The previous DVD released by Criterion had very little on it, only a couple of features, but Criterion nicely upgrades the supplements, packing quite a bit of content onto here.
Carried over from the original DVD is an introduction by director, and former Monty Python member, Terry Jones. He expresses his initial disappointment with it but then suggests it has become his favourite and believes it may be because it’s “less charming” and bleaker in the fact it takes place in a world where the character of Hulot doesn’t belong (and the film suggests that Hulot’s world will be gone at the end.) He talks a bit about the satire against “status” and the modern world and of course breaks down gags he likes. It’s a shame he couldn’t provide a commentary because he offers a great analysis of the film, though maybe him breaking down every gag in the film would be a bit much. The introduction runs about 5-minutes.
Criterion also includes Tati’s English version of the film, My Uncle, which Tati specifically made for English-speaking audiences since he apparently couldn’t stand subtitles (they distracted from the visuals.) The BFI also includes this version on their Blu-ray release, and as I mentioned in the review for that disc this version is not simply just an English dub, but is rather a whole other version of the film. Not only is English spoken far more throughout the film (French still makes an appearance) but gags are edited or executed a little differently, and most of the signage or French text that appears in the original version has actually been replaced with English, meaning Tati shot the same sequences multiple times to cover the languages. Despite some of these differences the story is still the same, but the film runs 6-minutes shorter, and again I can’t exactly say why.
With the BFI version I stated I would more than likely stick with the French version since it’s the version I’m used to, but at least I felt like I had the option with that release. For many it will be easy to stick with the French version on this release because similar to what they did for the alternate versions of Jour de fête and M. Hulot’s Holiday, My Uncle is not presented in high-definition: it’s another upscale of a standard-definition transfer. I’m still not sure why they did this, especially since BFI’s disc included a rather nice looking high-definition version, so obviously there is one available. But what’s worse is it’s not even a decent upscale. The whole image is murky and soft, lacking much in definition. Though it may be interesting for many to view, it’s a shame that Criterion doesn’t see this version as a viable alternative, especially since Tati preferred his audiences to watch his films without subtitles. Really, what are you more than likely going to watch: the clean, filmic presentation of the French version or the soft, murky English version that looks like it came from a DVD circa 2001? Exactly.
Continuing on, Criterion includes another episode from the program A Film and its Era called Once Upon a Time… Mon oncle. The program, which Criterion has grabbed material from for a couple of other releases, offers up a look at a particular film’s production, while also contextualizing it to the period it was filmed during and/or takes place in. I’ve been rather enjoying these and this one isn’t any different. Through interviews with surviving friends, collaborators, and admirers—which includes Pierre Etaix, Jean-Claude Carriere, David Lynch, and others, as well as archival interviews with Tati and Jacques Lagrange—we get plenty of back story to the film’s production and a look at Tati’s style of humour and filmmaking. The segment also covers the hot political topics of the time and how they would have played into the development of the film, including France’s housing projects. The program also gets various architects and designers to look at the house designs and discuss the influences and possible satire (one seems especially offended by the film’s architecture as he sees it as Tati making fun of peoples’ taste, somewhat missing the point that Tati’s aim was more at people who use these things to show off their “status”). It runs 52-minutes and offers a great rundown on the film while nicely contextualizing it.
The next supplement is so far the most disappointing supplement in the set (though admittedly at the time of this writing I’m only through the features found up to Trafic), a collection of three featurettes grouped into one item called Everything is Beautiful. The segments are entitled “Lines, Signs, Designs” (23-minutes), “Fashion” (20-minutes), and “Please Have a Seat” (9-minutes). They each look at a design element within the film, the first looking at the architecture, the second at the costumes, and the third at the furniture. Of the three I found the first the most interesting, as the filmmakers have various architects talk about the building designs found in the film, covering the possible influences, the satirical elements, possible political statements, and so on. The second segment does something similar, covering the design of the costumes and how they represent their characters, while the third is a somewhat goofy look at the furniture design. Not completely terrible but I don’t think I would have missed them if they weren’t included, especially since the architect segment proved the most fascinating yet this same angle was covered in the previous feature.
We then get another visual essay by Stéphane Goudet, this one running about 51-minutes and entitled Everything’s Connected. On each of the discs so far Goudet uses the respective film to go over a certain element in Tati’s work and with this one he covers the stylistic similarities between his films, like the use of geometry, the development and execution of gags, the use of space, sound, and so on. He also talks about how gags cross between films, with some being removed from one film only to be reused in another. A bit long but a decent companion to the other pieces by Goudet that appear throughout the set.
The disc then closes with an 8-minute clip from a 1977 episode of the French program 300 million d’amis. The episode, entitled Le Hasard de Jacques Tati presents Tati talking about his dog, Hasard, and then segueing into a conversation about the dogs that appear in Mon oncle. It turns out he got them from a pound and Tati, not wanting to have to return there, ended up putting up an adoption ad that indicated the dogs were the same dogs that appeared in the film. Apparently they got a fairly big response.
And that concludes it. Missing is L’ecole des facteurs, which was included on Criterion’s original DVD but the film actually appears on the seventh disc of the set with the other Tati shorts. Overall, despite the fact the English version of the film gets a fairly mediocre upscale for a transfer, this new edition presents a nice roster of satisfying supplements. 8/10