Director: Mike Figgis. Cast: Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Stellan Skarsgård, Xander Berkeley, Richard Edson, Leslie Mann,
Holly Hunter, Golden Brooks, Suzy Nakamura, Steven Weber, Julian Sands, Mía Maestro, Alessandro Nivola, Kyle MacLachlan, Danny Huston, Glenne Headly,
Elizabeth Low, Viveka Davis, Zuleikha Robinson, Aimee Graham, Patrick Kearney. Screenplay: Mike Figgis. A conversation between me and Tim Robey of Mainly
Movies and the Daily Telegraph.
Please note that the frames version really is better in this case!
Structure in Timecode
NICK: So, let's not bury the lead: Timecode is mostly and justly famous
for the way it was filmed and assembled. Here's the skinny, as I understand it. Mike Figgis sketched out a skeletal scenario with key dramatic beats for
his cast, leaving lots of room for them to improvise. He hired three other camera operators in addition to himself, and these four men each simultaneously
filmed a continuous 90-minute take on a handheld digital camera. Lines of action and objects of photography occasionally overlap. Figgis, cast, and crew
ran the scenario several times, tweaking the story, the characters, and the choreography each time. What debuted in theaters and is now on DVD is the
fifteenth "take," enacted and recorded on Friday, November 19, 1999although connoisseurs of DVD supplements may be interested to know that the first
"take," filmed two weeks earlier, is available in its entirety on the Screen Gems/Columbia disc.
For the completed film, Figgis composites these four unbroken shots into four quadrants of the screen, so that you concurrently absorb four "paths" or
"versions" or complementary "sides" of the same aggregated story. The DVD also lets you pick which of the competing soundtracks you want to emphasize at
a given moment, though the default is the subtly shifting mix orchestrated for the theatrical release by Figgis and his sound team, including Gus Van Sant's
frequent collaborator Leslie Shatz.
Am I leaving anything out, or getting anything wrong? If no, or even if yes, what's the first thing you want to say about this approach. Interesting
experiment? Empty gimmick? Missed opportunity? Hit and miss? And have your thoughts changed at all from your first in-cinema viewing to now?
TIM: Figgis's whole experiment dictates that each viewing is a pretty singular onehow could it not be, with so many
characters bustling and interacting in all four corners of the screen, so many visual and sonic juxtapositions to explore, and even more to unearth if you
use the interactive sound feature on the DVD? The entire concept approaches a kind of audiovisual jazz for me, and I love the scope it creates for actorly
solosmore on the performances laterbut also genre discords between the comic and dramatic, the navel-gazey, and the satirical. The way he lets
images overlap, mirror each other, or riff alongside each other never ceases to impress me, but I'll try and be more specific. At minute 22 he orchestrates
a neat coup with women's faces, so that the four quadrants go in one by one for a tight close-up, in one case on a viewing monitor; the effect is hardly
in place before he lets it disintegrate, a tiny moment of harmony amid the chaos. (He does something similar around minute 77.) Not to impinge on story
elements, but I always think it's smart that he uses a recording device, the bug in Salma Hayek's handbag, to establish a kind of aural axis from top left
to bottom rightit's the key structural device through the movie's middle section.
There are so many wonderful grace notes, among them the dazzling
moment where a reflective limousine window is wound down, and Jeanne Tripplehorn and Leslie Mann, one inside the car and the other on the sidewalk, sort
of bleed across each other's demarcated space and back again (neither appears in the other's corner at any other point in the movie, from what I recall).
There's another expertly orchestrated scene where two of our key players collide in the street without recognising each other, while two more gaze down
their own images in bathroom mirrors, where they are having a kind of synchronised meltdown. Wherever I'm drawn in terms of performance or story on each
viewing, I always thrill to these encounters, little jests, and orchestrated collisionsthough the numerous earthquakes do get a little tiresomeand
find them a reliable justification in themselves for the whole ethos of handheld multiplicity Figgis is dabbling in. Put another way, the movie's chief
gambit encourages me to browse as much as to watch. What do you think?
