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Bordwell: No Playtime for Bourne

From: Prof. David Bordwell, Univerity of Wisconsin, Madison

[Re: the Jacob Sager Weinstein letter comparing Tati with "Bourne."]

I'd argue that 'information overload' isn't really what's at stake in "Bourne". Each shot signals you adequately what to see: the key information is usually centered, it's what someone else is looking at, the soundtrack reinforces what you should pay attention to, and/or it's a clue that we can pick up knowing the conventions of spy movies (e.g., the scrap of paper with the CIA headquarters logo). I do grant that the story is told somewhat elliptically, with less redundancy, than in many spy films, and it does move fast. But it can be elliptical and quickly paced because the plot keeps repeating a relatively small number of scene types: The crosscut activities of surveillance, trailing, and pursuit, with a clue at the end of one sequence leading to next step in the adventure. These are all very traditional devices.

"The Bourne Ultimatum" seems to me a hectic version of a conventionally narrated film. You may want to see it again, as I did, to see if certain plot points you missed initially are set up (they are), but that bears again, I think, on the speed and reduced redundancy of the storytelling.

This seems to me different from "Playtime," which doesn't have the narrative propulsion of "Bourne" and so leaves you somewhat uncertain as to what to watch for in any sequence. Also, the fact that the frame is often quite empty of any story information leaves you room to watch for pictorial juxtapositions, throwaway gags, etc. "Playtime" seems to me far more adventurous in creating a film with empty moments that force you ask what and where you watch. The open composition of Tati's frame facilitates different audiences discovering different things to watch, and this is reinforced by the relatively long takes (compared to "Bourne"), as your correspondent indicates. But sometimes--this seems to me important--there is nothing to see. By having some shots with half-hidden gags and other shots without any gags, Tati erodes the distinction between what is funny, what might be funny, and what isn't funny but is just there. I think he's inviting us to look at the world as potentially funny, as full of gags, near gags, and actions that might become gags. Of course the soundtrack helps us too, as in "Bourne," but again Tati is far more experimental, since his sounds are often incongruous or misleading.

With respect to "Playtime," I don't agree that we must "run as fast as possible" to keep up; indeed, people who don't like "Playtime" complain that it's leisurely to the point of tedium. No one would say that about "Bourne." You want to see "Bourne" again to figure out the plot twists; you want to see "Playtime" again to see something you didn't notice at all, and these aren't likely to be plot points...largely because there isn't much plot.

In short, I think the comparison is a stretch.

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