Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Cinephiles who have not yet allowed themselves the luxury of meandering through Jonathan Rosenbaum's online archive are missing out on Rosenbaum's generous mentality; one might even say mentorship (in its classic sense). While the fathers of civilization flounder afar at sea, on the home front Rosenbaum offers counsel, guidance, speculation and articulation through the fulcrum of film. I turn again and again to his site, sometimes for historical research, sometimes to measure how his ideas have developed over time (as revealed through redrafted entries)—which, in itself, is a marvelous meditation: to track the written record of one man's passionate and informed cinephilia and the method by which he burnishes the evolving ore of insight—sometimes to train my visual acuity or to practice auteurial legibility, and sometimes simply to remind myself of the responsibility—implied if unspoken—of what it means to write about film and to contextualize it within an ever-changing culture (if such a concern can ever be simple).

In anticipation of the "Tati-wagon" circling the Bay Area, I turned to Rosenbaum to enhance my appreciation. The ubiquity of his commentary makes it near to impossible to be comprehensive, however, so please feel free to add whatever I might have overlooked. For example, I found little on Mon Oncle. It must be out there in the ether.

Jour de Fête

Commencing with three choice quotes from Serge Daney, Dave Hickey and Jean-Luc Godard, Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay "The Color of Paradise"—published in the January 15, 1998 issue of The Chicago Reader—thoroughly provides the biographical back story leading up to Tati's first directorial feature Jour de fête, situated within the historical context of the Second World War.

The guiding focus of Rosenbaum's essay, however, is a discussion of the experimental Thomson-Color technique by which Tati (and producer Fred Orain) had hoped to achieve "France's answer to Technicolor"; a project which proved unsuccessful at the time. Though 15 years later Tati released a recut version of Jour de fête in which a few details were colored by means of stencils, it wasn't until Tati's daughter Sophie Tatischeff, a professional film editor, and film technician François Ede decided to restore the original color in 1994, five years after Tati's death, that Jour de fête was finally seen as Tati intended it to be seen. What emerged, Rosenbaum explained, was not so much a "new" Tati film as "an old one seen properly for the first time, in the full flavor of its own period."

As Rosenbaum further distinguishes: "[I]ts restored color version is doubly precious: this is color that truly looks like 1947—not films of that period so much as 1947 itself—and its bucolic postwar euphoria, not to mention its affection for interactive village life, has all the fragrant perfume of a time capsule. …Thomson-Color looks distinctly different from every other color process, and the fact that we have virtually no other color record of French life during the 40s gives Jour de fête the force of a revelation."

Notwithstanding, the restored Jour de fête met with tepid indifference by the American mainstream press; "a lack of interest dictated," Rosenbaum suggested, "by the film's U.S. distributor, Miramax, which has brought the film to America only reluctantly, without ads, and for no longer than a week at only a handful of locations." Rosenbaum lambasted Miramax's failure to promote the restored version: "It's an axiom of our Reaganite culture that businesses can do whatever they want with movies and that the press should rubber-stamp these decisions on the basis of ad budgets. Miramax is of course perfectly entitled to deem this crowd pleaser unmarketable and unworthy of anybody's attention—though luckily this also means that they haven't bothered to recut it, which they generally do only with films that they 'believe in.' What I object to, rather, is the mass media's implied insult to the audience at large by kowtowing to Miramax and refusing to acknowledge any alternatives that could possibly merit anyone's attention, even when they're as irreplaceable as the restored Jour de fête. In a society where price tags have become the only cultural credentials, Tati's film couldn't even pass muster at a garage sale."

Along with his essay on the restored color version of Jour de fête for The Chicago Reader, a week later Rosenbaum wrote a
capsule review.

As for those who argued that Jour de fête was the least of Tati's six features, Rosenbaum countered that such an argument was "like saying Ozu's Equinox Flower doesn't quite equal Mizoguchi's The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums. …Apart from offering an ideal introduction to his work, Jour de fête paints a definitive, loving, and beautiful portrait of a remote village in postwar France that's already feeling challenged and threatened by American technology."

