Jacques Tati: The Slapstick Tradition’s Last Gasp


Today is the birthday of the sublime Jacques Tati (1907-1982), the world’s premiere exponent of clown cinema in the post silent era. Of Russian and Dutch extraction (his full last name is Tatischeff), he was a pro soccer player and French music hall comic before directing and starring in his first feature Jour de fete, about a funny postman, in 1949. He created his signature character the awkward, bumbling, unfailingly polite M. Hulot in his next film M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), as well as Tati’s recognizable style: a pleasant, leisurely pace; very little dialogue; stylized sound effects; recurring musical themes; satirical tweaks at modern life; and an organization revolving around the imaginative physical gag, reminiscent of all the great silent film comedians. His next Mon Oncle (1958) was his largest international hit. Playtime (1967) was his most ambitious film and his biggest flop (it bankrupted him), although it has its prononents, including Truffault and Terry Jones (and me!) With Trafic (1971) he returned to a more modest budget and a more typical Hulot like scenario (the transportation of an experimental car to a trade show). His other films are documentaries, although one of his earlier scripts forms the basis for the 2010 animated film The Illusionist.

Below a scene from Mon Oncle, in which he tries to figure out his sister’s moderm kitchen:

To learn more about  variety artistsconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.



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