"The fact that about forty technicians have to wait patiently while a dog condescends to relieve himself on a lamp-post gives me great financial responsibilities."—Jacques Tati.
In his Cineaste review of David Bellos' biography on Jacques Tati (available at the Highbeam Research Library), Jonathan Rosenbaum made mention of his favorite anecdote from James Harding's earlier 1984 biography wherein—as "research" for the opening sequence of Mon oncle—Harding reported that Tati followed dogs around for days, just to see what they did.
"Tati always trusted children more than adults," Rosenbaum wrote elsewhere in his Spring 1983 Sight & Sound essay "The Death of Hulot", republished in Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press. 1995:166). "Animals," he added, "could elicit a lot of attention and respect, too: I recall him performing for somebody's dog in a restaurant for a good ten minutes, evidently more concerned with the dog's responses to his antics than with those of any human onlookers."
In his June 2003 essay "The Quiet Man, Jacques Tati" for The Chicago Sun-Times (also available at Highbeam Research Library), Roger Ebert likewise noted the "supporting cast of dogs" in Mon Oncle "who are seen in the first shot and the last, and hurry on their doggy business in between. They don't have an important role in the plot; they're just there, checking things out, marking their territory."
At the "elegant" website Tativille (which is, indeed, an architectural delight), Ebert discovered Tati's following anecdote:
"I needed seven or eight street dogs for Mon Oncle. I went looking for them in the pound. They weren't trained dogs, they weren't circus dogs who stand to attention all the time awaiting orders from their master.
"I took care of them during the shooting, they were very natural. At the end of the filming we had to get rid of them.
"So the producer said: 'We just have to send them back to the pound.' I answered: 'Look to be honest, it's impossible. I've become attached to these dogs and they've become attached to all of us.' Each morning they would arrive, salute the sound-engineer, the chief cameraman. Everyone knew them. They were very happy with us.
"So I had the idea to put an ad in the evening paper [Le Monde] saying that the dogs, the stars—I used the word 'stars' since they had become cinema artists—who had played in Mon Oncle were available to those who wanted.
"The response was extraordinary: we received so many requests. Some women would have done anything to have one of these dogs, they were distributed all over Paris. One settled down in the very chic Avenue du Bois. He was a very elegant dog. Another ended up with a little retired man in a suburban house in Asnière."
As Ebert summarized: "There is a lot of Tati in that serendipitous story."
Tati's love for and usage of dogs in his films seemed a perfect line of enquiry to ask Michael House during the Q&A following the recent YBCA premiere of his documentary The Magnificent Tati. House responded that Tati's longtime assistant Marie-France Sielger confirmed that, indeed, Tati preferred dogs over people. Once, when Tati was visiting Antwerp, a dog followed him back to his hotel. When Tati returned to Paris and told Marie-France Sielger this story, he added wryly that, clearly, the dog had seen Mon Oncle! As Tati had worked in a circus, he knew how to train and work with animals. In the opening sequence of Mon Oncle, he took a piece of meat and rubbed it all around the set so that the stray dogs would draw near. [My thanks to Michael House for the photo of Tati, nephew and begging dog.]
Cross-published on Twitch.