NICK: I remember the in-cinema experience of watching these four frames of action spring to life was pretty thrilling, even with Saffron Burrows
dampening things down with her Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows act in the northeast corner. You really did have to learn, on the fly, a new way of watching
movies, and I haven't had that experience very often in a commercial venue. Beyond the composite-screen effect, video itself really felt like it was
changing the artform, in ways that had nothing to do with CGI. It's interesting that this film and Bamboozled
are both completely untenable without cheap, handheld cameras (Timecode for what it is, Bamboozled for what it says), and that they both seem
to oppose their own renegade, power-to-the-people, video vanguardism to the sad-sack corporate buffoonery of Hollywood production offices.
Beyond Saffron's acting, which we can discuss elsewhere, I found it interesting that, along with the tonal and generic mixes you describe, Figgis also
wants to explore the conjunction between the solitary figure (privileged with the first shot to go "on" and the last one to go "out") and the fractious
group dynamics at Red Mullet studios. I had imagined that Timecode's structure would be all about multiplicity and sprawl, which the film-studio
narrative often epitomizes. But the ad campaign, at least in the U.S., did the same thing the Burrows quadrant does, forcing you to think the structure
in terms of privacy, individuality, violation, and voyeurism. Whether you watch Timecode as four intensely intimate films or one gregarious, messy,
meteoric field is another of those choices that Figgis always leaves open. The film seems to swerve back and forth between its interest in widening and
narrowing the canvas of the screen.
Do you tend to tilt one way or the other in the way you watch the movie? Do you think of Timecode as voyeuristic? I have a lot else I want to ask,
and to answer as I sort out my response to your questionsespecially about those "linking" moments and images, and about "browsing." But is "browsing"
in itself a voyeuristic act in this case or an Altman-for-the-00s immersion in calico public life, where nothing much is private anymore?
TIM: I totally see voyeurism as one of the movie's main threads of thought, with all the various acts of spying we've got going
on, and not just from Jeanne Tripplehorn doing her whole Harry Caul thing top left (or "northwest", to borrow your neat bit of signage). It's a relief that
the different set-ups and styles of camerawork make it hard to pin Timecode down as a tendentious statement about voyeurism in any Big Brother way;
I feel the characters and groupings have their own distinct forcefields which dictate the rules as much as we do, whether "we" are the viewers or our stand-ins,
the camera operators. For every virtually fixed shot on Tripplehorn's face as she listens in to what indiscretions her lover may or may not be committing,
there's a beady, roving bit of Altman handheld happening in the opposite corner, where I think the camera takes its cue, for better or for worse, from
Julian Sands's intrusive masseur, constantly wandering behind people's backs and finding himself in the thick of the action that has nothing to do with him.
At the same time, I find it hard to forget that four different cameramen shot four different films here, one of them Figgis himself, and there's enough
personality in the framings and sudden bursts of motioneven a cinematographer's hand is espied. We certainly don't feel trapped in a kind of
robotically controlled, CCTV, panopticon universe, a formal approach I'm certain would have stifled the movie's fun and dynamism (however well it works in
a context like Marc Evans' snuff-reality horror My Little Eye).
NICK: That actually helps me a lot with the film, because I have to admit, the lack of tendentiousness made me a little leery of crediting Figgis
with saying much that is interesting about voyeurism. Neither following someone around relentlessly with a camera nor seeing two threads of the same story
at the same time necessarily amounts to "voyeurism," which strikes me as an incredibly hard notion to access without the privilege of montage or without,
ironically, a bit more distance from the characters. Our sense of being right there with them, rather than spying on them from afar, feels much less "voyeuristic"
in form than what Tripplehorn, for example, is pulling off from her limo. Though the passage when she's secretly listening in on a love-making session between
two characters transpiring behind a movie screen, on which a third set of characters is screening some footage in the southwest quadrant, and wondering what
happened to one off their key colleagues, I think the film capitalizes most fully on the structuring tension between the simultaneity of what we're watching
and the forceful disparity of what it "means" from panel to panel. The event has important reverberations, if slightly broader ones, for the fourth panel,
too.) In any event, this bravura bit of orchestration is much more interesting than, say, those four extreme close-ups you mention at around 22:00a bit
of flash without, for me, much resonance. The film works best when the four-square approach adds to or complicates the surface tensions and power games
that the scenario already posits among these folks. I gather Figgis sketched the "script," such as it was, on sheets of music paper, and when the four quadrants
suddenly rival each other for sheer intensity, as here, the movie gives reciprocal weight to what we're watching and how we're watching it.
