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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Directors Who Can Do No Wrong #10: Jacques Tati

Note: beginning January, 2012, all new unexamined/essentials posts will appear exclusively on theFilmsaurus; until then, new posts here will be mirrored there.

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From an auteurist standpoint, the great directors are frequently the ones that have the power to transform bad, lackluster, or clichéd material into great art. Even the mightiest directors, however, have a few black marks on their transcript. Robert Altman's Quintet is almost universally detested or ignored; stalwart Fordians do not look kindly upon Born Reckless; even the hardcore Hawksians consider Trent's Last Case to be without merit. (There is some disagreement regarding A Song is Born.) Hitchcock had Juno and the Paycock, and Michael Mann probably doesn't like to think about The Keep.

It's quite rare, then, that a filmmaker should pitch a no-hitter, from start to finish. Over the next week and a half, we'll highlight ten who did exactly that. For sanity's sake we are grading on a slight curve: fiction feature filmmakers only. Their documentary work (if any) won't t count, nor will their one- or two-reel shorts, TV episodes, or "etc" work.

Jour de fête (1949)
10) Jacques Tati

Tati destroyed his career with a multi-million dollar disaster that forever divorced his popular persona (expressed on the screen with the iconic M. Hulot) from his uncompromising, idiosyncratic vision. His final two features would consist of a crowd-pleasing nod to the paying public's desire for Hulot to remain on the screen as much as possible, and a highly personal, but virtually unseen, experimental video that combined a live circus spectacle with a completely fabricated one. In America, his name would be mud – Cimino, Verhoeven, Harlin – and while he was alive, he never redeemed himself in the eyes of the accountants. History has been much kinder, and that disaster (Play Time) is now considered one of the pinnacles both of cinema as art and entertainment, and it's only the capstone of (an admittedly sparse) career that has no downers: from Jour de fêtethrough Parade, every film of Tati's is an unqualified masterpiece.

Introduce yourself to Tati with: M. Hulot's Holiday

Master Class: Play Time, Mon Oncle, Jour de fête, Trafic

Deep Cuts: Parade

Play Time (1967)
Tomorrow: Orson Welles

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