Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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I found a very very subtle gag of the fact that as a tall lean character he seemed to "make" the set conform to his size and comfort ,his ease at navigating not only stairs but endless props placed in his way ,he moves them (the props)  with grace instead of moving out of the objects way.

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When I first saw Mon Oncle, as a very precocious young boy, it was one of many influences--especially in foreign films--that fed into ideas about more than comedy. Although the film was funny, it was also very much a cultural criticism, and it reflected the entire range of intellectual revolution roiling in France at the time that would change the way every thinking person would soon see the world. Interestingly, like so many of the other films we are seeing this week, it both honors and parodies the silent comedies of old. But this one does so in the most noble of ways compared to the others, by moving those comedies forward into the future, both practically and intellectually. And, at times, in terms of pure humor as well, in ways the others simply fail to do. This Hulot is a simple, kind, working man who is caught up in the changing middle class France living on the outskirts of the "Big City." This is where new apartment houses are built, where new designs replace the old, and where the middle class moves when the poor occupy the old homes in the poor parts of the city, especially when poor immigrants are filling up those spaces coming in, from all of over the former French empire. This is the underlying "text" in Tati's comedy and why it was so well received when considered at Oscar-time. His gracefulness on set was matched by his gracefulness in the script.

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I found Mr. Hulot to be very observational and discerning. His surroundings didn't just surround him, he knew his way around his apartment and neighborhood. In a subtle comedic way, he would maneuver very quickly from one entrance, window, or way.

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Mr. Hulot appears to be a quiet, kind, gentle man.  This is reflected in the way he slowly walks, taking in his surroundings and engaging with the people around him. He takes the blame for the girl's having damaged the tomatoes and then buys her more.  When her mother, embarrassed, apologizes to him for her daughter's actions, he graciously accepts the apology and then moves on.

 

The building is a wonderful conglomeration of styles and has real character!!  All those steps!!  It was funny to watch him going up and down to get to his home.  At the same time, the way he calmly goes up and down all of those steps reflect his "go with the flow" attitude. The soft colors of the house reflect his personality.  No loud, garish colors; just gentle pastels with living plants here and there and, of course the canary.  He connects with the canary, realizing that the sunshine encourages the bird to sing.  Then he makes sure that the window is open just the right way for the sun to reflect on the bird. Nice touch.

 

The girl's character is at odds with his.  She knocks the tomatoes onto the ground and then runs away, letting him take the blame for her actions.  She accepts new ones from him when she knows she shouldn't.  And she plays a trick on him with the candy.  He takes it all in stride.

 

I love the scene where the dog is barking at the fish.  It reminded me of a scene from the silent slapstick comedies.  I kept waiting for the dog to attack the fish head!

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Everyone has already expressed my own thoughts, and so beautifully!  I did have to look closely in the dog scene to see if the fish was barking back, because the mouth shape of dog and fish were the same!

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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?

 

We learn that Hulot is a polite and patient man, as he discusses the girl dropping the tomatoes. He doesn't raise a temper, and walks away with a pep in his step. He's a kind man, as he gives the young girl two apples, which her mother takes away.

 

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

 

As I said before, he is a patient man! I would probably go nuts or invest in a ladder to walk through that building! He tries to make the bird sing by adjusting the window. Then back down he goes.

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Mr. Hulot is quiet, kind, a little stiff in manner, generous and caring. Interesting how he gives the tomatos to the girl and her mother takes them from her saying she is not a child anymore. Mother keeps them. He knows his way around and proceeds in a confident manner, blissfully unaware of the dog about to fight with his fish. I was waiting for the dog to attack the fish, but it fits the character that he doesn't have to fight the dog over the fish. That would destroy the easy feel to the entire scene and Hulot's gentle character.

 

The walk to his apartment works in the long continuous long shot. You anticipate his appearing at the next window or doorway on his way up and smile every time he appears. Quiet and confident in his walk. A photographic joy. Not out and out belly laugh funny, but a funny thinking kind of comedy.

 

 

 

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Bonjour Mr. Hulot! 

 

I was first introduced to Jacques Tati's character when the good people at TCM aired Le Vacances de Mr. Hulot

 

Hulot's world (like Sellers' Clouseau and Atkinson's Mr. Bean, in my opinion) can be summed up in one word: complication.  If their world isn't complicated enough (even if his apartment building is a post-war, reconstruction, there must be some easier way to get to the third?floor), they will go to whatever lengths are necessary to take the situation to every possible height of complication.  Unlike the characters I mentioned above, Tati's Hulot is the very model of unperturbed composition.  The apartment building (and the boarding house of his sunny seaside vacation), is merely there. There may be the occasional squeaky hinge or unreasonably loud bird, c'est le vie. 