So much so that the "browsing" approach, which is a great word, feels newly scandalous: how dare I browse between such stark and self-abasing betrayal and
the gathering storm around she who is hearing herself betrayed?
TIM: That said, we're still left with a bunch of nosy, gossipy, pathologically insecure Hollywood bottom-feeders, and we're still encouraged to flit between them
and develop similarly prurient, almost ADD-afflicted habits as we leech onto the leeches. To pick up your point about video vanguardism being pitted against
the dismal bottom line, I agree, but also think it's one of this movie's great virtues that it both celebrates and sends up its own radical form, even while
thumbing its nose at the idiotic precepts of movie marketing. Figgis talks in the commentary about how Mía Maestro's pitch at the end is almost his own
wet dream for successfully wooing the money men, and yet I find it unspeakably funny when Stellan Skarsgård cracks up under the sheer weight of film-theoretical
verbiage she's spouting. That speech and scene are played on the very cusp between the earnestly self-referential and the preposterously wanky, a tidy balancing
act that could tip either way at any point. I'm straying into story territory here, but I must add that I dislike the necro-voyeuristic function of Maestro
and her camera later on in that scene quite intenselythe movie gets carried away with its point about the impossibility of privacy, where it might be
better off reaching for the stark, from-the-gut poignancy we find in Bernard Rose's ivansxtc.,
say, restoring privacy to a character it wants us to see as tragic, even through the ironic means of its intimate digital gaze. So I wouldn't want to suggest
Figgis is entirely in control of how his new medium can be best used. Pointing one digital camera at another isn't quite the meta-cinematic masterstroke he
might like us to think. But the sheer flexibility and range of effects he devises from the grid here, and the winking deployment of these new toys it
demands, were and are a pretty addictive invitation to pick them up and play. A
NICK: Another incisive bit of championship, which for me amounts to a bit of solid defense. I agree that tone recuperates a lot of the self-reflexive
fascination, because the bits when all the characters are simultaneously on their cell phones (glamorous, at the time), or when Leslie Mann gets filmed on the
TV, or in the finale, I worry that Timecode has less to say or to demonstrate about meta-media than it would like to. This impression gathers force
for me from the fact that Timecode feels oddly conservative about what to film: a moving track through the cubicles of Red Mullet, a depersonalized
sweep over this bit of Los Angeles, glimpses at the filmmaking apparatus, some felicitous pure-sensory abstractionsI wish he'd spiked the punch a bit
more beyond the four character-driven narratives. Logistically difficult, in many cases, but potentially arresting.
At the same time, I appreciate that lots of what Figgis and his team do focalize would fall well outside the possibility of almost any Hollywood narrative.