Rosenbaum also relays a charming anecdote in his essay "The Death of Hulot", originally published in the Spring 1983 issue of Sight & Sound and republished in Placing Movies: The Practice Of Film Criticism, University of California Press, Berkeley (1995:163-170). Unexpectedly hired for a few weeks as Tati's script consultant for Confusion—an unrealized project about television—Rosenbaum took the task to heart, despite many of his suggestions falling on deaf ears. "When I suggested at one point that he see Buñuel's Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie, he could only muse about who this Buñuel fellow was. Wasn't he the chap who made a film—he forgot the title—strongly influenced by Jour de fête?" ("The Death of Hulot", supra, p. 165.)

Mr. Hulot's Holiday

Rosenbaum had already written here and again that part of Tati's legacy was his radical rethinking of how sound relates to image: "Because he shot all his films silently and constructed his sound tracks afterward, Tati was able to create an interplay between image and sound that was never a matter of one simply reinforcing the other, and he used color more to accent the image than to enhance it." As he had appreciated in Jour de fête: "There's the clean detachment of the images from the sound track—the latter a beautiful and highly selective blend of sound effects, ambient noises, and dialogue, comprising a kind of musique concrète (though there's more dialogue than Tati would ever use again). This separation of sound from image allows for a certain counterpoint between the two…."

In a January 1995 book review for Cineaste (available at Highbeam Research Library), Rosenbaum offered an alternate perspective on this point: "As a way of demonstrating how the ear leads the eye and vice versa, [Michel] Chion usefully begins with two modest proposals [in his book Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen]: that we analyze the opening avant-garde sequence of Bergman's Persona with and without the sound, and a characteristic naturalistic sequence on the beach in Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday with and without the image. In the first case, he observes that, without sound, not only does the first sequence of Persona lose its rhythms, its unity, and its meaning; it also looks different—a 'shot' of a nail driven into a hand becomes three separate shots, and a narrative exposition of bodies in a morgue, without the sound of dripping water, becomes a disconnected series of stills without reference to either space or time. In the second case, the apparent boredom, discomfort, and inertia of vacationers witnessed on a beach becomes the sound of lively children enjoying themselves without the image to 'mislead' us."


As with Jour de fête, Rosenbaum crafted not only a capsule review for The Chicago Reader, but an expanded essay "The Dance of Playtime" which he reworked for Criterion's dvd release. Of note is his comparison of Playtime with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey "in its wide-screen project to reeducate us by disrupting some of our basic habits in organizing visual and spatial data." As Rosenbaum came to understand, "Playtime proposed a particularly euphoric form of reengagement with public space, suggesting ways of looking and finding connections, comic and otherwise, between supposedly disconnected street details—not to mention connections between those details and myself."

A few years later when Rosenbaum landed an interview with Tati in his suburban office, in La Garenne-Colombes, and began their conversation by telling Tati how Playtime had changed his relation to cities, Tati hired him as his "script consultant" for a few weeks for the aforementioned project Confusion. "He had recently been bankrupted by the heavy losses of Playtime," Rosenbaum explained, "so it was generous of him to be paying me any salary at all."

For those who missed the PFA screening of Playtime earlier this month and as an argument against those who might rationalize away the opportunity to view the film at YBCA come mid-February, Rosenbaum asserts that Playtime "assumes a precise contiguity and continuity with the public space of a theater, where we share its experience with others…. Even if we sometimes wind up laughing at different gags, we're all laughing to some degree at ourselves, and the sense of mutual recognition is crucial."

