Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #9: Visual Design as Slapstick (Jacques Tati)

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We will be watching Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle (My Uncle) on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016 at 8pm EDT.

In preparation for that, here is a scene from early in the movie that introduces Tati's character of Hulot. 

 

As usual, the Daily Doses are also archived at our course at Canvas.net through a main link on the main menu/Home page labeled "Daily Dose of Doozy."

 

Enjoy the discussion on today's Daily Dose! 

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1. As you carefully watch the scene, what do you learn about the character of Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he walks up to his apartment?

Monsieur Hulot is a patient, friendly neighbor. He seems to take the blame when his neighbor accidently drops a tomato at the vendor’s cart outside his apartment building. He very carefully winds his way up and down the stairs once he enters the building. Once inside his apartment, he’s curious about the canary chirping and works at discovering where the sound is coming from. On his way out, he accepts a candy from his neighbor, even though it is sticky and he doesn’t want to eat it. He interacts with his environment as it is.
2. How is the building used to support Tati’s physical comedy?

The building is set up to give glimpses of Hulot. Viewers see him navigate the stairs very carefully and exactly. Hulot’s movement through the building is ritualistic. He uses his umbrella to clear his way when he passes laundry hanging on balconies. His environment, his living space, is decidedly not hostile. Tati uses exaggeration and make-believe (but no violence) to create physical comedy and a whimsical set.

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1. As you carefully watch the scene, what do you learn about the character of Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he walks up to his apartment?

 

Hulot seems to be a sensitive and gentle character.  He interacts freely and pleasantly with others - the vendor (though the vendor is visibly upset), the child who he forgives, the child's mother (ending his exchange on a pleasant note),  his concern for the bird to have sunlight, and the woman doing her laundry.  In the final exchange with the child, he gratefully accepts the sticky candy from her, yet hides his discomfort in it being so.  Again, he does not wish to hurt her feelings.

 

His costume blends in the scenery - a drab overcoat, nothing distinctive.  His character's gentleness with animals and children reminds me of Chaplin, but without the deviousness and challenge of authority.  He also exhibits some of the stone face of Keaton, as he goes about his daily business.  He also seems to be a creature of habit - with his key above the door and the precise manner he positions his open window.  Also, as a creature of habit, he carries his umbrella on what appears to be a sunny day.

 

HIs stride is purposeful, but not rushed - he takes in the world around him.

2. How is the building used to support Tati's physical comedy?

 

There is a certain lunacy to the visual design of the building - go up to go downagain, go around and wind about, go from one side to the another to return to the original side again.  We see his progress through the small windows, so there is a long short and we follow his continual movement. The angle of the banister points visual direction to the window and highlights it, as does the framing above the door.

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1. Hulot is a sensitive, caring, and forgiving human being. He is gentle in his nature of being nice to others especially to his niece in a few scenes of the film. He enters his apartment as though he were lost or entranced into a strange new world of wonders and oddities.

 

2. The building shows us the next level of what the apartment would look like if the postmodern style went to an even further extent. It feels reminiscent of a funhouse with twists and turns, since his apartment looks like it was an attraction at a carnival and he could have been the barker to let tourists enter the funhouse from up the stairs, across the hallway, up the ladder, and down the steps again. That would lead all the way to the glass window and door. 

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1.     As you carefully watch the scene, what do you learn about the character of Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he walks up to his apartment?

 

 

 

Watching the Hulot character in this scene we learn right away that he is a kind and friendly person seemingly enjoying his environment as he casually makes his way home from a day at the market.  A gentle and considerate person as he does not get angry or upset when falsely accused of disrupting a fruit & vegetable stand and later even offering the young girl responsible, a gift from the stand.  Jacques Tati appears to be a homage to the common man characters as we’ve experienced with Charley Chase and Harold Lloyd in that he innocently wanders from one awkward situation to another. The young girl in the market not only leaves him accused of being a nuisance but the dog under the stand doesn’t like his fish purchase and is ready to pounce, and then the same girl gives him sticky candy.  Like so many of our earlier films Mr Hulot moves from one bad situation to another yet he is resilient and takes it all in stride.