What other movie would allow us to sit for so long in the thick tension of that limo ride before someone finally loses her temper? Or would have made time
for the Red Mullet executives' round-robin introductions of themselves to Maestro and Nivola? Even as Timecode piles on frames of action, and induces
the ADD you're talking about (I love "leeching onto the leeches"), it creates phenomenal opportunities for capturing duration on film as a dramatic
and a comedic device. These quiet passages in each quadrant aren't always entrancing, and I get it that they are necessary in steering our attention to
more pivotal stuff happening in the adjacent frames, but real time as "dead" time is often just as interesting in this movie, and more germane to the whole
experiment, than real time as conferred upon dramatic hyperbole or the familiar crazy-quilt of Los Angeles Eating Itself (see below). And since I never got
back to those "linking" moments of abrupt crossover, I'll just add that it's delicious how this structure can lend exciting, unnerving charge to the sheer
fact of a character crossing into a space where she or he isn't "supposed" to be, either in the context of the physical environment or the screen as we're
observing it. So, I'm not quite as sold as you, at least in execution, and I still don't think it's a patch on my beloved Russian Ark
(on which I know you're a bit cooler), but this is still an invigorating exercise. Grade:B+
NICK: Gabby as we are, let's spike the rhythm a little bit. For this section,
I'll say a name, and you tell me what you think of the character and the performance (often hard to distinguish, given all the improv). You reciprocate with
another name at the end of your response. For instance, if I say Leslie Mann...
TIM: Great! Well, I have to admit I'd clean forgotten she was even in it between the last viewing and this one, which
is possibly due to her spending so much of her time mingling with the Burrows. It's not prime Leslie, and the ingénue she's playing basically means
falling back on that Marilyn Monroe, poo-poo-pee-doo affect she's got going on; still, among the more peripheral players she's certainly better at grabbing
your attention away than most. If we were doling out hearts a la StinkyLulu, she'd get two. Let me try you on... Xander Berkeley?
NICK: I like Leslie a little more than you do; she has a kind of baseless but sturdy confidence in herself that I found really unfussy and funny, a
superficially casual way of assuming that everyone is fascinated with her without playing down to the character too aggressively.
As for Xander, I always wish he had more time and bigger chances, and I'm impressed that he's able to project the swagger of a big fish in an infinitesimal
pond, even though he seems conscious of his own absurdity. Love how he captures all this while Sands is massaging him. He rewards almost any quick glance
to see what he's doing, even though it's a low-key performance. I like the slow burn of how much Stellan's flakiness really rankles him. And so, speaking
TIM: I can't improve on what you say about Xander, who I've loved ever since Candyman,
and I think is especially good playing peacemaker around the board table at the end. That's one of Stellan's major moments also, and I think the doomed
effort to suppress his contempt is super. On the phone earlier, where he's trying to sustain a banal business conversation in mid crying-jag, he's up to
something similar, and the movie reminds us generally what a wizard he is at this sort of thing. You've mentioned how the character's alcoholism feels like
pale imitation of Leaving Las Vegas, which I can't deny, but I like the fact he's reached a stage in it which isn't quite the full-blown Cage, but
just a couple back from that: one where his excuses are so half-hearted he may as well not be bothering with them at all, like blaming his tardiness on the
traffic when he lives three blocks away, because etiquette seems to demand that token gesture of explanation. Terrific vocal work throughouthis husky
whisper sounds like it's coming from the edge of damnation. I certainly feel it's one of the film's most substantial performances, without need of grandstanding
or even much artificial "flamboyance"you feel the substance of this man at the end of his tether.
Since it's one of my favourite things about the movie that she's even in it, and confessing right up front that I love the completely sidelined and
often baffled nature of the performance, what are your thoughts on Holly?
NICK: I basically agree with every "plus" you put in Stellan's column, especially his comic exasperation in the Maestro meeting, and his pathetic
veneer of pretense about his addiction. I respect the integrity of all his choices, but I just can't work up any enthusiasm about them. I don't feel a
single thing when his comeuppance arrives, and I'm never inclined to look away from other actors, even lesser ones, to see what he's doing, except when the
whole film is coercing our attention his way (again, boardroom convo excepted). Then again, maybe that's why I'm underestimating him.
