Aimee GrahamXander BerkeleySalma HayekKyle MacLachlan
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Mike Figgis
Language: English
Actor: Xander Berkeley, Golden Brooks, Saffron Burrows, Viveka Davis, Richard Edson, Aimee Graham, Salma Hayek, Glenne Headly, Andrew Heckler, Holly Hunter, Danny Huston, Daphna Kastner, Patrick Kearney, Elizabeth Low, Kyle MacLachlan, Mia Maestro, Leslie Mann, Suzy Nakamura, Alessandro Nivola, Zuleikha Robinson, Julian Sands, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Steven Weber
Country: USA
Format: 97 minutes
Website category: Other
Review date: 6 December 2010
There's a brilliant film waiting to be made in this format. This isn't it. Timecode is an interesting experiment, but for the most part its story is somewhere between "okay" and "uninvolving". The last act's worth watching, though.
In case you haven't heard of this film, it's an experiment in digital video in which the screen is split into four quarters, each of which follows a single character's story in an unbroken ninety-minute take. They shot fifteen versions of the film over a fortnight, then Figgis chose the best one. He also ordered the actors to wear different outfits each time so that he couldn't be tempted to cheat and start editing. Naturally our protagonists will sometimes meet each other, but in those cases we'll find ourselves watching multiple camera angles of the same scene. Furthermore the dialogue was mostly improvised, although obviously the story structure and camera movements had been choreographed in detail. The film was written on music paper, as if Figgis were composing for a string quartet. Each bar represented one minute.
That's pretty cool. I'm glad they tried it. I'd also like someone to try it again with a better story, but that doesn't mean I'm saying this film is worthless. It is however about movie people in Los Angeles. They cheat on their girlfriends, spouses, etc. They have meetings. I didn't hate them or anything, but equally I never really felt that what they were doing mattered. Are movie directors really that shallow, for instance? Let's say it's not exactly The Grapes of Wrath.
It's an odd experience to watch. It's a bit disorientating to begin with, but you'll settle into it. It would probably be unwatchable in the normal sense if these really were four independent stories proceeding at normal pace, but fortunately Figgis helps us (i.e. cheats) by putting a lot of dead air in the narratives and by turning the different soundtracks up and down to indicate which story he wants you to be watching. This might upset purists, but if he hadn't done that, the film would have been impossible to process without a DVD player, multiple viewings and a pause button.
The music distracted me, though. Incidental music in films is an artifice anyway, but here it feels even more jarring to have one common piece of music plonked down on to the four different stories. I'm hoping a closer rewatch would reveal clever thematic similarities that justified this, but if that's so, on this viewing I missed it.
The good bit is the last act. That's the reason why the film's an interesting experiment rather than a failed one. We get an earnest European girl pitching her hyper-intellectual film to a room of Neanderthal executives, which is an entertaining scene in a way we hadn't yet seen in all the improvisation. It's sparky. I even laughed. What's more, the film she's pitching is clearly a kissing cousin of the one we're watching. It sounded a bit better, but that was a nice touch. Anyway, the different protagonists' stories come together with a bang and suddenly we're seeing something that a regular film couldn't do. Something bad's happened and we can see everyone's reactions at the same time. One screen contains comedy. Another contains ghoulish intellectualised voyeurism. The third contains someone in whom the police are about to be very interested and so on. You get the idea. And all the while, the object of all this kerfuffle is spreading blood across the floor of the conference room. I liked that.
There are little things I liked. The earthquakes are a nice touch. There are also a lot of striking women, as you'd expect given the setting although this isn't a glamorous film. For me Leslie Mann (Ursula in George of the Jungle) was the stunningly beautiful one, but there are a good four or five actresses here who are going to tick that box for someone.
The performances were the obvious danger. No second takes here. Fortunately the cast mostly get away with it, although Salma Hayek takes ten minutes to get her brain in gear.
I liked this film. Admittedly I didn't think it was particularly good, but it saves itself with the finale and in any case it's cool just to see it being attempted. It's like Dr Johnson's dog on its hind legs. It's a parlour trick of a movie, but such a ridiculously ambitious one that it's easy to forgive. However having said that, I'd love to see someone else pick up the gauntlet and take this idea to another level, finding a way to use the quartered screens in a way that reinforces and underlines the intertwined performances and storylines. Figgis sort of manages that at the end, but that's twenty good minutes in an 97-minute movie. Let's see more next time. I'd be up for that.
"This is the most pretentious crap I've ever heard." (For the avoidance of misunderstanding, that's a quote from the film.)