. At the time, it was France’s most expensive
production—and all the money is there on the screen in the form of an entire downtown with streets, buildings, and
traffic that Tati had built outside of Paris. “Tativille,” as it was known, is
a remarkable accomplishment in set design. It forecasted the use of office
cubicles at least ten years before they became a reality. Very funny stuff, but
at the time audiences were confused by the lack of a story and the differences
between it and previous Hulot features. Tati insisted on the film being
released in 70mm; thus there is something going on in every corner and space on
the frame. It’s a picture that demands to be viewed more than once. The new 4K
digital restoration has a 3-0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include
another introduction by Terry Jones; three selected-scene commentaries; another
Goudet visual essay; a 1967 TV program on Tativille; a 2002 documentary
featuring behind-the-scenes footage; an interview with script supervisor
Sylvette Baudrot; an audio interview with Tati from 1972; and an optional
Trafic, 1971. The final
Hulot film features the character working for an auto manufacturer whose
employees must get its latest creation—designed by Hulot—to an auto trade show
in Amsterdam on time. As the title suggests, they run into some traffic.
Terrific sight gags abound, as well as Tati’s ever present discourse on how
technology is ruining our world. Along with the 2K digital restoration, the
extras include a 1976 Omnibus episode
from British TV featuring an interview with Tati.
Parade, 1974. Tati’s
final film does not feature Hulot. It’s actually a performance piece in front
of an audience, in which Tati teamed up with a circus of clowns, jugglers,
acrobats, and contortionists—but the great thing about it is that we can see
Tati perform mime acts. The picture was originally made for Swedish television
(!) and is a delightful cap to Tati’s career. The disk sports a 2K digital
restoration, along with extras such as a two-part 1989 documentary on Tati’s
life and career, made by the director’s daughter, Sophie Tatischeff; another Goudet
visual essay about Tati’s appreciation of the circus and clowns; and a 1982
French TV episode featuring a tribute to Tati by his friend and set designer
Tati Shorts. 2K digital
restorations of the following shorts are presented: On demande
une brute (1934); Gai dimanche (1935);
Soigne ton gauche (1936); L’école
des facteurs (1946)—which
features the postman character Tati played in Jour de Fête; Cours de soir (1967); Dégustation
and Forza Bastia (1978). Tati wrote
and starred in the first three. He wrote, directed and starred in the next two.
The sixth short is a César-winning piece by Tati’s daughter; and
the seventh is a soccer documentary started by Tati and completed by his
daughter after his death. Extras include a 2002 short film about Tati’s career;
and a lecture program by Goudet on Tati’s cinema.
will take many hours to get through this marvelous set. The Criterion
Collection has outdone itself with The
Complete Jacques Tati, and any of you out there who is interested in the
history of cinema must purchase it immediately. It will be an education.