Time Code

on April 28, 2000 by Mike Kerrigan
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   In the future, schools that teach filmmaking will throw parties each November 19 to celebrate the birthday of the new cinema. For it was on that date in 1999 that Mike Figgis changed--changed utterly--the way movies are made. His particular terrible beauty used four Sony DSR-1 digital videocams to shoot a quartet of different but interconnected stories in an hour and a half of non-stop drama with 28 improvising actors. The result, just as it was shot, is shown on a screen split into quarters.

   If it all sounds a bit chaotic, well, it is. Most audiences will find the first few minutes unsettling due to sensory overload. But it is also very carefully orchestrated, largely by manipulating the level of dialogue coming from one corner of the screen, to guide your eye to that sector. Occasionally, however, there are compelling sounds from more than one and sometimes all four. In these instances, the experience is more like listening to a symphony than watching a movie (which is not so surprising, as Figgis is also an accomplished musician).

   The story, set in Los Angeles, is about the movie business and concerns all the Tinseltown obsessions like cocaine, limousines, sex, cell phones, tranquilizers, alcohol, more sex and designer water. Figgis and his cast have great sport with all the Hollywood stereotypes, including one classic moment where one character describes another's considerable theories about digital movie making as "the most pretentious crap I've ever heard".

   Is "Time Code" an unqualified success? No, and it's certainly not for all audiences. But it's an incredibly significant movie in that it opens the door to virtually unlimited possibilities. Movies in the future probably won't be shot in real time and unedited and the screen may not be split in four, but Figgis has given imagination new tools with which to work, for which we should all be grateful. Starring Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Julian Sands, Stellan Skarsgard and Jeanne Tripplehorn. Directed and written by Mike Figgis. Produced by Mike Figgis and Annie Stewart. A Screen Gems release. Comedy/Drama. Rated R for drug use, sexuality, language and a scene of violence. Running time: 97 min

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