Space as a cultural phenomenon in Jacques Tati’s films


Unfortunately I couldn’t attend class last week and therefore I haven’t participated in any discussion about the text we had to read. To make up for that, I’m gonna give a brief overview here of the text I read, being

  1. ‘Architecture in the films of Jacques Tati’, by Francois Penz

Penz’ text focusses, like its title already suggests, on two aspects of Jacques Tati’s films: the role architecture plays in them and Tati’s critical position regarding the architecture in his films and especially the architectural changes that occurred in the period the films were made, namely post WW 2.

Tati seems to be quite suspicious when it comes to modern architecture and modern technology. To some extent he could be seen as a nostalgist that longs for the clarity of passed times. Tati and his films show the viewer that the post WW2 time is a period of uniformity, wherein one is always ‘sitting on the same chair’ (Penz, 66). His films are a contra reaction to this phenomenon. Airports seem to be hospitals, a cafe is or seems to be a pharmacy and so on. The confusing way in which space is used in Tati’s films stress his sentiments on the uniform manner in which space is used nowadays. 

The way in which sound is used, also expresses that same idea. Extra layers are added, sounds echo unnaturally and by doing this, Tati deconstructs conventional ways of using sound (and space for that matter), with the result that the viewer is forced to think about space and sound in modern day life. 

Besides sound and space, Tati also uses mirrors and glass to create a multi layered image of space and cities. The reflections function in a same way as the ambiguous use of space and sound. The result is an overall alienation of space as a cultural phenomenon and a contemplation regarding that same cultural phenomenon.


Vistory App: first thoughts

AP: Being technologically challenged (i.e. no android device…), I have only accessed this from the Vistory website, which in itself has much to offer but I can only comment on the static content rather than the app in action. The selling points of this site are clearly the access to historical materials plus the comparative function -to see the ‘now’ with the ‘then’. Google translate can handle the information on some of the pages however the voiceovers on the actual clips are difficult to analyse without subtitles. Commentary is an anchoring device, thus the meanings/representations constructed are difficult to consider without fluency in the Dutch language. I would also like a search function to aid my research purpose using this site. There may be one on the app, but on the site I have not seen one.  The snap locations map helps with this though, as it can point you in the right direction on the map if you are looking for a particular place. The app appears to have the function to highlight historical footage for you when you are on the move – something my iphone owner team mates will experiment with.
Considering the De Certeau text, the implications of this app’s function extend the capabilities of the pedestrian speech acts of the ‘city walker’, the “long poem of walking [which] manipulates spatial organisations no matter how panoptic they may be” (De Certeau p101). Not only can the walker now subvert the city order in terms of behaviour and walking pattern/location, they can create a dialogue with the city’s history whilst inhabiting a spatial position within the present.  What must be considered is the historical accuracy reliant on the Vistory app and its contents – still selected and created by people and governed by availability and access etc (also as a researcher rather than walker, it is important to consider Sorlin’s comments on the use/value of historical films/newsreels – true research here would compare newsreel footage with print news coverage of the time in order to identify subjectivities/trends/gaps/intentions etc. Remember that the importance of an event in one location can be emphasised through repetition).

Nevertheless, the layers of the city come to the fore. The past of each location moves closer to the experienced present. It would be interesting if this app had a fiction film function (or a sister app), to demonstrate the manipulations identified in David Bass’ text. The outsider/insider views could be revealed to the city walker, highlighting the possibility of the construction of the ‘multilayered reality’ of Foucault’s heterotopia.

Film+Art Deco= Tuschinski

After establishing movie theatre success in Rotterdam, the film enthusiast and entrepreneur Abraham Tuschinski set his sights on Amsterdam. In 1921 he built this art deco masterpiece which still operates on Regulierbreestraat, near Rembrandtplein. According to the ‘behind the scenes’ tour guide at the Tuschinski (attended in September 2012), he transformed this area from the ‘Devil’s corner’ of Amsterdam which had criminals lurking in its narrow alleyways, into the perfect location for a cinema and theatre experience equidistant from the shops on one side and the restaurants/bars on the other – do some shopping, watch a movie, go out afterwards – a great combination to ensure regular cinema visitors.

During this tour, we were also told a variety of stories regarding Tuschinski’s cut-throat approach to running a business including working his staff hard, evicting  the poor who lived in the houses which were to be transformed into the Tuschinski, arguing with architects and at one point threatening a fellow cinema owner with a gun to give up a movie they were fighting over for the premiere night….the historical accuracy of these reports are hard to establish, however they construct a picture of a determined man seeking to create the very best film experience – affordable for all classes. He was an innovative and strategic designer, developing elements to his theatre such as new air conditioning techniques and the idea that you could have an equally good cinematic experience from any seat in the house (particularly the Grote Zaal). He also has his eye on the market of cinema viewers, tapping into the ‘mothers market’ coming up with marketing schemes such as printing TT (Tuschinski Theater) on any nappy used in the creche, to be returned to the theater – ensuring that the mothers come back to the building and will be tempted to watch the next film.

Aside from this interesting backstory and purpose as a location of film exhibition, our job is to explore the building itself and its representation in films. These pictures demonstrate the elaborate design work of both the exterior and interior, which make this building a wonderful visual spectacle  – a ready made film set.

Imacon Color Scanner

Pathe Tuschinski: Contemporary Exterior


Pathe Tuschinski: Interior – main foyer

Information source: Tuschinski ‘behind the scenes tour’, September 2012 – Faculty of Arts. Image source: Google images

Youtube finds:

Clip of Tuschinski Theater 25 years (1946) : Staff party – Images of the arrival of guests for the gala performance due to the 25th anniversary on October 28, 1946.

Advertising report (1930): Report of the huge crowds during the ticket for a performance of the German opera singer Richard Tauber in the Tuschinski theater in Amsterdam.

Advertising Film around the annual issuance of Passepartouts the Tuschinski cinema in Amsterdam. (1936) Also show shot of Munt Tower

There are several other films of this variety – reports on famous visits or royal visits or anniversary events. From this link you can access many more. However these are all voiced in Dutch which makes the actual content/representation constructed difficult to interpret.

Fiction Film scene listed by Ivo:

Als twee druppels water/ The Spitting Image (Fons Rademakers 1963):
54.35-57.30 Tuschinski Theater


The cinematic city opposed to the real city

Living in Amsterdam sometimes makes you forget how beautiful the city actually is. Dozens of canals become normal, Medieval architecture seems just an other part of everyday life, the Anne Frank House is nothing more than a bus stop, etc. But of course,  it isn’t normal at all!

I would like to use this blog to show the beauty of Amsterdam and combine that beauty with another passion of mine: Film. How has Amsterdam been portrayed in film and documentary and do the representations do any justice to the real Amsterdam? In other words, does the cinematic city add up to the actual city? With the use of reports, photo’s, clips and reviews I’m gonna try to investigate whether or not both versions of the city are alike.

Can’t wait!