Holly = a jewel. She just gets the ensemble thing; she's always, always good in big-cast movies. I love the choice to have the character so hilariously
at the frayed end of her last nerve at all times, and that she can pull this off without pulling focus, ever. Watching her on the brink of tears as she
delivers that delectable improv-pitch about the horror movie Botswana Wannabe is one of my favorite bits in the piece: "There's a worm - and it's
like a glass noodle worm, like the kind of glass noodles you... you - Japanese restaurants! You know, the glass noodle worms? I mean, noodles? And that's
what the worm is like!" And I love when she talks about a script she admires for being "almost rude, it has a raw kind of crass quality to it that I really
responded to, almost like pornographic, but in a legal way." But we know I'm ...a little biased. One could not call me biased on behalf of Salma
Hayek, yet I think she's pretty fab, too. But I sense that here, too, we might have different feelings?
TIM: Wow. I think Salma is fairly rotten in this. But Holly firstyes! She's wonderful doing her tiny wobble at the beginning,
one finger above her top lip to steady herself from total breakdown, and during all the earthquakes, when she literally looks as though the ground is going
to give way. I absolutely love the moment where everyone is asked to introduce themselves to Maestro, and she looks surprised to be revealing that she even
has a name ("Renee Fishbine"). Even the end credits just list her as "executive." She seems to be constantly seeking assurance by looking at other people.
She's entirely treasurable in this, and I wonder if there's another actress of her stature (professional, not vertical) who has ever taken such a meek,
self-effacing part and made it so obliquely memorable.
Salma. For starters, I find her near-impossible to like, here as always, with the added quirk that it's hard to know how much credit to extend her
for portraying or simply embodying a vain, bolshy, very beautiful actress who clearly feels her career hasn't taken off in the way it should. For me, it's
glib, just-parody-yourself casting a la Ben Affleck in Hollywoodland, playing to her limitations. OK, she
goes with it, and has her barefaced moments of "Who, me?" mendacityI'll give her that. But she's so often caught looking stricken or uncertain, and
I'm not sure she thrives nearly as much within the ensemble as most of her co-stars. The actors here need the confidence to do their thing without a
director to shepherd them in the moment, and Hayek mostly projects thrusting determination to get from A to B without the underlying sense that she
actually knows what she's doing. Again, it's entirely tempting to map this on to the character, but it makes any acting virtues here pretty accidental
Am I being needlessly harsh, though? I hope you're not going to say you like her more than Jeanne Tripplehorn!
NICK: Well, no reconciling our positions on Salma. Granted, she has never radiated to me that she was born to act, but I always sense that she's
smart, and when she isn't stuck Showing Us She Can Act, as in Frida, I think she's actually pretty savvy and
fun. For me, she sells the moment of idolizing Lester Moore, or pretending quite charmingly to idolize him, and I love the rattling off of his film titles
in Spanish, including Yo, Abuelo! I like her physical restlessness, I believe the quick shifts from fake-luvvy to peevish at the outset and from
tawdry betrayal to "tell me that you love me!" neediness after she meets Lester, and when she re-enters the limo, I think she's as good as Skarsgård,
frankly, at telling lies that she knows no one will believe. I won't pretend to recuperate her broad overacting of the ghastly audition. But still, who
ever thought I'd become Salma's big champ?
Breathe easy, though: I don't like her more than Tripplehorn (if only by a hair!), who I once read described as "a revelation" in a book called The DVD Stack.
I fully agree; in my book, and in lots of other people's who saw Timecode, she instantly passed from "Why do they keep forcing her on us?" to "OH,
I see..." Great at bitterness, good at co-dependency, excitingly able to hold the camera while doing the same, static activity for long periods of
time. I'm especially impressed by how formidable she seems while listening, but suddenly reveals her profound and pitiful agitation at both moments when
another character unknowingly catches her off-guard. Her first, rebuffed charge into the studio office is a peak scene for me.
You'll surely have more to say about her. I'm also curious about Golden Brooks, and about whether you have anything on the order of two or three words to
say about MacLachlan or Sands.
TIM: Phew! Yes, Tripplehorn is still best in show for me, for all the reasons you say, and a stunning anchor for our attentions
even when nothing super-dramatic is happening elsewhere. Her dialogue in the movie is quite limited, and yet we still come away with a better fix on Lauren
than almost anyone else. She's brilliant at hell hath no fury, but still projects enough vulnerability that her obsessive neediness has some real emotional
weight. I wish she'd been even half as well used in anything I've seen her in since...
