The Joke's on Urbanism

The essence of future is efficiency.  In time, appliances become faster, transport becomes quicker, communication becomes easier, images are more clear, messages are more direct.  Our own lives are the perfect case study for this law of future: we no longer write letters, but send e-mail, we no longer walk, but we take the train or we drive, we no longer heat up meals in the oven, we microwave them.  Defrosting time has been cut by at least a half.  Bread is already baked, meals are already prepared, word-processing has maximized our writing output, and pens are no longer necessary. 

But, Jacques Tati illustrates the modern city (and the modern world) gone wrong.

In his films, Tati takes the future by the neck and twists it around in a mockery of itself.  His perceptions of the future as they are presented in Playtime, reverse every rule: the city he has created is inefficient, ugly, self-mocking and practically impossible to negotiate.  His city in Playtime, Tativille, is one which has not been developed for humans, but for robots.  It is a world of clinks and clatterings, of smooth, polished surfaces, of cold open spaces and geometric patterns without meaning or sensitivity. 

The architecture in Tati"s films is key in demonstrating his dislike for the "blandness and uniformity of the new cities" [As he was quoted in his 1958 interview for Cahiers du Cinéma]. For this film, Tati chose not to use Paris (probably because even the worst parts were too interesting) and created instead, an entire city known as Tativille: office blocks were built on wheels and could be moved and arranged in various ways to create new scenes.  The brilliance of this -- of course -- is the fact that since only these fabricated buildings were being used, the homogeneity of buildings was emphasized: whatever part of the city Tati leads the audience into, the buildings are all just about the same.  Modeled on the Esso building of 1963, the sky-scrapers in Tativille look so familiar that they become unfamiliar and confusing.  It is easy, not just for the actors, but for the audience also, to get lost among the uniformity and monotony of the structures.  Suddenly, architecture dominates the inhabitants of the city, rendering people in no more control than rats in a maze. 

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