It's not unusual for a movie to incite a buzz among cinephiles; it is
unusual, however, for the buzz to focus almost solely on the technology
behind the movie, glossing over its plot and actors like a dinner guest
skipping the limburger. When recommending "Time Code" to me, a
local media editor gushed over the movie's rich digital offerings, adding
that "the plot's not too much of a distraction, either."
Mike Figgis' digital schizophrenic Hollywood insider flick "Time Code"
has two basic personalities: technology and plot, which are then ruptured
even further by the four distinct views on the screen. Each screen cell follows a different set of characters who fade in and out
of the action occurring in neighboring cells, eventually converging into a
climactic mass of personalities as the movie explodes. If the explanation
is hard to follow, the movie is not.
Mike Figgis, creator of the heady world of "Leaving Las
Vegas," has been converted to digital; he's pounded the last nail in
the coffin of celluloid-based film and resurrected himself as the Jesus
of the digital filmmaking age. Armed with four digital cameras each shooting a
continuous 93 minute stream of film, an ensemble cast wearing synchronized
watches willing to improvise 93 minutes of action, and a fairly staid soap
opera-ish tale of the backstabbing Hollywood filmmaking scene, Figgis
produces what he calls "quadraphonic cinema," in which "multiple stories are
stripped to their purest essence." For the viewer, this translates into 372
minutes of movie for the price of 93!
The technology behind "Time Code" is, indeed, stunning. Without so
much as a tiny cut, the audience is treated to four points of view ducking
and weaving in and out of the central plot line. For the first five minutes
the effect is confusing; not wanting to miss anything, the viewer is
determined to monitor all four cells of the movie screen. This is an
impossible and unnecessary task, as Figgis essentially draws our attention
from one cell to the next via a masterfully crafted rising and falling
soundtrack used in conjunction with subtle blurs, mutes, sedated action and
the occasional unifying earthquake shaking things up on all four screens.
Figgis taps the senses well, careful not to over-stimulate while breaking
convention after convention of mainstream filmmaking: no cuts, omnipresent
points of view, real time, pure improvisation and lesbian action.
"Time Code's" other personality its plot unfortunately does not
match the innovation of its technology. While witty as a biting send-up of
sleazy Hollywood types, the movie basically rehashes the crux of Robert
Player" and "Short Cuts," never really stepping into uncharted territory.
Still, there are details outside of the purely technological
that keep the viewer connected and amused: the ignored and terrified
production assistant; Salma Hayek as a very convincing hack
actress; a sex scene enacted behind the screening of a sex scene, with
the passion of the latter far outdoing the passion of the former; the
white-boy "musician" rapping a movie pitch and later casually breakdancing
on the sidewalk; the ever-present masseuse; and the movie's own
self-referential aspects, cajoling us into taking the whole charade much
less seriously. Stellan Skarsgärd ("Breaking the Waves," "My Son the Fanatic") as the stock alcoholic, sexually
driven film producer, essentially calls the movie we are watching
"pretentious crap," blowing Figgis' digital-God cover in a way that relieves
any art-house tension we may be experiencing.
"Time Code" is not, however, crap. Discussing the film, Hayek says
that "the experimental quality of it really turned [her] on." She may just
be easily aroused, but for fans of cutting-edge technology, synchronization
and quality improvisational acting, the movie is a pioneer. Seen primarily for its digital escapades, with a plot that entertains without overly distracting, "Time Code" has the capacity to turn you on four times over.
Filmfodder Grade: A-