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DVD Reviews

HTF Review: Playtime (2006 re-issue)

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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist


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Posted September 09 2006 - 02:59 PM

Posted Image

Studio: The Criterion Collection #112
Rated: Not rated
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD stereo
Subtitles: English
Time: 124 minutes
Disc Format: 1 DVD-9
Case Style: Cardboard slipcase and tri-fold digipack.
Theatrical Release Date: 1967
DVD Release Date: September 5, 2006

While a “movie” in the strictest sense of the word, Jacques Tati’s Playtime is a combination of moving images and sounds that play off and enhance one another to provide the viewer with ideas. What’s missing is a traditional narrative that makes it a story; instead, you have “characters” (or characterizations) that interact with other “characters” and the environment they live in. The only defined character is Monsieur Hulot, he of other Tati pictures such as M. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle (both previously released from Criterion) who bounces around the architecture in search of… what have you. He tries to get work, meets some old friends and visits the area. Tati takes us on a tour of then modern day Paris, with its titanic steel and glass encrusted buildings, its concrete and pavement roads, and its noisy and ever-present traffic. At times, he leaves us outside buildings so we may voyeuristically peer in the oversized windows and see “the characters” interacting with one another, meanwhile, the traffic proceeds around you.

I was left more with the questions and ideas raised, so this may be a better way to explain the picture:
What fascinates us? What do we want? Is human interaction just an afterthought to construction? By technologizing, are we dehumanizing? Life pops up occasionally to remind us of our past. The colors are colorful. Plants are hazy memories meant to remind us of where we were and they ride in the back of the bus. In reflections we see others, but not ourselves. Lead us, tell us what bus, what hotel, which way. Language is universal, you only need subtitles sometimes. Think for me. If you plug me in, I will work. Watch. Stare. Learn. Come and go, all in a day’s time.

Tati took advantage of the 65mm format with this picture and it comes across fairly well here. While I enjoyed watching the images on my 92” screen, I believe it may lose some of the impact on displays less than 50”. The scene where we watch the occupants of the apartments with the large windows is meant to give you a “you are there” feel, so the bigger your screen, the more you will enjoy this scene. Tati also shoots numerous long shots to give you very wide stages of action; based on this, it’s surprising he didn’t shoot in a wider aspect ratio. He also constructed almost all of the sets since he had such a specific environment in mind. It’s truly a bold experiment to watch.

The picture is correctly framed at 1.85:1 and it is an anamorphic transfer. Criterion is good enough to provide us with more information about the transfer itself, so I will pass this along: “This new, high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from the 35mm reduction internegative, made from the restored 65mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.” I challenged the dirt and debris statement since in the first couple minutes of the picture during the opening credits over the blue sky, there are numerous instances of dirt and a two nice big pieces of garbage on the bottom edge of the picture as it transitions into the feature. Other than that, it’s a very clean picture! The picture is solid with deep blacks and nice de-saturation in the flesh tones to match the surroundings. Overall colors are good when they are present and they tend to really stand out among the prevalent blues and grays. Detail is good, but it seems to suffer from a little too much compression as the picture looks too much like video for my tastes. Unfortunately, edge enhancement was very noticeable, almost to the point of distraction. There are some instances of video noise too. I recently sold my original copy of this picture, so I was unable to compare the two versions.

I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital stereo International track engaged. You have the option of watching it with the original French soundtrack, or with this International version Tati created for other markets. It’s an interesting blend of languages that make up this track, and some of the English lines have subtitles, and the German, French and others do not. But with Playtime, what is being said just isn’t too important, as the dialogue becomes nothing more really than another set dressing. Criterion tells us, “The soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original stereo audio stems, and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle.” The audio is quite clear and sharp, with a nice balance between the stereo channels which provides a very encompassing front sound field. LFE’s were minimal. ADR was noticed and in the International track, there is dubbing.