Interestingly, Rosenbaum furthers this observation with a cogent critique of cell phones: "Mobile phones have sadly made the sense of public urban space as it exists in Playtime almost archaic, a kind of lost paradise. The utopian vision of shared space that informs the latter scenes—beginning in the new Royal Garden restaurant at night and continuing the next morning in a drugstore and on the streets of Paris—is made unthinkable by mobile phones, whose use can be said to constitute both a depletion and a form of denial of public space, especially because the people using them tend to ignore the other people in immediate physical proximity to them. Nevertheless, given his capacity to keep abreast of social changes, I have little doubt that Tati, if he were alive today, could and probably would construct wonderful gags involving the use of these phones. And if he were making Playtime now, I suspect he'd most likely be inventing gags for the first part that involved mobile phones, and then would have to find ways of destroying or disempowering them to make way for the second part."

Rosenbaum credits the Royal Garden sequence in Playtime—a sequence that makes up roughly half of the film—as possibly "the most formidable example of mise-en-scène in the history of cinema." He closes his Criterion essay with an appreciation of Tati's choreographic aesthetics in the Royal Garden sequence: "The crucial catalyst for our appreciation of this sequence is the music, played by two successive bands and then sung by an old-fashioned chanteuse, who's eventually joined by the customers—an element that helps us to cope creatively with Tati's overload of invention by furnishing a rhythmic base to work from. Thanks to this music, each set of visual options has a rhythmic pattern for one's gaze to follow while scanning the screen's busy surface of swarming detail, through which we can join Tati in charting our own choreographies, improvising our own organizations of emphasis and direction in relation to the director's massive 'head arrangement.' What other movie converts work into play so pleasurably by turning the very acts of seeing and hearing into a form of dancing?"

That closing paragraph of Rosenbaum's Criterion essay likewise appeared in his "London & New York Journal" for the July-August 1976 issue of Film Comment, wherein he reacted to re-seeing Playtime in a NYU film class: "I know of nothing in cinema which physically exhausts me as much. Fifteen minutes after it's over, I find myself inadvertently crashing into a wall like one of Tativille's inhabitants, still overwhelmed by the notion that any slab of sound and image—reality included—can be so richly orchestrated." (Quoted in Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, 1995:28.)

In his later essay on Parade, Rosenbaum elucidated that Playtime's vision "threatened the politics of spectacle as we know it. The democratic, nonelitist idea that three dozen characters can all be on-screen at once and can all be equally worthy of interest––which is central to the hour-long climactic sequence in Playtime devoted to the opening of a restaurant, conceivably the most richly orchestrated piece of mise-en-scène in the history of cinema—sabotages not only the star system, but principles of story telling, dramaturgy, composition, foreground and background, and moral and social hierarchies central to other movies."

As Rosenbaum extrapolates: "It is the ideology of spectacle and its attendant hierarchies that he is out to dismantle––not the pleasures of spectacle itself, which he is in fact inclined to spread around liberally and democratically, emphasizing its continuities with everyday life."

Rosenbaum captures with searing poignancy the existential crisis at the heart of Tati's vision of Playtime in his essay "The Death of Hulot": " 'The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author,' Roland Barthes wrote in the 1960s. 'I think Playtime is revolutionary in spite of Tati,' Jacques Rivette said during the same decade. 'The film completely overshadows the creator.' 'Playtime is nobody,' Tati more instinctively said to me during our interview. Yet, as it became increasingly clear to me, the birth of Tati the director had to be ransomed by the death of Hulot the performer. It was an existential crisis of the first order, and his career never quite recovered from it. People who had never heard of Tati loved Hulot, whereas Tati personally was sick and tired of Hulot, a character originally invented for only one film, and which the public refused to let him abandon, rather as Conan Doyle's reading public refused to let him dispose of Sherlock Holmes. Hulot remained Tati's bread and butter, but it was this same lunar presence who stood between him and his desire to be a director. Not like Chaplin, who merely regarded direction as the placement of his performance, but quite the reverse: a vision that democratized the holy fool so that he/she occupied every corner of the frame, every character and object and sound, no longer the emperor of privileged space. …The absolute equivalence of real and false Hulots is basic to the film's ethics and aesthetics, which deplore the kinds of space created by stars, whether human or architectural." ("The Death of Hulot", supra, pp. 166-167.)