 

Unperturbed as he is, one of the trademarks of his slapstick are the victims he leaves in his wake.  If the scene were, for example, a supermarket, Hulot would move replace the can of soup where he feels it should be, leaving it to the next poor sap to pick it up and send the display crashing to the floor.

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I have nothing new to add to what already has been discussed. I do have an observation and a question of my own. It may not advance the subject matter forward here, but could be an opportunity to learn more about the building Hulot calls home. 

 

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?

 

In order for Hulot to reach his apartment, he must walk up four flights stairs and in between, go down one flight, with plenty of turns- (an arduous task for anyone.) Does someone know if this particular architecture style was widespread in France at the time? I would think it would not be popular with tenants. Perhaps Tati was making a satirical commentary on this style, either way (pro or con.)

 

 

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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 is kind, loyal and unassuming as shown by his reaction to being falsely accused for the spoiled tomatoes, not turning in the little girl who was the actual culprit but instead Hulot gifts her his own tomatoes. Also by accepting the sticky candy from her when leaving. Hulot is quirky and does not let difficulties deter him. He is egalitarian. He enjoys his home and the ups and downs, ins and outs of reaching his front door even if it means passing through clothes drying on the line. He is trusting as he stores his door key above the lintel in full view of anyone passing by on the street below. He enjoys simple things, nature as evinced by his reflecting the sunlight on the songbirds to keep them singing. He is a happy man who enjoys a comfortable cozy home and not concerned by what others may think of him.

 

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

 

The various levels, the sunlight through the windows that show first his profile, then his feet, then his body. I love the staircase up then the roundabout then the staircase down. You can't help but watch him. Even the soft colors and quaint doorways and gingerbread trim are comforting and inviting and quirky. A place that invites the potential for friendly conversations, visits, gatherings. It is a place of community not isolation. Tati is comfortable in this setting so anything can happen.

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Hulot seems like a very kind and considerate man. Defending a little girl or himself as the fish gets growled at by the doggie. Just seems like an every day man you would see. He is not an extraordinary man. Just a lovely man going on about his life.

A longshot of the apartment is extraordinary. The man himself is not. Where he lives has such character. I love watching him go through the stairs in the windows and putting the light on his bird or somebody's bird. It almost looks like a dollhouse, the apartment. The entire atmosphere is sunny and fun. The kids playing, the woman pulling in her clothes from drying. It's a sweet scene. Gives me a smile.

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I'm so glad Jacques Tati made the lineup! 

 

Mr. Hulot satirizes the excesses of modernity, while also appreciating some of what it has to offer. He is indeed complicated in this regard. The wildly inconvenient architecture of his building contrasts with the hyper-modern convenience of his nephews house in the film. The sterility of the hyper-modern house is at obvious odds with the communal ambiance of this kooky old, retro-partitioned house. For the most part, Hulot seems like a remnant of the pre-WWII era -- a less alienating time. But he also, at times, seems to enjoy fooling around with new-school technology.

 

Love this clip!

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I have nothing new to add to what already has been discussed. I do have an observation and a question of my own. It may not advance the subject matter forward here, but could be an opportunity to learn more about the building Hulot calls home. 

 

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?

 

In order for Hulot to reach his apartment, he must walk up four flights stairs and in between, go down one flight, with plenty of turns- (an arduous task for anyone.) Does someone know if this particular architecture style was widespread in France at the time? I would think it would not be popular with tenants. Perhaps Tati was making a satirical commentary on this style, either way (pro or con.)

 

I don't have an answer to your question, but it does make me wonder if Monsieur Hulot's living arrangement is a commentary on tenements in general, not just in France. A large single-family home might get partitioned into smaller and smaller apartments so that more and more people can move into the city, any city (and also so that a landlord can earn more and more from the rent). Monsieur Hulot gives the impression that he likes being around a lot of people and that he makes the best of his living situation.

 

Maybe others on this discussion thread will have more information.

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1. Hulot is content and good natured, as seen in the literal spring in his step, his friendliness to his neighbors, even his argument with the produce seller is more conversational than confrontational.  He seems perfectly accepting of his arduous and maze-like path to his home.

2. The building shows a makeshift and surreal quality to Tati's scene, cartoonish yet indicative of Hulot's financial status of modest means.  One can relate to his standing, but not the extremity of the architecture, yet his trek engages us to go along, especially since he seems an appealing character.