Golden Brooks is striking and funny, no? I get pretty dubious about the racial dogma ("black film noir"?) her character keeps having to facetiously spoutshe
feels like someone half-sketched from Bamboozled. Much as I raise an eyebrow at Suzy Nakamura being called
"Connie Ling". Out of place though he seems, I think Sands is often good for a laugh, particularly when he has to skulk out of the boardroom and makes a
mess of it; MacLachlan has that one moment trying to scotch Stellan's hysterics, and I believe him as a two-faced sycophant even when we hardly get to see
the other face. You? Dare I even mention the words Danny Huston? However we feel about the lesser participants, I think there's enough cracking, vital work
across the board here to lay in with a B+.
NICK: I only got the "Connie Ling" joke yesterday, which raises questions about my competence. I wish Brooks didn't make the "racial consultant"
perspective sound like such total mumbo-jumbo that it itself becomes the joke, but she has snappy moments, like stumping to change the title of The Bitch
out of Mississippi. I'm always happy to see Glenne Headly, Steven Weber scores a good zinger or two, and I think Nakamuraa real trooper looking
for a breakthrough, to judge from IMDbis very funny. If you can crack Holly up on the
spot, you're in with me. Nivola, I'm sad to say, is way too broad for me, and Maestro lacks the finesse that really could have made her part a showstopper.
I think I find Richard Edson appealing for the same reasons you extend benefit of the doubt to Julian Sands, though Julian, to me, has the "impossible to
like" problem you identify with Hayek (aka Andy Garcia Syndrome, in honor of past Robey assessments), and I think a bit more charm would have gone further
in his part than in hers. But speaking of a congenital failure to be likable, if one must hire Danny Huston in a film, he may as well be stuck harmlessly
behind a security desk, though I still wonder why he works so often and his brilliant sister so little.
Oh, and isn't Saffron Burrows in this? I could have sworn I spotted her somewhere, unless that was just a pair of tweezers with a massive set of cheekbones
and a short leather skirt. I don't understand Figgis's fascination with her, but based on the non-unanimity of tone and ability in this cast, I think he
must view actors in a really different way than I do. A few more notes spread over the fifteen takes would have done a lot of good, I think, but the comic
inanity of the Red Mullet office makes for a memorable assemblage, so I can just barely scooch over the line to a B.
Story in Timecode
TIM: Here we hit a rough patch. What is the
story in Timecode? Is it four stories? Twelve? The movie's experimental form throws us a massive challenge to stay on track with what's happening, and
the usual movie rules for whether enough is happening get chucked out of the window. Above this, you've mentioned the willpower it takes to sit through much
of Quartier Burrows, who on most viewings I've tended to allow just to sit there on Glenne Headly's couch, reassured that she'll still be there mumbling away
in 20 minutes time and not much will have changed. This time, though, I do admit to a bit more curiosity about what's going on between her and Leslie Mann in
the last reel or soa development that's instinctively difficult to tune into, because it coincides with such grabbily amusing southwest ensemble work
(Holly!) and high drama between our northwest lovebirds. Figgis admits that he faced a nasty editing compromise at this very moment and elected to drop most
of the sound, rather than privileging one sector at the expense of major goings-on in at least two of the other three. So I grabbed the DVD remote and took
the plunge... and can now exclusively reveal that Leslie and Saffron are ex-buddies who fell out when Leslie's boyfriend proposed a threesome, one it looks
like they'd both be enjoying a lot more if he wasn't involved. On balance, I wasn't missing that much.
The way I see it, there's a solid centre here with Skarsgård and Tripplehorn as its antagonist-rivals, one engaged in a saucy and plausible extra-curricular
fling with Salma Hayek, the other, for reasons never clear to me from the available evidence, hopelessly in LOVE with Salma Hayek. More on that, perhaps, in
the acting/not acting/inability to act column. Around this triangular core, various satellite subplots float around, mostly to do with comings and goings at
the Red Mullet production office, Skarsgård's early-in-the-day booze habit, auditions for their next movie, a pitch for the one after that, and so on.