Rosenbaum launches his separate essay "Tati's Democracy"—originally published in the May-June 1973 issue of Film Comment, revised in October 1995, and then republished in Movies As Politics, University of California Press, Berkeley (1997:37-40) within the subsection "The Politics of Form"—with a quote from André Bazin's seminal essay on Tati ("M. Hulot et le temps," 1953): "Like all of the very great comics, before making us laugh, Tati creates a universe. A world arranges itself around his character, crystallizes like a supersaturated solution around a grain of salt. Certainly the character created by Tati is funny, but almost as an accessory, and in any case always relative to the universe. He can be personally absent from the most comical gags, for M. Hulot is only the metaphysical incarnation of a disorder that is perpetuated long after his passing." (Fortunately, Gary Morris has rectified the omission of Bazin's essay from What Is Cinema? by publishing Bert Cardullo's translation at Bright Lights Film Journal.)

"To some degree," Rosenbaum comments, "Playtime can be regarded as an embodiment and extension of Bazin's most celebrated ideas about deep focus, long takes, and the 'democratic' freedoms that these techniques offer to the spectator." ("Tati's Democracy", supra, p. 37.) Rosenbaum then offers a thrillingly accessible assessment of Playtime's formal qualities, commencing first with an overview of the critical response to the film's 1967 premiere. At Cahiers du cinéma, Jean-André Fiéschi reported: "Never, perhaps, has a film placed so much confidence in the intelligence and activity of the spectator: the challenge was too great to find a commensurate response." In his volume Theory of Film Practice, Noël Burch observed that Playtime is "the first in the history of cinema that not only must be seen several times, but also must be viewed from several different distances from the screen. In its form, it is probably the first truly 'open' film."

As if to confirm Hundertwasser's poetic axiom that "the straight line is Godless", Rosenbaum insists: "It is virtually essential that we curve the trajectory of our gaze; if our eyes attempt to traverse the screen in straight lines, we simply miss too much. …Pursuing the action in straight lines, we become victimized, imprisoned by the architecture…." In gist, the lesson to be learned from Playtime "has a lot to do with human, accidental curves breaking the monotony of regimented straight lines" and comprehending that "the rule of poetry becomes absolute." ("Tati's Democracy", supra, pp. 39-40.)


Though in Playtime Tati had hoped to bid farewell to his character Monsieur Hulot by sabotaging his centrality and proving that "the capacity to be funny belonged to everyone", the financial disaster of that film (now acknowledged as his supreme masterpiece) forced Tati to rethink his strategy. In order to finance Traffic, Tati had to bring Hulot back one more time. In his capsule review for The Chicago Reader, Rosenbaum pursued his appreciation of Tati's choreographic aesthetics when he described an elaborate highway accident as "a graceful ballet." Astutely, Rosenbaum observed: "Perhaps the best route into this wonderful movie is a consideration of the 'poster' designed by Tati to accompany its opening on the Champs-Elysees: the movie's title backed by an enormous mirror that reflects the delightful spectacle of the passing parade of pedestrians and traffic."


Whereas most would dismiss Tati's final film Parade—a Swedish made-for-television video shot on a shoestring budget—as a minor and insignificant footnote to his filmography, Rosenbaum expertly mines the film for its tremendous resources. But even he concedes that it took time for him to find them. "It wasn't until a fellow critic, David Ehrenstein, pointed out to me that you can't determine when anything starts or stops in Parade that I began to have an inkling of how its radical populism and its formal innovations mesh," Rosenbaum admitted in his Cineaste review of David Bellos' biography of Tati (see below). As Rosenbaum summarized for The Chicago Reader: "It's a sign of this film's greatness that the enormous sadness that accompanies the final leave-taking of the circus interior is a good deal more than the conclusion of an unpretentious evening's entertainments; it's a sublime and awesome coda to the career of one of this century's greatest artists."