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Hulot is established as kind by his interaction with the girl and his accommodation of the canary. His ascent to his apartment is ritualistic and proper. The scene itself requires a bit of patience but the careful placement of the windows in relation to the stairs make his intermittent appearances somewhat surprising and amusing. The building, like Hulot himself, is eccentric but inviting.

Thank you for selecting this film. I highly recommend Tati's innocent brand of comedy to any who might be interested. There are four Hulot films written and directed by Tati and all have something to offer if you're willing to give yourself to his kinder, gentler form of slapstick. I'm also looking forward to the Pierre Etaix film on Tuesday. Cheers.

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1. You can tell that Hulot is a decent, hardworking person, friendly and trying to get by. I loved the bit early on in the clip with the dog growling at that fish.

2. The building accentuates Hulot's decency as a normal Everyman trying to make it. It may take him a while to get there but he does. Seeing him walk up those crazy stairs reminded me of the opening of th Mr. Magoo cartoons where he driving through all kinds of situations.

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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 man completely comfortable in his own skin. Therefore he can confront the absurdities of life with gentleness, love and acceptance. He protects the young girl’s dropping of the tomatoes, easily absorbs the vendor’s wrath, as his fish seems unconcerned with the dog’s barking,

 (The fish returns as a fountain/ statue at the modern house).

 

Each situation and person he meets – he brings joy and comfort to the interaction. The girl, the mother, passing through the laundry,  directing sunlight to the singing bird. Instead of slapstick this could be called lovestick.

 

 

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

The “funhouse” design of the building exaggerates the non-functionality of Hulot’s life. It’s the journey not the destination. As he passes through each window of his journey through the building, the tension builds at the circuitous route.  Hulot moves through the maze easily and comfortably, familiar with the ups and downs.

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Mr. Hulot appears to be quite the eccentric. The setup of the scene is immediately crafted to comedic effect. A young girl dropping tomatoes at a food stand, and then fleeing lends blame to the lone person remaining behind- Mr. Hulot. Wrongfully accused, he seemingly accepts the mishap as his own, as a dog beneath the stand readily argues with Hulot's supposed dinner- a dead fish. (This exchange was a great marvel. The use of an animal, to a certain execution, can undoubtedly raise a comedic approach to a greater level.)

 

I believe Hulot's character is exhibited by his surroundings, especially the building in which he resides. In terms of specificity, the stairs are of vital importance. Mr. Hulot's ascension (of a flight of stairs) in order to descend an additional flight to reach his front door is blatantly absurd and hilarious. This speaks volumes into the insight of his character; quirky, usual, and comedic, measured with a keen perception and intelligence.

 

The building's characteristic design is displaced from that of what one may call traditional Slapstick. The comedic physicality is reminiscent of the building, in that it's odd, unlike any definitive version of this particular type of comedy. The building reflects Mr. Hulot as a character and vice versa.

 

This individualistic slapstick approach was a refreshingly, different kind of comedic take. Tati has clearly produced a redefining of slapstick, sprinkling about his own witticisms of genius. I have never explored the artistic expressions of Jacques Tati, but I do believe I've been introduced to an artist who will quickly become a new favorite.

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     This clip from “Mon Oncle” (1958) shows Jacques Tati’s character, Mr. Hurlot, as he goes through a familiar routine of returning to his apartment to drop off groceries.  From it, we can see that he is a kind and simple man, easy going and slightly befuddled. The scene opens at the vegetable stand, when the neighbor girl knocks over some tomatoes and runs away.  Hurlot is blamed by the vendor and accepts the blame quietly, though his shuffling feet shown under the table indicate some level of discomfort with the situation.  This scene is heightened by the added gag in which his dead fish and a dog almost get into a fight.  This exchange under the table mirrors the unseen action above the table between Hurlot and the vendor.  Both Hurlot and the fish look guilty but are innocent.  After this exchange, he walks deliberately but casually towards his building.  Seeing the girl who caused the trouble, he scolds her mildly (as indicated by the shaking of the umbrella), then gives her a treat (apples?).   Though the mother takes them from the girl and keeps them herself, Hurlot shows no irritation.  He starts the obviously familiar progression through the stairs and levels of this eccentric building.  His moves are deliberate, but his pace is leisurely -- he does not seem put out by the inconvenience of the route.  At the apartment, his apparent concern about a squeaky window is revealed to be another act of kindness, as he was adjusting the reflected sunlight to shine on a caged bird.  Upon leaving, he winds down through the levels of the building.  He interacts with a neighbor and encounters the girl again.  She offers him a candy that he doesn’t want but he accepts to be polite.  It is a comfortable domestic scene -- albeit in a strange setting.  