Burrows visits and ends her pained relationship with Skarsgård, then goes browsing in a bookshop, and meets Mann while crying in the ladies' room. You've
already talked about the importance of dead time in the movie, so that our attentions aren't equally pulled in all four directions the whole time. But I
wonder if you think Figgis gets the balance right? There's an awful lot of very noodly, inconsequential business to wade through or tune out, not just
northeast but southwest, where your pal Danny Huston often takes residence as an irrelevant security guard, and the almost equally forgettable Richard Edson
marches about in the role of a geeky, baseball-capped director called Lester Moore. These stalling-for-time interludes actively risk being quite annoying.
Are you annoyed? Are you ever bored? And how far do you think the prickly thrust of the Jeanne-Salma-Stellan infidelity plot compensates?
NICK: Here's me, grabbing at something before it gets chucked out the window. I have to say, I do think that not enough happens in the story of
Timecode. The audio-visual and structural stimulation of our attentions in so many directions has precious little equivalent in the narrative
line(s). The Saffy stuff is a weird combo of swampy and non-existent. Paying attention to itwhich I agree was much more tempting this time, given
my renewed interest in Leslie Mannstill felt like wading hip-deep through a puddle. The adulterous triangle works up some charge for reasons we're
talking about elsewhere. But as a story? Nyeh.... There's good stuff happening in the Red Mullet offices, but that, for me, largely derives from savvy
improv and engaging messiness.
I grant that the film's energies and ambitions are largely directed elsewhere. And it really pops when a real Screenwriting Moment arrives: Tripplehorn
letting the air out of that tire, with no explanation yet in place. The tension you've evoked around the room as Maestro gives her crazy stoopid-heady
pitch. Xander and Stellan rolling on the floor: where is this going? There's a way in which those abrupt cross-overs from one thread to the next feel
like story points, and exciting ones, in a way they otherwise wouldn't. But they're all so fleeting! What do you think is the fair standard to apply in
this case? Titanic still gets heaps of flack for losing any storytelling depth or ambition amid all
its technical and spectacular feats, but I think Titanic gets something out of being so dimestore. Is Timecode getting anything out of being
so narratively clichéd and sparse?
TIM: I do think it's a constriction partly inherent in the formatsomething meant to be digested in this channel-hopping
manner is maybe destined to fail in socking over huge narrative satisfaction, and more likely to deliver on a bite-sized level. That sure does sound like a
cop-out, though, and I do agree that the clever story points you list generally occur in fairly banal surroundings. Still, I'm maybe feeling a little more
lenient than you on the love triangle, which may not be reinventing the wheel, but does prove a pretty durable standby when you can persuade at least two
of the vertices to act the hell out of it. (A weirdly similar premise, complete with a gorgeous, auditioning actress and her jilted lover's paranoid
surveillance tactics, provides the whole central motor for Almodovar's Broken Embraces.)
To defend it further, Skarsgård's two-timing (since it's clear he's already seeing Salma, and Saffy hasn't dumped him yet) fits pretty handily, don't
you think, within the film's whole framework of one-in, one-out encounters? The grasp of his overlapping dalliances feels more tangible than in a non-splitscreen
movie because of the unusual physical presence of all three people on screen even at the moments of greatest intimacywe get to see the oblivious third
wheel, too, without the crude cutaway another movie would have to resort to. So even when his cupboard of narrative content looks pretty bare, Figgis is
using technology to recast the clichés, and in that sense I would say the stock plot he's chosen might be viewed as a deliberate test of his own resources.
I'd like more story, yes, but the danger of too much going on might almost be worse, and the unoriginality of what we get does at least leave room
for this rubbing up between innovation and formula. Something old and something new, if you like.
