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Mike Figgis does a Robert Altman. Except, instead of creating a large
narrative of interconnecting plot strands, he puts them all on four split
screens. Is this therefore more subversive than Altman? I don't think so -
Altman's method is an attack on Hollywood linearity, on conventional methods
of 'connection'; his characters exist is the same space but are emotionally
etc. miles apart. The characters in 'Short Cuts', like the city of L.A.
itself, are a mass without a centre. Figgis, for all the supposed diffusion
of his visual strands, actually reunites, glues together Altman's ruptures.
In this way it might seem a more optimistic kind of film. It isn't.
'timecode' is being touted as a revolution in cinema, a new way of watching films. Instead of watching one screen and being led by a director, we are given four, and asked to make our choices. I was surprised at how panicked I was at this in the first 20 minutes, darting between scenes, wondering which one I should follow. This forced me out of the film much more disturbingly than anything by Fassbinder or Godard. But this alienation is deceptive. Firstly we are not really bombarded by four narratives - put 'pierrot le fou', 'diary of a country priest', 'vampyr' and 'branded to kill' on four screens, then you'd be confused. Figgis leads you all the way, gives you an illusion of choice, but rarely fulfils it. The focus is on one screen at a time - either the soundtrack is turned up loudest, the plot is more interesting, whatever. For long periods of time, you can safely ignore other scenes because there is nothing going on - for about 20 minutes, for example, Lauren sits in a limousine listening to a bug planted on Rose; this leaves us free to watch another screen and see what she's listening to. Other scenes are merely tedious - eg Emma droning to her shrink (a nod to Godard's 'week end', that famous end of cinema?) - so that you gladly look elsewhere. It is possible to listen to one scene, and flit around at the others to catch up on what's going on.
What I'm saying is, 'timecode' is not a difficult experience - after the initial adjustment, you watch the film as you would any other, especially as all the stories converge and are really only one story. Even at the beginning, the feeling is less one of Brechtian alienation than akin to being a security guard faced with a grid of screens - you rarely think about the physical processes of film or performance, as you would in a Dogme or Godard film.
So if 'timecode' is less revolutionary than it seems, that doesn't mean it isn't a brilliant film, a real purse in a pig's ear of a year (or whatever the expression is). One reason for this is the four-screen structure: I would have to watch it a few more times, but I was very conscious of the orchestration of the screens, the way compositions, or camera movements, or close-ups etc., in one screen were echoed, reflected, distorted in the others - a true understanding of this miraculous formal apparatus would, I think, give us the heart of the film, and bely the improvised nature of the content. Figgis is also a musician - he co-composed the score - and the movement here, its fugues and variations are truly virtuosic, almost worthy of my earlier Altman comparison.
But the content is great fun too. At first I was disappointed at the self-absorbed drabness of the material, the idea that we shouldn't be made to work too hard because we've enough to deal with the four screens. And, it is true, that the stories rarely transcend cliche. But, such is the enthusiasm of the performers (people like Salma Hayek obviously relishing slightly more useful roles than the bilge they're usually stuck in); the precision of the structure; the mixture of comedy and pathos, and the way the style facilitates both, that you're convinced you're watching a masterpiece. Quentin's massaging and Ana's pitch are two of the funniest things I've seen in ages, while Stellan Skarsgard's rich performance stands out all the more for its brittle surroundings.
I am pretty sure that I will not see a more jaw-dropping piece of
film-making for quite some time. To put the complexity of filming 4
continuous takes simultaneously and in full co-ordination into any
perspective, is extremely difficult. And then to have such a dramatic
climax at the end of 93 improvised minutes is pretty mind-blowing.
I'm sure plenty of people will scream "pretentious crap" - as the girl suggests in her meeting speech - but the innovative brilliance of this film should be applauded above everything else. For example, little things like how the camera is focused on Skarsgard in the meeting while his wife is having it away with another woman. And then bigger things such as each screen simultaneously focusing in close-up on their characters eyes. Unbelievable.
I'm sure this isn't everybody's cup of tea - some people just don't appreciate the concept of doing something unique and risky. Some people even go as far as criticising Mike Figgis for attempting this - when in truth, this experiment was never likely to reach the masses, so any accusation of arrogance/pretension are pathetic.
