The rise of machines

One thing that is shared by French Impressionism, Italian Futurists and Russian Montagists is this notion of metal brain, this fascination of the machine world. Although the above three only exist for a short period of time, this notion is probably not entirely lost. One unexpected descendant is Jacques Tati.


In Tati’s world, the machine is heard with an unprecedented clarity and distinctive emphasis. In Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, who is making the most noise? Not Mr. Hulot himself, nor anybody else, but his car. One finds numerous examples in Play Time, where the sounds of inanimate objects dominate. In Trafic, the point is made even clearer—it is about autos, not humans. In Tati human utterance is always subjected to quiet derision, to desperate distortion. One thinks of the opening of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, where the broadcast is mechanically deformed to eliminate all legibility; one also thinks of Mr. Hulot the protagonist, whose speech never goes beyond simple and absolutely necessary clarifications. Most of the time, Hulot avoids verbalizing and opts for gesticulating—perhaps this is exactly why one easily finds him so lovable. And this is true, in a perverse way, for the public relation girl in Trafic, who speaks ridiculous French—she is very much a sympathetic figure in the movie, where a potential romance is alluded to, because she, as Hulot, cannot speak the language.


A constructivism concept, the faktura, calls our attention to the materiality of objects, the surface. I believe that it is a concept that has been echoed a lot in the last century. Robbe-Grillet, as we know, fetishizes one aspect of this surface—the geometry of and between objects. Tati, for his part, focuses on sound. It is not so much about how these sounds function for us as human beings. On the contrary—and this is also true for Robbe-Grillet—it is about how these sounds ignore our humanistic existence.


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