Rosenbaum seems particularly keen to the "enormous sadness" that informs Parade's final scenes. He admitted in his essay "The Death of Hulot" that—when he first saw Parade in 1974 at a Paris Left Bank cinema—he found himself, much to his embarrassment, weeping uncontrollably. "A friend at the time who despised Tati had told me it was pathetic, and I felt that it was almost like what seeing Griffith's The Search must have been like in 1931—beautiful for what it was, yet excrutiating in relation to what one knew its director wanted to do and was capable of doing." With regard to his earlier observations of the existential crisis Tati faced with the character of Hulot, Rosenbaum adds: "One can also appreciate the relief with which Tati finally abandons his nemesis here, returning to the pantomimes that initially launched him in the music halls, about which Colette marveled, 'He has created at the same time the player, the ball, and the racket; the boxer and his opponent; the bicycle and its rider. His powers of suggestion are those of a great artist.' " ("The Death of Hulot", supra, p. 169.)

Rosenbaum's affection for Tati's final project is palpable in his essay
"All The World's A Circus" published on December 1, 1989 for The Chicago Reader wherein he reminded his readers that—as potentially problematic as the film might be—"Parade is devoted to showing us how we could be." Under Rosenbaum's respectful gaze the simple ideas of Parade—"all of them having to do with the nature of spectacle"—reveal themselves as radical and profound: there is no such thing as an interruption; there is no such thing as "backstage"; at no point does life end and "the show" begin––or vice versa; amateurs and nobodies––that is to say, ordinary people––are every bit as important, as interesting, and as entertaining as professionals and stars; and poetry always takes root in mundane yet unlikely places, and it is taking place all around us, at every moment. In fact, for Tati "the role of performer and the role of spectator were inseparably linked." More importantly: "Tati's democratic aesthetics are more than just a matter of everything and everyone in a shot being worthy of close attention. They also function on a temporal plane––every shot and moment is worthy of close attention, and a moment without a fully articulated gag is not necessarily inferior to a moment with one, because the spectator's imagination is unleashed by the mere possibility that one might occur."

In gist, Rosenbaum claimed that Parade—though "an evening's light diversion"—could "if taken seriously, as it was meant to be … profitably crumble the very ground beneath our feet." It was—as he phrased it in his Sight & Sound essay "The Death of Hulot"—a celebration of the "notion of the simple and everyday as a continuous circus" (supra, p. 164).

Elsewhere, in his review of Tony Gatlif's Latcho Drom for The Chicago Reader, Rosenbaum stages an unlikely but fascinating comparison with Parade, even though Parade—a circus film—"isn't really a musical, doesn't feature Gypsies, and is mainly shot on video rather than film. Yet in many crucial respects its formal procedures are the same, pointing in each case to a radical social and political position on the meaning of spectacle that is central to the film. This position is anti-Hollywood and anti-elitist in roughly equal measure, a kind of populism that rejects the usual hierarchies of class, race, and gender (as well as genre) without ever becoming esoteric or less than entertaining. In fact both movies appropriate certain aspects of popular entertainment—the circus for Tati, the musical for Gatlif—in order to redirect their energy.

"Strictly speaking, Latcho Drom qualifies as neither documentary nor fiction; it freely mixes both modes in a manner reminiscent of Parade. Even more significant, both films break down the usual distinctions between performers and spectators; in every scene, being a member of the audience in the film means being an active participant in the unfolding spectacle, and by the same token, every performer becomes an audience member for other performers. Moreover, the privilege of performing is extended to every age and both genders; young and old, male and female are equally involved in the festivities, and everyone is able to become the 'star' at one point or another. In both movies young children play pivotal roles as guides, witnesses, pupils, and performers. Equally striking in both movies is the use of bricolage—the appropriation of impersonal objects for personal use that enables ordinary people to reshape and reclaim their environments: the fiddling geezer in Latcho Drom who produces uncanny tonalities out of a loose violin string is the blood brother of the Parade performers who juggle paintbrushes.