Bonus Material: I was able to do a little online research to find the original Criterion release only had the Jones intro and the short film, Cours du Soir. Therefore, everything else is new to this edition.

Introduction by Terry Jones: Jones does about a five minute intro to the film to discuss what he likes about the picture. It comes off like a “Masterpiece Theater” clip, but it’s still a good introduction for the newbie Tati viewer.

Selected scene commentary with film historian Phillip Kemp: You can choose from seven scenes and Kemp comments on aspects of the story, the shoot and Tati’s life. These pieces were recorded for the British Film Institute.

Au-delà de Playtime (6:25): a short documentary featuring archival behind-the-scenes footage from the set, with a script by Tati scholar Stephane Goudet. This is a great behind the scenes look at the set construction for the picture.

Tati Story (20:37): a short biographical film about Tati. In French, with subtitles.

Jacques Tati in Monsieur Hulot’s Work, (49:26): a 1976 BBC Omnibus program featuring Tati. Gavin Miller and Tati tour the sites where the Hulot pictures were filmed, including the Hotel De La Plage. This is a rather lengthy and extensive interview with Tati peppered with clips from his films

Rare audio interview with Tati from the U.S. debut of Playtime at the 1972 San Francisco International Film Festival (17:04): This is an audio only interview with Tati moderated by Albert Johnson. Tati talks about moviemaking, 70mm, and M. Hulot.

Cours du Soir: (27:41) a 1967 short film written by and starring Tati, and directed by Nicolas Rybowski. Tati plays an instructor of a mime class. 4x3, in color, with English subtitles.

Video interview with script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot (12:11): Baudrot worked with Tati on three pictures including this one. Whereas the Tati interviews tend to focus on the greater idea of filmmaking, Baudrot talks about the details of the actual shoot.

Also included in the package is a new essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum.

A fascinating combination of sights and sounds make Playtime a great show, and Criterion continues its current run of re-issues by adding in a nice batch of extras that enhance your appreciation of the picture. This, coupled with a fine new HD transfer, makes for a winning release.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#2 of 8 OFFLINE   Jeff Newcomb

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Posted September 09 2006 - 04:16 PM

M. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle have been back in print since January of 2004.

#3 of 8 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist


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Posted September 10 2006 - 02:58 AM

Good to know, last I heard they were OOP. I have updated the review accordingly. Thanks.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#4 of 8 OFFLINE   Douglas R

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Posted September 11 2006 - 05:01 AM

I certainly don't understand why the opening titles look so bad. It seems as if Criterion have used an unrestored print just for those titles. I have the UK region 2 disc issued by the British Film Institute and the opening titles don't have all those scratches and grain. Once past the main titles, however, the Criterion is sharper and has better colors than the BFI version. What I want is the BFI titles put onto the Criterion disc!

#5 of 8 OFFLINE   Douglas R

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Posted September 17 2006 - 01:15 AM

As it was filmed in 65mm, I've never understood why this film is in a ratio of 1.85:1. Tati was reported as saying he specifically wanted to use the wide 70mm screen but then apparently masked the film to the standard ratio. What was the point? I'm not aware of any other 70mm films shown in this ratio.

#6 of 8 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted September 17 2006 - 03:15 AM

It was so that he could have magnetic 6-track surround on the 70mm prints themselves, instead of a seperate synchronized 35mm 6-track mag track like Todd-AO and Super Panavision. I'm not sure which camera system was used on Playtime - probably Mitchells, but I'm not sure whose lenses were used. He also wanted 65mm for it's height, so that he could capture the upper floor windows of the buildings. The clarity and fidelity of 65 over 35 was also a strong factor.

