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    All four one and one four all

    Plot takes a back seat to fascinating filmmaking as "Timecode" slices the screen into four parts to tell interlocking stories shot in a single continuous take.


    "Timecode" is a brilliantly conceived and executed piece of experimental filmmaking that questions the notions of traditional narrative cinema by challenging the very way in which we view movies.

    Written and directed by: Mike Figgis.
    Cast: Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Stellan Skarsgard, Holly Hunter, Saffron Burrows, Kyle MacLachlan, Julian Sands, Richard Edson, Glenne Headly, Leslie Mann, Steven Weber.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    That's the good news.

    The bad news is that it's written and directed (and produced and scored and photographed!) by Mike Figgis, the man who made the overrated drunk drama "Leaving Las Vegas," and the worst thing about it is that it continues his sophomoric preoccupation with sex.

    But "Timecode," easily his finest work to date, is so different, so creative a motion picture that even I could put away my anti-Figgis sentiments for an hour and a half and enjoy the film purely on its own considerable merits.

    Watching "Timecode" is like no other cinematic experience, and you'd be well advised to sit further back than usual, since your eyes will be wandering — sometimes racing — all over the screen. The film is actually four separate yet (as time will tell) linked films presented in four panels, so in the top right-hand corner of the screen, for example, we have a woman talking to her psychiatrist while in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen someone else is auditioning for a part in a Z-grade exploitation flick.

    Each sequence is shot in one continuous take with no edits. One uninterrupted 93-minute take, to be precise, since that's exactly how long a digital videocassette runs. But it feels like there are edits, because by the time your eye returns to one of the segments the action is closer in, or further out, or in a completely different place.

    The actors, among them Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Stellan Skarsgard, Holly Hunter, Saffron Burrows, Kyle MacLachlan, Julian Sands, Richard Edson, Glenne Headly, Leslie Mann, and Steven Weber, improvise around a loosely-structured narrative that requires them to do certain things and be certain places at specific times — synchronized right down to the millisecond. What we see on the screen, therefore, are four distinct storylines that, over time, come together — overlapping and interacting. It's truly invigorating watching how characters who were once "down there" are now "up here."

    Figgis, I hate to admit it, orchestrates the whole thing beautifully, so that from time to time all four sequences "match," or run parallel, while at other times they're completely out of sync. And the experience of watching the film is sensational, since it requires a different method of viewing depending upon what's happening on screen at any one time. For example, at points in the film you can leisurely move your head in a slow continuous circle, absorbing each of the disparate stories, yet at other times you have to move your eyes quickly, scanning each different area for clues.

    In-jokes abound, and Figgis is not afraid to make fun of himself or his trade (note the surreal scene towards the end in which a diaphanous beauty pitches her own familiar-sounding experimental treatment accompanied by a rapper-keyboardist named Joey Z). Every now and again there's an earthquake, a minor tremor that rumbles through each of the four quadrants sending our actors tumbling and reminding us, as if we needed reminding, that these four stories are not only linked, but happening in real time. But in the end the near-irrelevant "plot" takes second place to the film's structure. (And it's just as well, because I'd swear that Figgis came up with the idea of having Hayek and Tripplehorn making out in the back of a limo before he came up with his revolutionary four-camera technique!)

    If you're not into film, the medium, and the concept of a highly structural film experience, then the novelty of "Timecode" might grow tiresome very quickly. But if you can allow yourself to put aside all traditional expectations — just as I was able to put aside my tiny problem of this being a Mike Figgis film — then you might just find it absolutely fascinating.

    JUNE 5, 2000

    Reader comments on Timecode:

  • I do not enjoy most films either   from Cameron Gleeson, Sep 23, 2000
  • Re: I do not enjoy most films either   from Deyhauk, Jan 6, 2002
  • what's the big deal?   from ajkim2, Mar 22, 2001
  • Re: what's the big deal?   from Barbi, Jun 7, 2001
  • timecode   from tara, Jul 2, 2002
  • Re: timecode   from Charles, Dec 9, 2002
  • Accidental viewing   from Chris, Sep 22, 2004
  • Re: Accidental viewing   from Malin, Oct 11, 2006

  • Post a comment on "Timecode"