 

 

 

2.     How is the building used to support Tati's physical comedy?

 

 

 

The building in this clip is a maze of  odd angles, windows and stairs that seem to make Hulot’s trek home one of  futility for him and frustration for the audience.  Even still our kind Mr Hulot takes the time to angle his open window to keep a neighbour’s caged bird happy in reflected sunlight.  By the time he makes it downstairs and back to the street, with sticky hands, I’m exhausted!    

 

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We tend to associate slapstick comedy with Hollywood, so it's good to have a Daily Dose coming from Europe. Besides, European cinema has a rich tradition in comedy and stars like Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers, Louis de Funès and Roberto Benigni have contributed in in its development for a century now.

 

In this clip we watch French comedian Jacques Tati portraying a character similar of those of silent comedy stars; a likeable, everyday man with a simple life, ambitions and manners. Always friendly, polite and smiling, there's nothing not to like in this man. There's little dialogue, music background and visual gags, it could be a clip from a silent comedy of the 1920's.

 

Buster Keaton was the first film comedian to use arhitecture as an important tool for his visual gags (his most famous scene is when a house falls on him) and Tati follows his footsteps in this clip. The building where he lives in has an unusual architecture and seems old-fashioned. Color helps him emphasize the aspects of the building. He's seen crossing the entire building to reach his apartment, and his clown-like way of walking makes the scene funny and make-believe.

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1. As you carefully watch the scene, what do you learn about the character of Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he walks up to his apartment?

 

He's a single pipe-smoking kind French middle aged gentleman who lives in a family oriented but noisy neighbourhood and at the top of a large multi-tiered apartment building where he hides his key over his door.

 

2. How is the building used to support Tati's physical comedy?

 

The actions are completely visible so it's easy enough to follow. I'd say the building provided enough info to set-up a bunch of gags. I only detected a couple gags including the light in the chirping bird's eyes, and neighbourly activity he's involved by proximity. But, it's only Monday and I'm slow to get going...

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1. As you carefully watch the scene, what do you learn about the character of Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he walks up to his apartment?
 

He's a remnant of a France that was rapidly disappearing even as he filmed it. Tati rebelled against the post-war France as illustrated in the rest of Mon Oncle where he contrasts village life with city life and the change represented by scenes of urban development.  As to his character we see him neighborly and always slightly befuddled but with a good heart.

 

2. How is the building used to support Tati's physical comedy?

 

The building is a prop allowing us to see M. Hulot taking a round about way to get home with many changes of direction.

 

All this being said I kind of object to this scene as representing slapstick. To me Tati was always a satirist who used elements of slapstick.  Personally, I think a better representation of slapstick is to be found in M. Hulot's Holiday since Hulot walking to his home is humorous but doesn't quite strike me as slapstick.

 

If we wish to stay with Mon Oncle however, this clip will hopefully prove my point that Tati is making social commentary like Chaplin while using slapstick. Here we see exaggeration, violence and ritual at work as Hulot demonstrates his befuddlement and inability to use modern "conveniences".

 

 

 

Still staying with Mon Oncle we can really see what Tati was about in this opening scene where we see the contrast between the France that was with the France that it was becoming.  Pay particular attention to the transition at around 1:45

 

 

 

A touching scene that establishes Tati's context but again, no slapstick humor in evidence.

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1. As you carefully watch the scene, what do you learn about the character of Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he walks up to his apartment?

 

Hulot is a nice, kind and nonchalant neighbor who greets people, makes sure that the singing bird receives the right amount of sunlight, takes the blame for someone else's wrongdoing at an outside food court, and doesn't get upset at a young girl giving him sticky candy. He is peaceful and caring man who has sympathy for everything and everyone; the neighborhood may be a little chaotic and overwhelming, but he seems to be content with it. He represents a very disappeared era of kindness and non-judgment that is truly missed in today's misplace society.

 

2. How is the building used to support Tati's physical comedy?

 

The building provides enough exposure to Hulot's overall routine. It supports the gags to move an even pace, and also makes sure that they work successfully. Although the audience may get a little uneasy because of the design of the building, but Tati's Hulot is so likeable, and so comforting, that you actually forget the way it looks, and instead focus on how it becomes its own supporting character in the film.  It also didn't hurt that Tati was a genius in setting up the environment and atmosphere to a certain accuracy, so that every gag had a significance and overall successful result.