#7 of 8 OFFLINE   Larry House

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Posted September 17 2006 - 04:36 AM

I wondered about this too. Here's some other information I found on the web which talks about how, but still doesn't really answer why this was done. I will venture my own uninformed guess and say that Tati wanted the resolution that 70mm provided but didn't want to compose for as wide a frame as 2.2:1 (snakes and coffins, etc.). Or maybe he was going to use the space for an eight channel soundtrack as suggested below. Since the whole movie is about as unconventional as possible I think it's fitting that it was filmed in the, as far as I know, unique 70mm 1.85:1 format Posted Image

From Google newsgroups:


* * * * *
Peter Mason wrote:
> If it was filmed originally on 65MM stock why aren't the 70MM prints
> 2.2:1 rather than 1.7:1?

http://www.in70mm.co...2/lfca/lfca.htm has an explanation:

"Tati shot it with 65mm cameras (Mitchell) with the sides of the 2.21:1
masked down to 1.85:1 to enable the use of a then-new 8-track
stereophonic sound playback system. It wasn't clear whether the film was
shown with that particular soundtrack, however."

The approx. 1.7:1 shown in the 70mm screenshot probably then becomes
1.85:1 when projected.

[unfortunately this link to in70mm.com does not work]

* * * * *
I have found a 25 page article about Jacques Tati in the March 1968

My French is somewhat rusty, but I have a fairly clear idea of what he
and the interviewer are saying:

> CAHIERS: Le tableau que nous voyons la, au mur, semble indiquer
> qu'avant le tournage, vous avez un instant hesite sur le format a
> employer.Or "Playtime"
> est un film que l'on imagine tres mal en Scope,par exemple.....

"The image we see up on the screen appears to suggest that before
starting production ['tournage' meaning/context is unclear -- CPJ], you
had some misgivings regarding which format to use. Or that "Playtime"
is a film which would have looked poor in Scope?

> TATI: Oui, au debut, j'ai hesite, j'ai fait des recherches sur
> tous les formats, et celui que vous voyez, en definitive, n'est meme
> pas un vrai 70mm.

"Yes, at the start I had concerns and studied all formats. What you see
is not, strictly speaking, true 70mm.

> C'est a-dire que j'ai triche, que j'ai rogne un peu a gauche et a
> droite de l'image en mettant de part et d'autre une petite bande de
> negatif.

"That's to say, I cropped a bit from the left and right sides of the
image, removing some of the [filmed] negative.

> Ainsi je me suis un peu rapproche du format Vistavision, l'ecran
> est un peu plus carre qu'il ne l'est reellement en 70mm.

"Accordingly, it was closer to VistaVision, and the image was slightly
more square shaped than standard 70mm.

> Ce sont des questions qui n'ont pas l'air de toucher les gens d'ici,
> mais les Americains, eux sont stupefaits par las qualite du 70mm
> obtenue.

These issues were not a concern for people here [ie, in France/Europe],
but by the Americans who are overwhelmed by the quality enabled by 70mm.

> C'est tout simplement parce que le budget considerable qie chez eux est
> devolu aux acteurs, dans les super-productions, ici a ete entierement
> consacre a la technique.

"It's fairly simple because the substantial budgets which for them
[Americans?] is allocated to actors for major films, here was set aside
for production and technology costs.

* * * * * * * * *
[These links to in70mm have some interesting photos, including some
showing the in-camera masking of the 70mm frame - see below. Also extensive information on the restoration of the film.]



Posted Image
Posted Image

#8 of 8 OFFLINE   Douglas R

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Posted September 17 2006 - 05:48 AM

Many thanks Larry. Those links from in70mm are fascinating and also answer my earlier question, above, about the opening credits: "The story of the beginning credits is the following: it was impossible to find all the clouds that had been used as background for the credits. I had the entire title sequence in high contrast 65mm, but I only had constituting elements for the background. We did some tests, remodelling digitally these elements but the result was not good and, as a former credits maker, I found the original credits very touching with all their imperfections that let you see the difficulty of working on this format at that time (and still today!) So that is why I thought about leaving it as it was, and also to surprise some cinephiles who would believe, watching the credits, that the copy was not actually restored!"

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