Amoeblog

RITUAL DE LO HABITUAL

Posted by Charles Reece, March 1, 2009 08:31pm | Post a Comment
If I can just get off of this LA freeway
Without getting killed or caught
I'd be down that road in a cloud of smoke
For some land that I ain't bought
-- Guy Clark, "L.A. Freeway"


There are few directors I rank up there with Hitchcock, but Jacques Tati is one of them. I finally got around to watching Criterion's release of Trafic, his final installment in the Monsieur Hulot series. If Playtime is his Vertigo, then that would make Trafic his North By Northwest, only it didn't put Tati back on top of the commerical foodchain. After the box-office failure of Playtime, Tati had to take a step backwards, at least production-wise. Maybe that's why the critics never gave his followup the same attention as all the other Hulot flicks, the artistry of each increasing at exponential rate over the last. And maybe the diminished role of the Hulot character in Trafic is the reason it didn't do much better than Playtime among the masses (that's the reason Jonathan Romney gives). I suspect it was due to the same brazen social critique condemning his former film to academic circles, resulting in the charge of pretension from newspaper reviewers and the like. Most people like to keep their seriousness and humor separate.


In the opening credit sequence, Tati looks straight down the maw of an automobile assembly line, creating an effect similar to the infinite regress of two mirrors facing each other. The men are as much like replicas as the parts they're pushing through the machine. After having spent a couple years doing register duty in retail, a musician buddy of mine commented the other night that if America spent as much time habituating its citizens to the piano keys as it does to menial tasks in the service of commerce, the creative possibilites would be limitless. As it stands, those guys in that shot don't stand much of a chance of doing anything else with the procedural knowledge they've acquired. Dan Lalande expresses a similar thought in his evaluation of the film in the latest Cineaction: