Jacques Tati


Actor, Director, Screenwriter
Jacques Tati

About

Also Known As
Jacques Tatischeff
Birth Place
Le Pecq, Yvelines, FR
Born
October 09, 1907
Died
November 05, 1982

Biography

Jacques Tati is a chess master of modern film comedy, a creator of complex comic structures in which gag constructions and audience expectations become pawns on his cinematic board. The recurring figure in these games is Monsieur Hulot (played by the director), a blank-faced comic cipher garbed in a crumbled raincoat and ill-fitting trousers, an ever-present pipe muffling any words he ma...

Family & Companions

Micheline Winter
Wife
Married on May 25, 1944.

Biography

Jacques Tati is a chess master of modern film comedy, a creator of complex comic structures in which gag constructions and audience expectations become pawns on his cinematic board. The recurring figure in these games is Monsieur Hulot (played by the director), a blank-faced comic cipher garbed in a crumbled raincoat and ill-fitting trousers, an ever-present pipe muffling any words he may say, an umbrella clutched in indecisive hands. His determinedly irresolute stride across Tati's expansive canvases is the unlikely spark that sets the comic machinery afire. On the basis of a mere four features ("Mr. Hulot's Holiday" 1953; "Mon Oncle" 1958; "Playtime" 1967; and "Traffic" 1971) over a 20-year period, Tati managed to reshape slapstick comedy, turning it into an intellectual parlor game.

Tati began performing in French music halls and cafes as a pantomimist and impersonator. In 1931, he filmed a comedy short, "Oscar, Champion de Tennis," but it was never completed. Following were a number of short films which anticipated his later features in their use of natural and mechanical sounds--"On Demande une brute" (1934), "Gai dimanche" (1935), and "Soigne ton gauche" (1936). After WWII, Tati appeared in the features "Sylvie et le Fantome" (1945) and "Le Diable au corps" (1946). In his short film, "L'Ecole de facteurs" (1947), Tati created the character of Francois the postman, a character he would play himself in his first self-directed feature, "Jour de Fete" (1948). "Jour" used the riffing gag structure Tati would explore more fully in his later features, plus creative sound as a source for gags.

Unhappy with the Francois character, Tati sought a persona with a more universal appeal. With Monsieur Hulot, Tati found his cosmic archetype: a zero who creates comic anarchy in his wake. In "Mr. Hulot's Holiday," Tati applies Hulot to the gag structures of "Jour de Fete." "Mon Oncle" deals with the tension between Hulot's old world sensibilities and the new world of modern mechanization and consumerism. "Playtime," Tati's masterpiece, released in 70mm and stereophonic sound, examines the disappearance of humanity within the maze-like confines of post-industrial society. "Trafic" portrays the anthropomorphism of automobiles and the mechanization of human beings.

Tati's cold, crisp examinations are a result of his re-inventing film comedy structures. Hulot has no purpose except to ignite the gag machinery. He is never the center of a gag sequence and frequently disappears from the gag situation once the perpetual motion machine takes hold. (In one sequence in "Playtime," Hulot appears merely as a reflection in a glass window.) Once the gag machinery begins, Tati subverts the punchline by either delaying it or ignoring it altogether. The result creates a tension for audience expectations: will the punchline continue to be prolonged or simply demolished? Tati does not allow his audience to identify with the main character in the scene; as a result, the subject of the shot becomes everything that appears within the frame. A Tati film is characterized by a tangled texture (especially on his densely packed soundtracks) that requires many viewings to unravel.

This complexity was Tati's commercial undoing; because of the prolonged preparations required to plan his films, Tati lost his audience. The nine-year gap between "Mon Oncle" and "Playtime" crippled the momentum of his career, and after the extravagances of "Playtime," Tati never recovered financially. When "Trafic" was released, it seemed a throwback to his films before "Playtime" and was a financial failure. In 1974, Tati released his final film, "Parade," a low-budget celebration of pantomime recalling his shorts from the thirties.

Although Tati influenced filmmakers as diverse as Jerry Lewis and Robert Altman, his career seems in a way to be both the beginning and the end of a comic tradition. Nevertheless, Tati's structural experiments did breathe life for a time into a moribund form.