As for the story and acting, I have a sneaky suspicion that maybe the sound was turned down on certain screens in post-production when actor's were fumbling or struggling for dialogue, I also thought the sound should have been muted from the other 3 screens while we were focused on one - because at times we get mumbling from all 4 at once, which doesn't work. But none of this detracts from a truly great achievement from all involved - for actors to go 93 minutes undisturbed is very impressive.
A perfectly constructed and co-ordinated film, I am in absolute awe. 10/10
There is a rule in science that for an experiment to be meaningful, all the
variables must be controlled but one. That rule could be applied to
experimental cinema, too; at least it should have been applied to this
Time Code combines two experiments, one that has promise, and one that is doomed. The promising experiment involves multiple screens following different parts of the story in "real" time. The doomed experiment involves requiring actors to script and direct themselves.
In addition, this movie was shot in four simultaneous uninterrupted takes. Maybe this was an experiment, too, but it is comparable to live theater, which is not exactly a novelty. It is neither a good thing nor a bad thing -- and should be a matter of complete indifference to the audience, as long it works. Instead of cutting from scene to scene, our attention shifts from screen to screen.
The four-screen experiment did work reasonably well here, especially on DVD, where one can instantly back up to catch bits one missed. The multi-view device might even have been truly excellent in this film, had it not been for the other experiment -- the Absentee Director.
A feature movie is not an improv sketch. There is a reason that an army has one general, and that a movie has one director. Although each of these endeavors requires the effort and cooperation of many talented people, both a military campaign and a feature film must be focused on one person's vision and goals.
Time Code has the same fatal flaw as Dancing at the Blue Iguana. Each actor was instructed to invent his own character, and then to direct himself. In Time Code each performer was evidently told to make of his character a recognizable Hollywood stereotype. The result: eight variations on "coke-snorting pretentious but sycophantic loser," who all walk stiffly through their parts like zombies trying to perform soap opera. I cannot imagine how desperate a viewer would have to be, in order to care about any of them.
I suppose this should not reflect badly on the performers, although it cannot have helped their careers. I have seen most of them in other films, and they are all capable actors. It does reflect dismally on the director. Where was he hiding while the four cameras were running? Maybe he was busy watching four tumble dryers at the laundromat up the street.
Time Code might be worth a peek on dollar-day at the video store -- which is how I found it. Otherwise, forget it. 3/10.
"Timecode" is not conventional filmmaking, which is the whole beauty of
This is a totally improvised piece of cinema, shot on a hand-held camera
90 minutes straight--not a single cut--and shot in real-time. Every word
dialogue is improvised, the only thing written is the story (also by Mike
Figgis). The way it turned out is quite impressive. Of course, the
gets tiresome and repetitive at times, but overall it's a pretty
work that will probably be better appreciated by the more open-minded
moviegoer--as opposed to mainstream viewers who will probably view this as
just plain weird.
I was really impressed by the talented cast filled with great actors who simply went through the WHOLE ENTIRE process without once messing up. If you watch all these behind-the-scenes specials with actors stumbling line-after-line, doing take-after-take, until they finally get it right the 100th time--it's astounding to see that the whole cast was able to pull this off without a scratch. Even with such talented actors like Stellan Sarsgard, Holly Hunter, Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, etc., I have to commend them especially for taking part in this risky project. This movie not only showcases their knacks for acting, but also their potential to try something new, innovative and quite difficult--after all, taking risks is one of the main elements in becoming a good actor.