     Though we have not seen it yet, this building is offered as a counterpoint to the modern building that his nephew lives in (Villa Arpel).  Beyond this, the house serves as a  comic prop, or even a comic character.  It is a community building, designed for maximum social interaction. This is not the kind of building that is designed in a systematic way; its development and evolution had to take place organically.   Its existence acts as a philosophical opposition to the post-war school of modern design that emphasized functional architectural minimalism and spartan social isolation.  Navigating this building is not just a simple task of going from point A to point B, it is an adventure that involves interacting with many or all of the neighbors.  Its eccentric charm stands as a critique of institutional modernism.   

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Tati created Mr. Hulot and placed him in a changing world in several films. Mon Oncle clearly shows the filmmaker's love for tradition, and his inability to conform to the trends of modernity. Later, in Playtime, he actually bankrupted himself to create modern Paris before it existed! That film shows American tourists enthralled with all the wrong things, and the old attractions - Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, etc. - only seen in reflections in modern glass doors.

I'm glad to see Tati included in this course, because he has been overlooked too often and too long in the pantheon of great comedic filmmakers. Viewing all his work, which has been lovingly restored and compiled in a recent collection, will help add new understanding of what a modern comic genius can do with the visual medium to enhance our appreciation of tradition.

 

And I'm attaching a photo of 3 of our subjects conferring together. An historic meeting, for sure.

post-18010-0-79154500-1474377882_thumb.jpeg

post-18010-0-79154500-1474377882_thumb.jpeg

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Mr. Hulot appears to be quite the eccentric. The setup of the scene is immediately crafted to comedic effect. A young girl dropping tomatoes at a food stand, and then fleeing lends blame to the lone person remaining behind- Mr. Hulot. Wrongfully accused, he seemingly accepts the mishap as his own, as a dog beneath the stand readily argues with Hulot's supposed dinner- a dead fish. (This exchange was a great marvel. The use of an animal, to a certain execution, can undoubtedly raise a comedic approach to a greater level.) . . .

 

 

 

I noticed the dog and the fish, too. I kept thinking that someone trained that dog perfectly and that the fish must have been a plastic prop that looked real as heck! The bit definitely added to the humor.

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I first discovered Jacques Tati and Monsieur Hulot in "M. Hulot's Holiday" at the Detroit FIlm Theatre a few years ago.

 

Tati was the French Buster Keaton with a deadpan expression and his ability to get into all kinds of comedic trouble. As was the case with the mischievous young lady deliberately dropping tomatoes and having Hulot take the blame. The dog seeing the dead fish mirrors the trouble Hulot has with the vendor and we expect all hell to break loose. But it doesn't. Instead we see him gently scold to girl (who probably regrets NOTHING) and offer he something.

 

The scene where we see Hulot go up to his apartment is delightful with its twisted stairs and architectural design. The opening of the window startles him as he probably never heard a window tweet instead of squeak and then we eventually see the cause---a bird. He is also kind and generous, adjusting the window for light reflection for the bird.

 

As a comparison, "M. Hulot's Holiday" has him experiencing the troubles we have while on vacation---and wanting a vacation from our vacation!

 

In that film's trailer, a wild jazz score accompanies the mishaps that Hulot encounters. But there are also beautiful moments, including his encounter with the lovely Martine, whom everyone guy wants---but will never have.

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I have nothing new to add to what already has been discussed. I do have an observation and a question of my own. It may not advance the subject matter forward here, but could be an opportunity to learn more about the building Hulot calls home. 

 

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?

 

In order for Hulot to reach his apartment, he must walk up four flights stairs and in between, go down one flight, with plenty of turns- (an arduous task for anyone.) Does someone know if this particular architecture style was widespread in France at the time? I would think it would not be popular with tenants. Perhaps Tati was making a satirical commentary on this style, either way (pro or con.)

 

I doubt the architecture of this building represents anything real. There are too many elements that have that 'tacked on' look and that represent a hodge-podge of architectural components. The resemblance to any real building is more superficial than real. The building itself seems to  be designed to represent the eccentricity of the Hulot character. Anyone who would live in such a bizarre building must be a little bit of an oddball.

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He is used to his routine of going to his apartment and going up and down the stairs. The part with the dog growling at the fish was funny. The little girl was a sneak for dropping the tomatoes and then letting Mr. Hulot take the blame. He does get after her but then gives her apples which is taken away. The building is quite interesting to see how he goes up them especially in the top right where he does a quick turn. Making the bird sing by the glare of the window was great to see. He looks happy to hear the bird sing. He is content with all that is around him.

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