October 9, 2009
Buster Keaton begat two great cinematic heirs, both of whom embraced the elaborately set-up visual gag: Jackie Chan and JACQUES TATI (1907-82). Like so many French icons of the 1950s and ’60s (Serge Gainsbourg, Anna Karina, Yves St. Laurent), Tati — born to Russian and Dutch parents — was an outsider. It’s almost as if in the post-Vichy era, France didn’t trust itself, and required others to define its virtues. In his earlier movies, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) and Mon Uncle (1958), Tati contrasted a humane and balky France against various modernizing trends, but it is in Playtime (1967) that he distilled his vision to its essence: Harold Lloyd versus the International Style. While Jackie Chan translated the undercranked silent camera into real-life speed and danger, Tati refined the mechanism, letting the gags unspool slowly as plot gears meshed — with the result that his films pay off like a Rube Goldberg contraption.
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