Jaques Tati was legendarily skeptical about technology and progress, but as far as his magnum opus Play Time is concerned, that might be the very thing that saves his gallic bacon.
A couple of months ago I wrote about being perplexed by this movie, the first Tati I had ever seen. It seemed a sterile series of crowded long shots where minutes would go by with no gags apparent. After a little research I learned that Tati had shot and presented the film in 70mm, that he used stereo sound to direct your attention to certain details in the frame. I was watching on a smaller screen, a streaming Netflix version, I vowed to return when I could arrange a better presentation.
Well first I viewed M. Hulot's Holiday, the more modest first appearance of Hulot, to get a better idea of what rhythms to expect from Tati. Then earlier this month I got a good deal on a bigger 1080p TV. All that remained was the Criterion Blu-Ray release of Playtime.
I'm pleased to report that the movie is much funnier the more technology you throw at it. It's like all those long shots of camels in Lawrence of Arabia. Without a good enough screen, you won't even see them, you'll just see sand. Half of Play Time is tiny camels of jokes. You have to have the 5.1 sound on and the screen at maximum resolution in order to even see them. But they're there alright, quirky and well timed. I suspect, or fear, that if I got an even bigger television the movie would be a laugh riot.
For a while Play Time was the most expensive French movie ever made, and it seems that it's as costly to watch as it was to film. I gotta say though, this TV even makes episodes of Ghost Whisperer entertaining, so it is money well spent. The difference is, Tati is brilliance itself, while most TV is crap.