"The most radical feature of both films is that the points at which a number or sequence begins and ends are usually almost impossible to determine. …To define Gatlif's mastery, one merely has to look at his remarkable and subtle transitions, which bridge countries, sequences, and sometimes the segments within a sequence—transitions that closely correspond to Tati's own segues between onstage and offstage space and to his creative obfuscations of when a specific act or activity starts and stops. These subtle transitions subvert our usual notions of spectacle, tied to the stylization of most musicals, in which passing from 'life' to the heightened reality of a particular musical number is emphasized rather than glossed over. But in this movie, as in Parade, every event has heightened reality, and never ceases to be life. Both films create an impression of unbroken poetic continuity—a continuity between life and performance that sweeps the spectator along."

Tati's Influence on David Lynch

The only time Rosenbaum ever interviewed David Lynch was in 1982 during the writing of Midnight Movies with Jim Hoberman, when he conducted a phone interview with Lynch regarding Eraserhead. Rosenbaum recalled: "I brought up the possible influence of Tati myself to him because it seemed quite evident to me at the time in at least a couple of instances: more generally in the use of industrial noise in the background of several scenes, and more specifically in the comic articulation and timing of a moment when Henry (Jack Nance) is waiting inside the elevator in his dingy apartment house for the doors to close, and finally they do slide shut, with a dull thud.

"For whatever it's worth, Lynch confirmed my hypothesis after I cited this elevator scene to him: 'You know, I feel like in a way he's a kindred soul,' he said to me. 'That guy is so creative, it's unbelievable. I think he's one of the all-time greats.' "

David Lynch, in fact—along with Wes Anderson—was invited to contribute to the catalog of last fall's Paris exhibition of Tati's work. As reported by John Lichfield for The Independent: "Lynch points out that a large part of the humor and oddly melancholy atmosphere of Monsieur Hulot or Mon Oncle are created by soundtracks that audiences scarcely notice." Lynch points out in his contribution that "Tati the satirist of modernity finally fell victim himself to techno-addiction. His darker, later films—especially Playtime—made use of all the gadgetry and the grandiose sets of the modern cinema. The movie cost a fortune and flopped. Lynch says that Tati, at his best, was 'extremely modern ... a blend of innocence and technical invention.' 'He has a unique sense of humor,' Lynch says. 'He can zoom in on the absurdity of life without losing his love for human beings.' "

Comparisons With Ozu

In Ozu's Ohayo (Good Morning, 1959), Rosenbaum detects a trace of Tati in Ozu's "innocuous muzak of xylophone and strings" and a "similar tendency to keep repeating gags with only slight variations." (Rosenbaum, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, 1995:85).

Rosenbaum is not alone in this impression. In the September/October 2003 issue of Film Comment,
Richard Combs writes: "[Good Morning] may not displace Tokyo Story as Ozu's generally acknowledged masterpiece, but it is one of his most extraordinary films, a pellucid examination of the ties that bind in a suburban community, a strangely yet charmingly defined artificial world over which the comic spirit of not Harold Lloyd but Jacques Tati seems to hover."

In some of [Ozu's] late films, the music [of composer Kojun Saito] borders at times on kitsch, anticipating, as David Bordwell has observed, the use of lounge-like, cheerful music in the films of Jacques Tati.—
Calendar capsule for Ozu Centenniel Retrospective at Lincoln Center, October-November 2003.

Tati & Physical Image

"If movies in general owe much of their appeal to their capacity to function as Narcissus pools, offering glamorous and streamlined identification figures to authenticate our most treasured self-images, film comedy tends to heighten this tendency in physical terms, so that it would hardly be an exaggeration to state that how we respond to such figures as Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd, Jacques Tati, [Jerry] Lewis, and [Woody] Allen has something to do with how we feel about our own bodies." (Rosenbaum, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, 1995:238-239).

