TamTam Books News

Tuesday, January 28, 2003:

"Jacques Tati" by David Bellos
Harvill Press (ISBN: 1860469248)

David Bellos and Jacques Tati: What an odd combination. The odd thing about it is that David Bellos is a much-respected translator of French writer Georges Perec's novels, in addition to being Perec's biographer, and he's a much-admired expert on French literature. So why would he be interested in writing a biography of one of cinema's great clowns, Jacques Tati, especially when Bellos admits he is not a film fanatic and feels that if he had met Tati, he wouldn't have been able to spend more than five minutes in conversation with the man? Bellos cites his interest in Tati's artistry and his place in what the author calls "the trente glorieuses -- the 30 glorious years of rising prosperity in France from 1945 to 1975." These are the years during which Tati did his amazing work. He was not only one of the great filmmakers but also an artist who commented on humankind's interest and need for work and leisure -- with hilarious results. And his set designs have been a hit with architects around the world.

There is nothing more moderne than a Tati film. Tati made fun of the French love for le gadget: everything from Le Corbusier-style chaises longues to cars that had grills suitable for barbecuing. Jacques Tati is weak as a biography, insofar as Bellos doesn't get into Tati's head, but the book is strong when Bellos writes about Tati's films and his Kubrick-like madness in waiting for the perfect shot, perfect moment, perfect anything. Like Kubrick, Tati was an unforgiving perfectionist, and although he was a funnyman on film, Tati was quite moody and depressed during the shoots. His single-minded intensity in getting the film he wanted eventually destroyed him financially; for the masterpiece Playtime, Tati built a small modern city as a set, which caused his accountant to flip his lid. The film failed financially, and Tati never recovered from the disappointment.

As Bellos writes in his introduction to the book, he is hopeful that there will be other books on this peculiar film genius. This is only an introduction, and when one takes it as just that, this book is a must-read for Tati fans. Oh, and if you are not a Tati fan, I don't want to know you.

Tosh // 10:34 PM

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