Life Events

1924

Apprenticed to Spiller's, a British picture-framer, in London (date approximate)

1924

Worked as amateur entertainer, performing sports-related pantomimes in London

1931

Returned to France and became professional cabaret and music hall entertainer

1932

Experiments as filmmaker--writing, directing and starring in short, "Oscar, champion de tennis"

1934

Major recognition on stage at the Ritz on bill with Maurice Chevalier

1938

Debut as producer, "Retour a la terre" (also starred)

1946

Directorial debut, short "L'Ecole des facteurs"

1949

Directed and starred in first feature film, "Jour de fete/The Big Day"

1961

Created play, "Jour de fete a Olympia", based on "Jour de fete"

1971

After failure of "Traffic," creditors seized Tati's assets, impounding all his previous features

1973

Directed first program for Swedish TV, "Parade"

1977

Paris distributor paid off Tati's $1.6 million debt and re-released impounded features

Photo Collections

Mr. Hulot's Holiday - Movie Poster
Here is the original release French movie poster for Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953), starring and directed by Jacques Tati.

Videos

Movie Clip

Jour de Fete (1949) - Nature's Been Generous With Him Director, star and co-writer Jacques Tati, in his first feature, has just been introduced as the mailman Francois in the tiny French village (the real Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre), where Guy Decomble and Paul Frankeur have arrived with their carnival, and the famous bit with the flagpole begins, in Jour de Fete, 1949.
Jour de Fete (1949) - The Americans Have You Beat Tipsy and annoyed if not despondent, rural French mail carrier Francois (first-time director, co-writer and star Jacques Tati) has just seen an American newsreel about the dazzling advances in mail delivery in America, resulting in some inspired bumbling, in Jour de Fete, 1949.
Jour de Fete (1949) - Speed! Speed! Motivated now by the newsreel he saw about the American methods of delivery, rural French postman Francois (director Jacques Tati) sets about his rounds with new determination, with some of the best gags, in Tati’s first feature, Jour de Fete, 1949.
Mon Oncle (1958) - Un Film De Jacques Tati A not inconsiderable portion of invention and tone setting just in the title sequence, from Jacques Tati's second film starring himself as "Mr. Hulot," Mon Oncle, 1958, winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Mon Oncle (1958) - He Simply Won't Obey The modern house now famous as writer, director and star Jacques Tati's "Villa Arpel" is central, as Gerard (Alain Becourt) is delivered by his uncle (Tati), while mother (Adrienne Servantie) entertains before father (Jean-Pierre Zola) gets home, in Mon Oncle, 1958.
Mon Oncle (1958) - Now That His Uncle Is Free Writer, director, and title character Jacques Tati is home with the family, having been sacked from the job Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zola) got him, now nominated by his sister, Mrs. Arpel (Adrienne Servantie) to watch over her son, his nephew, Gerard (Alain Becourt), with famous bumbling, in Mon Oncle, 1958.
Mon Oncle (1958) - Thank You, Mr. Hulot Having been visible but not identifiable in a couple of early shots, writer, director and star Jacques Tati here introduces himself as Mr. Hulot, the title character, and his house, which is also a character, and Betty (Betty Schneider), his landlord's niece, early in Mon Oncle, 1958.
Playtime - Arriving From Frankfurt The actor Jacques Tati not in evidence but the director very much, in the rather still opening sequence from the acclaimed Playtime, 1967, the third in his "M. Hulot" series.
Playtime - Boston For Breakfast M. Hulot (star and director Jacques Tati) in and out of things, as his adventure along the Champs Elysee takes him to a travel agency, Americans everywhere, in Playtime (1967),Telluride Film Festival honoree 2006.
Mr. Hulot's Holiday - Visiting Martine Mr. Hulot (director & star Jacques Tati) makes a hash of waiting for his date, the fetching Martine (Nathalie Pascaud) in Mr. Hulot's Holiday, 1953.
Mr. Hulot's Holiday - Tennis Mr. Hulot (director & star Jacques Tati) fashions a hat from a newspaper and undertakes to play tennis, to the amusement of Martine (Nathalie Pascaud) in Mr. Hulot's Holiday, 1953.
Mr. Hulot's Holiday - Beach Mr. Hulot (director & star Jacques Tati) attempts to defend the honor of Martine (Nathalie Pascaud) then causes a panic at the beach in Mr. Hulot's Holiday, 1953.

Promo

Family

Count Dimitri Tatischeff
Grandfather
Attache at Russian embassy in Paris.
Sophie Tatischeff
Daughter
Film editor, director. Died on October 27, 2001 at age 55 after a long illness.
Pierre Tatischeff
Son

Companions

Micheline Winter
Wife
Married on May 25, 1944.

Bibliography