Time Code Movie Review

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Sorry, Mr. Lynch, your place at the head of the avant-garde experimental filmmaker table has been given away. Messrs. Jarmusch, Toback, Korine, and Cronenberg, you'll all be eating outside. Mike Figgis will be taking over for all of you, and don't come back.

Figgis, who earned a Best Director Oscar nomination for Leaving Las Vegas in 1996, appears to have gone a little funny in the head last year with his inexplicable and nearly dialogue-free The Loss of Sexual Innocence. Now he's fully gone off the deep end with what may be the most ambitious experiment ever: Time Code.

Now pay attention: Shooting on digital media (and thus avoiding the limitations of holding 10 minutes of film in a cartridge - the problem that haunted Hitchcock's Rope), Figgis took four digital cameras, started them rolling at 3:00 in the afternoon on a November day in 1999, scripted out a few basic plot points, and let a cast of 20 or 30 actors do their thing for 90 minutes. The four cameras follow around various characters as they improvise their way through an earthquake-torn day in Hollywood's snooty and provincial movie studio scene, often crossing paths, and invariably creating heartbreak. Usually lesbian heartbreak.

The catch is that the footage from all four cameras is all displayed at the same time: in four panes on the screen in front of you. Watching one Time Code is challenging enough. Watching four is serious work. The reprieve from this catch is that the sound is typically limited to one pane at a time -- and it's usually the one where Figgis wants you to look. As the story unfolds all around town, the drama shifts from pane to pane so that it's relatively easy to follow the intersecting tales.

If Time Code weren't so unique it would be awfully easy to dismiss the movie for its pretentiousness alone. At one point near the end of the film, a Euro filmmaker pitches an assembled cast of movie producers and executives the very premise of the movie we're watching -- which is then dismissed as being a pretentious joke! As if acknowledging the silliness up front somehow makes it less silly. Figgis even plans to attend select screenings and mix the soundtrack -- live -- for the audience like a DJ. Oh-kaayyyyyy....

Despite its quirks, Time Code is actually mostly enjoyable, and you quickly get used to the gimmick of the four panes. The acting is good, especially for improv work under duress, and the story is about what you'd expect. While I'm quite sure I'll soon be ready for good-old single-pane films, I'm certain Time Code is something that will stick with me for a while.

(Aka Timecode and Timecode/2000)

Yep, it really looks like this the whole time.

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Time Code Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2000

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