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.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
"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.
That's the good news.
|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
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
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|
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