This type of format does--at points--feel like a theatrical version of a "Big Brother" episode, but Figgis wrote a story with as much intriguing elements as he can possibly fit into a film of this scope. After all, this is supposed a day-in-the-life type of story and you don't want to be too far-fetched. So he tries to generate as much suspense and intrigue (involving the many smutty attributes of the stereotypical white-collar LA resident) as he possibly could. There are subplots involving drug abuse, alcohol abuse, homosexuality, philandering, jealousy and of course the biggest theme of all...Sex! Naturally, my interest did sometimes drift, but the material compelled me enough to be interested for the majority of the running time. I've never been a fan of those corny reality shows. Quite frankly, I think the kind of reality displayed on those programs is very dull. "Timecode" transcends the dullness of the reality shows and, in a way, the "Blair Witch Project" (which is another reality-based film shot entirely on a hand-held camera, but executed very poorly). The material is engaging to a degree, the actors perform it very well and everything is down-to-earth to preserve its sense of realism. My only criticisms lie in the "earthquake effects." Those looked totally cheesy, created entirely by camera tricks and actors pretending to be shaken up. In one of the closing scenes, Jeanne Tripplehorn is clinging on to a nearby bannister while you can see cars in the background moving along smoothly. He could've done without that pretentious trick.
I'm not saying this a great film, but it is one I'll remember for its unique sense of style and I will always remember Mike Figgis for coming up with this innovative method. If you're tired of mainstream cinema and feel anxious to see something new and exciting--this is a film I would recommend.
My score: 7 (out of 10)
I respect the challenge that this movie presented. Four cameras running in
real time, with synchronized events? Wow. But without an engaging story the
challenge is equivalent to building a replica of the Empire State Building
out of matches. Impressive but pointless.
If you are a movie student it is worth seeing. Maybe you can turn this great idea into a real movie.
A fantastic effort that narrowly missed out on being brilliant. I loved what this movie tried to do, although ultimately it became a little boring. I love real time movies, and I love long takes, in this case the whole movie. With a stronger plot and script for the actors to work with, this style could succeed. The one thing I noticed at the end of the movie was how draining it was trying to follow every conversation on each of the four screens.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have never seen a movie quite so awful as this. Producers went too far, adding to much artsy understanding. The average person who did not attend film studies classes would not understand some of the lingo spoken in the movie. What was with all the lesbian action in the movie? Is that part of the film industry? C'mon! (SPOILER) The last couple of scenes, when the funky white man is rapping to an opera undertone is the worst and actually made me laugh. I was actually embarassed for that actor, whomever he was. Don't bother watching this movie, it's a waste of two hours.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Much has been made of the three experimental techniques used here: unbroken takes; four screens; heavy improvisation. But there is a powerful effect that seems to be overlooked.
Film is inescapably two-dimensional, and many clever tricks of different types have been used to give meat to the narrative eye. The most interesting of these concern how to introduce visceral notions of space. Studying these is one of my film hobbies -- there are many clever ideas, but nothing with the immediacy seen here.
Its because very soon, you understand that the four cameras are near each other and all deal with the same time. People move from one frame to another, with the view often overlapping. In `regular' film, you get used to a single eye. Talented directors will play with this single note, shifting between god, an invisible person, the perspective of a character, the position of a virtual audience. Here, all cameras are uncompromisingly human, but because you always have these four eyes, you are given a particularly deep notion of space. In fact, it is hyper-real: a richer feel of depth than you can get with your own eyes.
Figges is particularly aware of this effect (though it doesn't come up in his DVD comments). The primary narrative involves the fellow splitting his attention (between two women) and involves the notion of films about film. It has a primary character who `listens' in on other frames, from (mostly) a car, expanding her virtual space. She's the center of the `action.'
The purpose of this movie was not to entertain with an extremely dramatic plot full of twists. It was just to show that it is possible to film four separate quadrants and make them work together. THIS film did not even have a real script or anything, and it didn't take much time to complete. In the future, a major production could be created. The only problem is that because the viewer sees everything at once, the film would have to be shorter (Timecode did get boring because it is 90 mins x 4).
After the atrocious "Loss of Sexual Innocence" you wouldn't think that Figgis could get any more pretentious or heavy-handed; but he manages to do it with "Timecode". It's unwatchable, pointless and serves as a role call for a group of actors and actresses who cannot improvise to save their lives. But then they were saddled with a director who can't direct. The self-reflexive "joke" the film makes about itself toward the end has a pretty sour ring to it: the joke is on the audience who was unfortunate enough to pay money to see it. Figgis has the last laugh. This smug jerk is the same person who made "Leaving Las Vegas"?! It's seems impossible.
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