NICK: I concur that watching all four parties on screen at once, the scorners and the scorned, lends kick to an adultery scenario that's otherwise a
little bald, but that still feels like a structural felicity more than a credit to the story itself. Though I realize you take the point a bit further:
the story has to retract from a certain density of detail or originality to function at all within this format. And tying this to your points in our
Structure chat, the adultery premise serves well as a potent but swiftly recognizable device, and it has the additional merit of giving narrative purpose
to the "surveillance" conceit that helps glue the movie together, formally as well as thematically.
I hope it's not too curmudgeonly to say, but I still think the dangerous liaisons could have more depth, or snakier ramifications on other characters and
plotlines, beyond the tabloid headline "Jealous Lover Shoots Rival." And it feels symptomatic that we're focalizing this element of the "story" so heavily,
because while the onscreen abundance of people and tones accomplishes a lot for Timecode in other ways, it's startling how many of them are
under-exploited for story potential, or else seem totally gratuitous. Saffron and Julian are the easy targets, but what about the whole orbiting ring of
assistants, receptionists, and nurses, who show up enough that Figgis seems tempted to do something with them, but ultimately doesn't? Without demanding
full-on Gosford Parkery, I'd have loved one quadrant to devote itself at least partially to what these
supernumeraries are getting up to or talking about in the supply room or around the Xerox. The Mann/Burrows backstory barely makes an impression, especially
since the movie doesn't try to do much with it visually or narratively. Skarsgård's addiction plot feels like minor, minor rehashing of Leaving
Las Vegas. Some of the audition stuff is clever, but it doesn't come to much, and it pushes the utter subhumanity of the film being made just a bit
The most interesting thing that happens storywise for me in this movie is the evolving portrait of what Life on the D-List actually looks like for Hayek and
Mann, who dream of Kathy Griffin's level of celebrity. I like how they wind up occupying
the liminal space of knowing the execs, the artists, the staff, and each other. It's an interestingly purgatorial existence, despite/because of how it
never comes to much narratively. I again seem to tilt toward relishing the non-events over the events, but this stratum of the story is compelling enough
to float the rest of it up to a C.
TIM: That's a totally fair point about the ensemble of production staff, receptionists, flitters and hangers-on, who never
behave as if they could really impact on anything the movie is building to. In one sense I get that a level of desultoriness is the film's stock-in-trade,
since it certainly wants to present all this faffing and worry over some gutter-level celluloid travesty as an exercise in pure futility. On the other hand
it risks being unpleasantly misanthropic in committing itself to this so unwaveringlymore Prêt-à-Porter than Nashville, let's say.
I do wish even one of these minor characters made a break for it or rubbed against the grain of the collective mentality, but Figgis even has them doing a
terrified sheep-huddle in the closing minutes: funny, but a clear sign he regards them as basically extras.
Your notion of the Red Mullet office as a kind of purgatory is just right, and fits with the above, but if putting in the hours with its inhabitants means
waiting for not much to happen, there's one respect in which the screenplay makes it worthwhile. It's cheating a bit, but we've not set aside any space to
talk about the dialogue, which emerged through improvisation so much in tandem with the "story" that I'm inclined to bracket the two together. To Tripplehorn's
deflating of the car tyre I would add her sudden apoplectic name-calling when Hayek's with her in the limo, which also provides one of the best sound cuts
in the film (at least as it exists in the threatrical and DVD mix). The various executive meetings, generally spent waiting for Stellan to arrive, throw
up all sorts of choice non-sequiturs, like Suzy Nakamura explaining that no one in test screenings finds their horror film scary, "but it's playing
scary so that's OK." One more line I'd add which resonates hugely at the end is Stellan's weary, almost Faustian offer to Mía Maestro, "We'll do your
crap, then you'll do our crap"one of the most grimly incisive epitaphs on a certain film-biz philosophy I can think of. So we're more or less in line
about the missed narrative opportunities here, but if I'm allowed to consider the screenplay more broadly I can just about stretch to a