Timecode
First screened in September 2000 / Reviewed in August 2009 /
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Photo © 2000 Screen Gems/Red Mullet Productions
A conversation with Tim Robey of Mainly Movies and the Daily Telegraph

TIM: So, with all due attention to where we've ended up on screen here—and possibly inviting readers to save this bit till last, like we did—let's recap. I am Jeanne Tripplehorn, desperate to keep you with me, worried about the chaos diagonally opposite, but not so much so that I've bugged your handbag. Yet. Are you Salma Hayek, Nick? Are your loyalties straying away from me and Timecode? I hope you realise what a good thing we had going, but maybe you think the novelty and fun have worn off over time. How can I win you back? If you can stop putting lippy on for a moment and level with me, I'm literally all ears.

NICK: Well, if anyone deserves to audition for The Bitch out of Mississippi, it's definitely me. I'll hand you that. And it is probably true that I just can't make up my mind whether I want to stay in a relationship with Timecode or not. After the pure honeymoon bliss of those first ten minutes, when everything feels so exciting and fresh, the routine sets in. And when it's good, it's really good; there are some hot moments along the way. But for long stretches, I keep thinking about what might have been. Where to push the analogy? Maybe: I feel like repeatedly, when the film starts to really get moving again, the story or the uneven tone and performances let the air out of the movie's tires? Maybe: I keep hungering to slip away from this thing and sprint into a nearby theater for a hot hook-up with Aleksandr Sokurov? Do you hate me for that, or are you going to take me back? Or are you going to shoot Sokurov? What are you sitting there thinking while you stew in that car?

TIM: Well, it turns out I have remarkable powers of clairvoyance, while I sprawl in that fantastic white power suit and scheme. I'm able to look ahead two years, where I witness with some envy the claims of genius novelty heaped upon Russian Ark, a film I end up admiring more or less as much as Timecode but for entirely different reasons. Neither's a masterpiece, but only one of them thinks it is, which is why my sympathies lie more instinctively with Figgis's rough-and-ready, let's-see-where-this-goes assemblage over Sokurov's gorgeous, daunting, almost self-canonising objet d'art. What I groove to in Timecode is the restlessness of its experimentation: down to the frame, it feels like a true product of improvisation and collaboration forging their own path to... well, wherever. Which is why the uncertainty of the plot can be frustrating, for sure. But it's also heady and playful; I feel frontiers are being less pushed in any stentorian way than kind of prodded and tickled. I like that. I like the movie's exploratory spirit perhaps more than its grasp of internal development, and I entirely concede that it doesn't always work as well as it might. But there are few movies I know which throw up such a feast of debating points, and that in itself is pretty stimulating. Just call me ticklish, sweet cheeks.

PS. If I knew anything about the steamy Sokurov date you've got in mind, I'd be telling you to bone up on your Russian history and not, on any account, to wear hotpants. You might attract some odd looks. But perhaps this would be a good place to lay the Jeanne-and-Salma thing to rest...


NICK: That is a lovely statement on behalf of the movie. The whole act of talking about this film, much less hearing it defended so cogently, is very persuasive, but I'm still stuck somewhere between liking the movie better as a result and confronting anew that, for me, it's a more interesting movie to talk about, on balance, than actually to watch. In between everything that's lively and boundary-pushing about Timecode and then everything that's listless and almost tawdrily self-limiting about it (why throw away an entire fourth of the screen on a plotline that doesn't work starring an actress who rarely ever does?), the movie evens out to a median where I'm thrilled to have seen it and repeatedly tempted to venture back in, but always a bit miffed that they didn't take the bit of extra time or exercise the restraint in casting and directing that really would have made it pop. The texture is somewhere between refreshingly offhand and borderline off-putting: "C'mon guys, if you're gonna do it, DO it!" And the DVD feature of exploring your own soundtrack cuts both ways, too: you find all these buried comic nuggets, but you also have to acknowledge how often the final sound mix was necessarily determined by how little is happening, at many given moments, in three of the four screens.

I truly expected this revisit to lift my grade considerably, and despite the upward gravitational pull of your infectious enthusiasm and beautiful argumentation, I find that my like and dislikes regarding the film have both been stoked in about equal measure. I was always on a waffling line between B and B–, and since the film allows itself four narratives and visual fields, I think I should be allowed two grades. To hell with the rules! Surely Figgis would sympathize. Et tu, Robey?

TIM: I'm sure he would. Saffy Quarter, as we've both totally agreed, is a problem. Since I managed to duck out of talking about her below this, I'll just add as a footnote that I like her considerably more in Miss Julie, Figgis's previous splitscreen effort, where her spun-glass fragility and brittle affect both count for something. Here, she's one of those muses no one else understands; if David Mamet had made this movie, it would be the Rebecca Pidgeon Quandary.

There's plenty I always want to improve in Timecode—the often intrusive music is another area we've missed—but I've got to say it pops often enough for me to get pretty pretty high on the concept, each time. My advocacy stalls when it comes to the story stuff, and there are several misfiring characters and performances, but I stay sanguine and energised by Timecode enough to land on the low end of a B+ —a place where I reckon it's happy to live.


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