In his Sight & Sound essay "The Death of Hulot" republished in that same volume, Rosenbaum reiterated that insight: "The physicality of Tati's comedy is intimately involved with the love and hatred it can elicit from spectators, in part according to the ways that they relate to their own physicality and that of their immediate environment." (Supra, p. 167.) He described Tati's physicality as "taller, more legato and loping in demeanor" and relayed his firsthand experience of the instinctual wisdom of Tati's unique physical methodology, not only in an interview he conducted with Tati in November 1972 but in the subsequent weeks when he was unexpectedly hired as Tati's script consultant. "As I had discovered in our interview," Rosenbaum recalled, "he was a completely nonverbal sort; a man whose mime-like habits made his body language and vocal sound effects closer to the sound of his 'voice' than actual speech. He thought with his body…. In a way, E.M. Forster's 'How do I know what I mean until I see what I say?' could be translated into the question repeatedly posed by Tati's body language, which was central to his method—namely, 'How do I know what I think until I see what I do?' And in order to see what he did, he needed a spectator, another set of eyes and ears, someone to respond to his gags and improvisations. It's a method many comics follow; where I suspect it differed most for Tati was in his compulsion to reproduce in his body as much of the image and sound as was humanly possible, playing all the characters and props that figured in the action." (Supra, pp. 164-165.)

On American Issues With "Film Poets"

Referencing François Truffaut's introduction to André Bazin's Orson Welles: A Critical View, Rosembaum notes Truffaut's opinion that "all the difficulties that Orson Welles has encountered with the box office … stem from the fact that he is a film poet. The Hollywood financiers (and, to be fair, the public throughout the world) accept beautiful prose—John Ford, Howard Hawks—or even poetic prose—Hitchcock, Roman Polanski—but have much more difficulty accepting pure poetry, fables, allegories, fairy tales." Not convinced that the public is unwilling to accept fables, allegories and fairy tales (and citing examples of why he thinks so), Rosenbaum concedes that poetry—particularly French poetry—is another problem altogether, and accounts for why other filmmakers, i.e., "film poets"—Jacques Tati, for example—have never belonged "entirely and unproblematically to the U.S. mainstream." (Rosenbaum, Movies As Politics, 1997:183)

On David Bellos' Biography

Rosenbaum's review of the biography Jacques Tati by David Bellos was originally published in Cineaste magazine and is currently available at The Free Library. Similar to his complaint regarding Miramax's indifference to promoting the restored color version of Jour de fête, Rosenbaum finds it "regrettable that no American publisher or distributor to date has shown any interest in making this English book available."

Though he stages some reservations regarding Bellos' methodology, Rosenbaum grants that "Bellos seems better attuned than his predecessors to the elusive character of an intuitive autodidact and late bloomer who didn't even become a filmmaker until he was forty. …Though it never stoops to hagiography, this is a book about an artist more than a show-biz biography, and that is its strength."

Cross-published (in a slightly-different edit) on Twitch.


IA said...

Tati was also a late influence on Preston Sturges, who was living in France when Tati's first couple of features were released. There's a silent scene in Sturges's last film, The Notebooks of Major Thompson (aka The French They Are a Funny Race) where a character has to speak with several bureaucrats who are seated behind increasingly intricate windows, and his confusion at the office architecture is pure Tati.

Michael Guillen said...

Interesting. Thanks for the heads-up on that, IA.

Jim Gerow said...

This is a great roundup of Jonathan Rosenbaum's writings on Tati, Michael. I'm especially intrigued by his associations of Tati with David Lynch and Ozu. I had the pleasure of seeing Jonathan introduce a screening of the color version of JOUR DE FETE a couple years ago.

Michael Guillen said...

Hey, Jim! Great to hear from you. When will you be in SF next? Thanks for the kind words on the round-up and I envy you the opportunity you had to hear Rosenbaum speak on Jour de Fete, clearly a film for which he holds much passion.

Jim Gerow said...

I'm hoping to make it to your fair city again this summer, ideally for the Silent Film Festival. If time and money permitted I would have been there for Noir City too.

Michael Guillen said...

Great! This time around we must meet for a meal around the event.