Thursday, October 16, 2008

M. Hulot's Holiday

"M. Hulot's Holiday" aka "Les Vacances de M. Hulot" (Jacques Tati, 1953) Ya know, it's a funny thing about comedy. So much of it depends on opposition, and the mechanics of opposition--not so much a study in contrasts as having contrasts bump into each other and fall down a man-hole (or, sorry, a sewer-hole).

I learned an interesting word the other day:
antimetabole. It's particularly noticeable in politics, speechifying and election years: it's simple turning of phrases is pleasing to the listener, and it's necessarily simple concepts seem to carry more depth than there is. During the Democratic Convention, Pres. Clinton used the phrase "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power."

Comedy is like that. The court and spark, the yin when you shoulda yanged of comedy is what makes us laugh.
Andrew Sarris in his encyclopedic "The American Cinema" mentioned (in his article on Richard Lester) that The Marx Brothers represented a free insanity in a rigid, sane world, whereas The Beatles represented freeing sanity in a rigid, insane world.

And so,
Jacques Tati. Tati's M. Hulot spends the movie being the square peg in a round hole. Tati has a great deal of fun presenting the rigid schedule of a vacation resort (Vacation? Rigid? Aren't they antithetical--oh, yeah, that's right...comedy) only to see Hulot wander about as the human monkey wrench sticking in the gears. He's Joe Btsfplk, with a silver lining. He's a "cooler"--to use the Vegas term, and movie title. He wanders about light as a straw, breaking every camel's back. Then suddenly, waiters who've done very well going in the right door into the kitchen and the left door out, are suddenly colliding in transit to the cacophony of falling plates and platters. Peace is preserved when his little black cloud of a car rattles off into the distance.

But he's not a walking example of anarchy. He's not bad luck. He's a perpetual "newbie," without the benefits of beginner's luck. And he's vaguely, very vaguely, aware of his effect on things. But he rolls on, regardless.

The lovely thing about
Tati is that he's basically making silent comedies with sound overlay. And the dependence on the visual for his effects puts emphasis on the mechanical, and the habitual which are ripe for disruption. Hilarity ensues, loudly or not. Tati's ambitions grew and grew, culminating in the mammoth "Playtime." I'll have to check that one out.

Supposedly, there's an unproduced Tati script,
The Illusionist, that is being produced as animation, and the director is Sylvain Chomet--who produced "The Triplettes of Belleville."

Now that is a match made among the spun cotton clouds of cinematic heaven.

* And the most famous one is "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

**Well, he kinda said it. I added a couple of words. And it's an antimetabole.

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