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Time Code

Directed by Mike Figgis

Cast: Xander Berkeley, Golden Brooks, Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Kyle MacLachlan, Mia Maestro, Leslie Mann, Steven Weber, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeanne Tripplehorn.

Pushing the possibilities of digital filmmaking into uncharted areas, Mike Figgis’ new movie is audaciously innovative. In a radical break with traditional feature films, it was shot entirely with four hand-held digital cameras, in single continuous, simultaneous takes, with no cuts or editing. On a quadruple-split screen, four separate stories unfold at the same time, in real time, building to a final, climactic moment in which they all unexpectedly come together. The plot literally took shape before the cameras, from rough charts composed beforehand, as the actors each improvised and forged a trajectory for their characters based on the central elements of an affair, a murder and the chaos of a Hollywood production office.




At the heart of Time Code are four main characters. Stellan Skarsgard is a drug-addled, philandering motion picture executive; Saffron Burrows is his therapist-attending wife; Salma Hayek is an aspiring actress in the midst of an affair; and Jeanne Tripplehorn is an angry woman whose actions will change all of their fates. As their four stories unravel, each drawing in other characters, they also begin to intertwine in unpredictable ways.
Although a few films have taken place entirely in real-time - perhaps the most well-known of which is Hitchcock’s Rope - none has ever been filmed in a continuous feature-length take during which cameras never stop rolling. This is because prior to the digital revolution such a film was technically impossible, as film magazines can shoot for no longer than ten minutes. But digital cameras can shoot for hours without a second’s interruption. Figgis first conceived of the project while using split-screen for his recent adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Apparently, he foresees a new era of cinema, precipitated by advances in digital technology, that will be like the punk era in music, that is, stripped down, rule-breaking and totally revitalising. The fact that the digital video format allows for cheaper production, greater mobility, extreme flexibility, the use of natural light and automatic playback made it the ideal tool for his parallel action, synchronous concept. “Every era has its movement where people say enough of the over-produced, over-manipulated high-end stuff, and we’re in the midst of that right now in cinema. Digital cinema allows us to get back to the basics of filmmaking and human relationships,” says Figgis. “I think this film is an example of how we can use the process of filmmaking to create art, rather than the time and resource-heavy processes of script development, package casting and studio participation. Those things get in the way of the real creative process: which is working with actors and technicians to bring a story to life.”
Concerned as it is with flaky Los Angeles types, the story may not be exactly the most riveting ever, but nor is this venture simply an empty formal, technical exercise either. There is even a scene, where Mia Maestro makes a theory-heavy pitch to the assembled executives around the table of Skarsgard’s production office, which could be said to anticipate and forestall any criticisms of the film of which it is a part. Besides, some of the most passionate and elemental of artists are also the greatest nerdy gearheads (e.g. Loopy Lou Reed). The range and diversity of Mike Figgis’ imagination and film work to date, plus his not inconsiderable talents in other areas, mean he is someone who anyone who cares about contemporary cinema cannot afford to ignore. Everyone should keep an eye on what he’s doing. After the imagistic, dream-like, Roegesque challenge of The Loss of Sexual Innocence, and the intense dissection of social and sexual relationships in Miss Julie, Time Code sustains the mesmeric momentum. Figgis plans to do several live mixes of Time Code onto video monitors, each one a novel experience. “I want to demonstrate the possibilities of how you could watch this film 20 times and never see the same thing,” says Figgis. “I want people to get excited about where this can lead.” Stay tuned.

First published in Film Ireland













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