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Parade

Jacques Tati's Parade (1972) available on BFI DVD, 22 June 2009

Rarely seen, this is a welcome release of master French comic Jacques Tati’s final film as both director and performer. Made for television, Parade is a live compendium of circus, music hall and magic acts hosted by Tati himself. With opening scenes of audience members taking their seats, the film appears at its outset to be a recording of a 1970s Tati-on-tour live show, a final attempt to sell tickets as a comic giant’s career wanes. But although we may witness a mid-show interval and genuine audience reactions, it becomes apparent that the film is a playful and imaginative take on the experience of seeing a show. Sketches play out in the corridors, in the theatre bar and indeed after the show has ended.

In a similar vein to Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, in which he revisits his music hall past, Parade is a return to Tati’s own music hall experiences during the 1930s. Tati’s key performances during the film revolve around the miming acts that gave him early success. He is transformed into a goalie, a boxer and a tennis player, and even at one point becoming an English policeman. While at first these may appear as comic ideas too antiquated to still remain humorous, Tati infuses them with an accuracy that is indeed very funny – in particular watch for his recreation of a tennis match in slow motion.

The film is filled with surrealistic touches, with cardboard cut-outs planted amongst the audience and a set that is constantly being painted even as the show is playing out. During the interval the bartender bursts open a soft drink only to find his own head springing a leak. With the audience playing a key role in the film’s focus, the space between audience and performers become blurred, especially when members of the audience cross onto the stage and participate in the action. One enthusiastic bald spectator finds himself compelled to jump into the ring and ride a wild pony, while a conspicuously bored blonde boy wanders in and out of the action. As these participations occur, the character of the audience shifts from innocence to complicity, yet throughout the film the audience’s reactions are so convincingly spontaneous that they are clearly fulfilling their role as genuine spectators by having a good time.

Other acts performed by the troupe include juggling, acrobatics, sword swallowing, singing and clowning. Even when performed to the 1970s audience, these acts appear as though from another time, each one evoking a lost circus and music hall tradition. As such Parade acts as a kind of final record of long-forgotten acts and entertainments. Traditions such as mimesis, which Tati himself excelled in, have long since been ridiculed as the cliché of outdated entertainment but what Parade does is show us how it is meant to be done. This results in unexpected reactions; a miming showjumper forces us to imagine a galloping horse, only for that very animal to then stride into the ring for real and put flesh to our fantasies.

Parade is the latest in a range of Jacques Tati films that the British Film Institute have strived to make available on DVD, and they have done so in this case with a pristine transfer. The film was originally produced on a combination of video, 16mm and 35mm, and has undergone a digital restoration which has resulted in Parade looking and sounding as good as it possibly can on DVD.

Special features
Previously unseen interview with Jacques Tati, filmed in London in 1977 (19 mins)
Illustrated booklet with essays by Philip Kemp and Jonathan Rosenbaum; director biography and credits

Available At
Amazon.co.uk
BFI Filmstore

Release date: 22 June 2009
RRP: £19.99 / cat. no. BFIVD808 / cert U
France / 1974 / colour / French language with English subtitles / 84 mins /
Ratio 1.33:1


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This is a real treat for fans of Chaplin and silent cinema more widely. All of Chaplin’s 35 films from his work at Keystone during 1914 have been reconstructed and restored by the British Film Institute and the Cineteca di Bologna. They will all be screened at the BFI Southbank in London during August and September. 

In the past these films have been branded as ‘primitive’, but in many cases the severely degraded quality of the prints worked against a proper appreciation of these early titles. The incredible popularity of these titles, as well as their lack of copyright, resulted in a heavy duplication and deterioration of the prints. In many cases the films were chopped into a variety of alternative versions with different titles which then went on to circulate for decades. This made the job of restoring and reconstructing these titles a particular challenge. Indeed the Keystone films are the last of Chaplin’s shorts to have been restored by the British Film Institute, following on from the Essanay and Mutual restorations.

Keystone was known for its breakneck comedies featuring quick thrills and chaotic chases, and in many ways these titles live up to that reputation. But the Charlie you see here is not the sensitive soul found in his later feature films. Here is character is rude, abrasive and violent while his virtuoso performances are wild, thrilling and unexpected. Chaplin’s performance style is unique to him: he manages to be many things at once. Not only does his dandyish gestures contradict the state of his clothes, but his body can often belie his face and vice-versa.

I was lucky enough to preview some of these restorations at the Charlie Chaplin Conference in 2005 and indeed they were revelatory. I will be attending every screening myself over the next two months (I will probably be the one taking notes) as a way of re-aquainting myself with these films.

Not only do you get to watch the glorious Chaplin himself as vivid as ever on-screen, you get to witness his early development as performer and director. You also get to see a slice of American cinema history that instantly poses several overlapping questions: what was popular American cinema like in 1914? What were films by independent studios such as Keystone like? What was the studio brand and how do they differ from the films of the larger studios that would emerge just after the war? Why were these films, and more importantly Chaplin himself, so popular? How far were these films and Chaplin’s performances performed by the British music hall from which he came?

The still above from A Film Johnnie offers a glimpse of movie posters outside a cinema in 1914. Interestingly they feature films from the studios Keystone, Essanay (a Bronco Billy title) and Mutual, the three studios that Chaplin himself would work at between 1914 and 1917.

Book below with the full schedule for August. The September schedule will follow.

 

Early Chaplin: Programme 1

  • Sat 9 Aug 16:00 NFT2 
  • Wed 13 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

Ninety minutes of early Chaplin, including his Keystone debut.

Early Chaplin: Programme 2

  • Sat 16 Aug 16:00 NFT2 
  • Wed 20 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

A programme of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone shorts.

Early Chaplin: Programme 3

  • Sat 23 Aug 16:10 NFT2 
  • Tue 26 Aug 18:20 NFT2 

Our third programme of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest films.

Early Chaplin: Programme 4

  • Thu 28 Aug 18:20 NFT2 
  • Sat 30 Aug 16:00 NFT2 

Our fourth programme of the Keystone movies of 1914.

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Christian Hayes
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