August 9, 2018

Why You Should Come See “Playtime” – Guest Post by John Newcomer

We are offering a free screening of director Jacques Tati’s film Playtime on Saturday, August 18 at 2pm. The film, part of the library’s series on classic French films of the 1960s, will be screened at the Main Library (11 W. Church St, Bethlehem).

Illustration by John Newcomer

Illustration by John Newcomer

Local film buff, Bethlehem resident, writer, and illustrator John Newcomer happens to be a huge fan of the film. We asked him to write a guest post about it and he not only did so but he also did the fantastic drawing you see here. It depicts the main character of Playtime, the iconic Monsieur Tati. Thank you, John! We love it!

Visit him online at @thejohnisjohn to check out more of his work.

“You have to see it to believe it.”

That’s a phrase that’s thrown around a lot, especially where it concerns art. It’s also why lots of people leave the Louvre commenting to their friends “the Mona Lisa is a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be…” But I’m not here to recommend you fly to France to check out Da Vinci’s work (but if you have the means and lack my fear of flying, I say go for it!)

I, however, will not be flying to Paris anytime soon. It’s a shame, because I love the culture—especially their films—and few French films delight me more than Jacques Tati’s 1967 masterpiece Playtime. By the time Playtime’s release date rolled around, Monsieur Tati had been portraying his famed Monsieur Hulot character for nearly 15 years. With his large overcoat draped over his exceedingly tall frame, and his signature hat and pipe, M. Hulot is as easily recognizable as many of early film’s comedic greats (specifically Chaplin’s “Tramp”).

Yet where most protagonists propel a film’s narrative, it always feels as though the action in Tati’s films is happening around Hulot, and he can only stand back (or lean forward, as he often does) and observe the antics. It makes sense that a gifted director would choose to portray a character that is little more than the eyes of the audience. In the films leading up to Playtime, Tati’s Hulot had some low stakes adventures—rife with political and societal commentary to be sure, but none of these films can prepare the audience for the otherworldly Playtime.

Tati built an entire city to shoot Playtime in, spending over 15 million francs (and remember, we are talking 1967 francs here), on the production. The set itself is the star of this film, which is a dreamy, dreary, delirious look at the approaching modern world through the eyes of a man from a much simpler time. There isn’t a typical story, per se, but rather a series of vignettes that blend seamlessly together in a fashion that can sometimes leave the viewer wondering how they arrived at the current scene—much like a too-familiar car trip can leave you forgetting the specifics of your route. The film is simultaneously bold and understated. It is also a color film, yet with muted costumes and sets that almost mimic the delights of black & white. Often compared to Looney Tunes shorts of the time as it’s nearly wordless and filled with broad physical comedy, Playtime really is unlike any other film.

Truly, it needs to be seen to be believed.

-John Newcomer