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The building in this clip is a maze of  odd angles, windows and stairs that seem to make Hulot’s trek home one of  futility for him and frustration for the audience.

 

 

The audience can feel whatever it wants but seeing as how Hulot does get home it doesn't rise to the level of futility.  Futility would be him almost at the top but surrealistically coming out back on the street after a wrong turn. This of course would be a contradiction with everything that Hulot stands for. He's comfortable in Old France and most befuddled in the New France.  I would argue that M. Hulot not only doesn't mind the walk up his building but even enjoys the journey

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As I watched this clip, I determined that Hulot is a kind ..considerate.pipe-smoking gent. He also is going to fox his window because I gathered that he is on his way to the hardware store.

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1.As you carefully watch the scene, what do you learn about the character of Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he walks up to his apartment?

There are several things that you can learn about his character based on this scene.  First, his character seems to lead a rather mundane and routine existence.  He must climb up and down the stairs in the same pattern each and everyday.  This must be a tedious process.

 

He also lives an isolated existence.  His apartment is located apart from other tenants in the building.

 

 

2.How is the building used to support Tati's physical comedy?

 

The composition of the shot of Tati climbing the stairs on his way to his apartment reminds me of many of the scenes in Keaton’s films.  Keaton’s cinematographer used the geometry of a building to focus viewer attention on Keaton’s movement.  The same can be said with the shot used on Mon Oncle.  We know that Tait is ascending and descending the stairs but do not see him throughout the entire process.  The humor comes from seeing glimpses of Tati at various stages of climbing the stairs.   There is no editing that would detract from the humor.  The shot composition and lack of editing is a great piece of visual storytelling and adds greatly to the humor.

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I have never seen a Jaques Tati film, so i really can only guess his character from this short clip alone. To me, he seems to be a kind, gentle, friendly and patient man. We see him giving a gift to the girl who obviously wanted a tomato, we see him interacting pleasantly with the neighbors. As he walks up the labyrinth of steps and hallways to his apartment, he does so with a calm, patient manner. The adjustment of the window is funny because it is only after a bit that we realize he is trying to give the bird below some sunlight. At first we have no idea why he is fussing with the window. He kindly takes the sticky candy from the girl and acts pleasant about it to her, though he obviously doesn't really want it. So i would say he is kind, patient, gentle, and mild mannered.

 

The style of the house - the labyrinth of stairs and walkways - is of course absurd and comical. The design is clever because the windows and spaces allow us to see his progress on the inside from the outside, all in one master shot. We see him almost the entire way, and when he disappears he pops back up somewhere else in a comical way. It reminded me of a Rube Goldberg device, in that you progress through seemingly useless complexity simply to get from one point to another.

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1. I was amazed at how beautifully the building was used in Jacques Tati's scene. Each floor of the apartment had its own nuances that illustrated the character of the people that lived within its walls. Because of this outward personification, the apartment building itself can be used as a character that Tati can interact with, almost as if another person is sharing the scene with him.

 

2. The building is used to support Tati's physical comedy in such a refreshing splendid way. Tati weaves in and out, floor to floor, engaging with some part of the building on each floor. His interactions with the laundry line, and the window show just how resonating Tati's physical comedy still it today, even in 2016.

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1.       From his walk home, we learn that Mr. Hulot is a man of ritual. He seems to live in a world of familiarity where it is unnecessary for him to speak and where people already know him. Even interruptions, such as the girl dropping the tomatoes, are not so bad that he has to alter his ritual by much. The path to his apartment seems to be the longest route through the labyrinth of an apartment building, but he seems not to mind.

2.       Just watching him walk through the levels and pop up in a different window is funny, like watching someone in a fun house. He gets humor from surprising us – the moving of the window seems to be to consider the squeak, but we learn that it’s to focus light on a singing bird. It’s funny to see that the staircase goes higher than it needs to for the top floor. And it’s funny to see him graciously maneuver around the woman hanging laundry outside the top floor.

