Not only has Criterion upgraded the digital transfer they’ve also upgraded the features. While porting over all the features from the single-disc edition they’ve added a number of great features examining the film and the making of it, spreading them over the two discs. All of these features were then ported over to the Blu-ray release.
For this Blu-ray everything is found under the “Supplements” of the pop-out menu.
The first disc first presents a Terry Jones Introduction running 6-minutes. It is the same introduction used for the original DVD. He talks about his initial shock at seeing the film was 70mm and just how wonderful the details were. He talks about the “faux Hulots” (one played by a friend of his) and the grand design of everything, and then again breaks down some gags. He also offers some background on the production (Tati constructed the set, dubbed “Tativille”, making this the most expensive French production at the time) which eventually bankrupted the director, the film being a financial failure, which Jones seems to blame on the film being fairly alienating. It’s a nice intro and I’m glad Criterion has carried it over all of their editions.
Also on the first disc is a selected scene commentary by film historian Philip Kemp. For those unfamiliar with this type of track it is simply a commentary that plays over select scenes of the film instead of the entire film. So you don’t have large lags the presentation skips through the film to Kemp’s comments. In total the track lasts over 46-minutes.
It’s an okay track, a little dry. Kemp talks about the troubled production of course and the Hulot character (and a bit about Tati), but throughout he mainly points out the look and design of the film, the sets, and describing some of the subtle details found throughout, and even breaking down some gags somewhat. He also has gathered some information from various people who worked on the film. I liked it overall but must admit I’m glad it’s actually a fragmented track because Kemp can be a little dry in his presentation. The track has been divided into 7 chapters.
The remaining supplements are found on the second dual-layer disc.
First on this disc is Au delà de “Playtime” is short 6-minute film covering the production, using behind-the-scenes footage shot during the making of the film and narrated by Stéphane Goudet, who also reads from notes made by Tati. It’s a shame it’s so short but it manages to cover the troubled production fairly well from inception to its initial failure thanks to the American distributor refusing to handle it (and the film was apparently meant more for the American market) and also covers how the sets were put together with footage even showing the sets as they’re being built (and then destroyed.) Short but to the point.
Tati Story is a 20-minute program offering a biography of sorts for Tati. It is narrated in French by Goudet and plays over archival photos and clips from various films, shorts and even his acceptance speech for his César d’honneur. It’s a decent short piece, quickly going through his early life and then film career and concluding with his death. It touches on Playtime briefly but it’s not the central focus here, other than it leading to his bankruptcy. Criterion’s DVD for Trafic presents a longer documentary on its second disc so for those that have seen that doc this one is more of a compressed version and you can probably feel safe in skipping it as I didn’t feel it brought anything new to the table. For those unfamiliar with Tati and his work it’s a pretty good crash course on the filmmaker.
”Jacques Tati in M. Hulot’s Work” is a 49-minute BBC piece from 1976 featuring an interview with Tati taken at the Hotel de la Plage where M. Hulot’s Holiday was filmed. The first bit of it focuses on comparing the hotel between the time period in the film and then in 1976 (and today I believe it’s still there but is now a Best Western) with the interview actually beginning 10-minutes or so in. While there is a fair share of filler not featuring Tati edited in it’s a rather charming interview, with Tati even (more or less) dawning the Hulot character in sequences. In English he talks about his work, the character of Hulot, the art of comedy, Playtime and modern France and its architecture (there’s a wonderful little moment where he points to a maquette of Hulot’s home from Mon oncle and talks about how this older style of architecture has such life.) It’s a great interview piece and Tati makes a wonderful subject. It’s a longer feature but certainly one of the best features on here. It’s been divided into 7 chapters.
Tati at the San Francisco Film Festival presents audio excerpts from the American premiere of Playtime in 1972 where Tati held a discussion. It’s short, running almost 17-minutes (and divided into 4 chapters) and Tati answers some questions from members of the audience which range from the type of comedy to the use of 70mm. Tati also talks about Hulot and his minimal appearance in the film and the film’s acceptance in Europe. While his English is a little rough here he’s still an engaging subject and it’s wonderful actually hearing the man talk about his film. It plays over the menu.
Next is a 12-minute interview with Sylvette Baudrot who reflects on Playtime, talking about Tati’s attention to detail, the hard work that went into many sequences (a scene involving a man walking down a hallway apparently took 3 days to shoot) and the fact that a lot of the metallic walls were actually enlarged photos of metal. It’s brief but it’s a great piece pointing out a lot of things that in all honesty I’ve just never noticed before. It’s a rather fun interview for this reason.
And making its way from the original DVD is the short film Cours du Soir, made around the same time as Playtime in 1967 and starring Jacques Tati and directed by Nicolas Rybowski, running about 28-minutes. Of the shorts found over the Hulot discs it may be my least favourite but it’s not without its charms. In it Tati teaches a class on the subtleties of physical humour, and some of the humour found in here involves the students not being so good at it. I found it maybe a little too long but it works best as a sort of retrospective of Tati’s career, recalling some of his more popular moments (his postman even making an appearance.) It certainly looks better than how it looked on the previous DVD but is interlaced.
I rented this release so don’t have access to the insert, but judging from the Criterion website it contains the same essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum that has been included with the Blu-ray where he reflects on seeing the film and then actually working for Tati. The original DVD had a solo essay by Kent Jones and while that one doesn’t look to be found here based on the specs on Criterion’s site I do actually prefer Rosenbaum’s and wouldn’t find Jones’ a huge loss.
A rather solid collection of supplements, Criterion gathering all they could about the film making it a fairly comprehensive special edition and the best of their releases of Tati films. 9/10