At the end of January, Design Lab 1 hosted a film screening for ARCH 572: Architectural Theory and Criticism, taught by Professor Amy Kulper. The 1967 avant-garde triumph, Playtime, is one of only a handful of films that Jacques Tati (1909-1982) ever made, yet his influential legacy reaches beyond his anti-prolific tendencies. ”His theme, his style, his mise-en-scène, all suggested the eternal struggle between Man and Machine; his was a kind of intricate slapstick in which characters found themselves at the mercy of progress, and his affinity for silent-screen comedy was mirrored in his own nearly total abstinence from dialogue (though his uses of natural sound and comic sound effects were nonpareil)” (Leonard Maltin, “Jacques Tati,” Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin Books, 1995)).
Playtime is a canonical film of architectural discourse, engaging academic and discursive personas including but not limited to Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Clement Greenberg, Guy Debord and Sergei Einstein. Joan Ockman of the University of Pennsylvania offers her analysis in “Architecture in a Mode of Distraction: Eight Takes on Jacques Tati’s Playtime” (Architecture and Film (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000), pp.170-95), touching on concepts of the flâneur, postwar Franco-American relations, and urbanism. One of her takes on the film asserts that “Playtime‘s comic assault is directed against the reduction of spatial and cultural experience to a totalizing global language of techno-bureaucracy and consumerism.”
Shot on 70mm film, Playtime was critically hailed as a masterpiece, but underperformed commercially, eventually leading to the truncation of Tati’s career. Perhaps Maltin said it best, “Tati was totally devoted to his comic muse, and suffered when he moved too far ahead of his audience. It’s lamentable that he left behind so few films, but any five minutes of any of them is sufficient to restore his spirit.” Toward these ends, we share a couple of our favorite moments from Tati’s treasure, Playtime. Enjoy.