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1. He's a mild manner Frenchman in a noisy neighborhood. His movements are slow and deliberate. I see a bit of Chaplin in his actions with the street vendor and his interaction with the girl. But I also see Keaton as well as he goes through the apartment building. I didn't see him as someone that was lonely but someone comfortable with himself.

 

2. The buildings unique architecture adds to the scene. He doesn't go in one side to get to his apartment but zigzags through what appears to be different styles and types of stairs to get to the top. It brings a softer kind of comedy than most of the previous slaps ticks we've seen.

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He is nice to kids and dogs.

 

The building is a series of steps and mazes. He has to go up and around and down to get to his apartment. I thought of Peter Sellers.

 

 

 

 

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I see a parallel between the man and the building. The building is quirky and does not quite fit into the rest of the world as is the man a bit quirky but they are also somewhat charming both because of and in spite of their nonconformity. I love the fact that he appears self aware, comfortable with who he is and as a result is kind to a fault without judgement.

 

Several people have noted the whimsical design of the building and related it to a fun house. I believe Penn Gillette would love it as he designed and built his house in that manner. It would not surprise me if he is a fan of this movie and of course slapstick. Although the Penn and Teller act is based in magic, many elements of the gags are slapstick in their execution.

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Here we find a kind, compassionate man making his way evenly through the chaos of everyday life. He is put upon by circumstances, but sails serenely on. I agree that the way he is dressed adds to his appeal as a quiet sort of gent in these opening scenes...but these kinds of openings often lead to unexpected and very funny events. I haven't yet seen the entire movie, but I am drawn in to see what will happen.

 

Then there is the building where he lives. Surprisingly bohemian for such a seemingly staid fellow. A very oddly shaped stage for this unfolding tale, but it seems warm and welcoming as he pops in and out of sight in an interesting journey to his place in it. We can already get a feeling of community as he gets his key from above the door and upon entering and going to his window he finds that by setting the window just right he can shine light on the neighbor's canary, making it burst into song. I don't know where he is going as he makes his careful way back through this nonthreatening maze of a building, but I am hooked by this ingenuously designed opening segment. The house truly is another character that helps shape our ideas about Mr. Hulot, and possibly his neighbors.

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Mon Oncle clip:

 

M. Hulot, in this clip, seems to me to be a kind person, taking the blame for the dropped tomatoes for the girl, and evidently buying two more to give to her.  He does reprimand her, waving his umbrella and yet gives her two more tomatoes. He's quiet and doesn't complain when the woman takes the tomatoes from the girl, supposedly her daughter, and keeps them.  He acts like a simple man, who glides along with the events of his day.  I guess that could be interpreted as a positive outlook.

 

The house's unusual structure is funny and he takes his ups and downs and ups again in stride.  Clever.  Will watch the whole movie tomorrow night.

 

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From this clip of Mr. Hulot walking to his apartment it shows him to be a kind man when he helps the young girl. He certainly seems to take life in stride especially the long, crazy walk to his apartment and back down again. It is a very good example of a visual slapstick using the design of the building. Walking up and down that crazy design must get very tedious.

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As mentioned in previous post Mr.Hulot seems like a kind and patient man. The house's many levels gives him a chance to show is extraordinary patience in a comic manner. The house was a great slapstick tool. The windows and the staircase reminded me of houses in Dr.Suess books.

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Hulot lives in a working class neighborhood where everyone seems to know each other the dogs growl at fish!  Hulot seems to be a tender soul- kind to neighbors and even birds.  He is a very patient man as well.

 

Before viewing the clip I took a good look at the exterior if the house trying to figure out how it could be source of slapstick and what a revelation!  He calmly enters the building and proceeds to go to his quarters.  Reminds me of a fun house where you can see people pop in and out.  It's perhaps the most gentlest of the physical slapsticks we've seen.  And the bit with the birds; at first I thought it was a sound effect for a squeaky window hinge and the payoff was the sun's reflection off the window and into the birdcage as if announcing a new day.  It is a very clever and well thought out gag.

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Mr. Hulot is the kind man of the neighborhood. He takes care of others, even when they don't know it, yet his charm is disarming at times. 

 

The bulding helps his character be a fully developed "person" that one can relate to and the events that will arise from what he does.

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