By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2000
Watching "Time Code" was a great experience, even if the movie itself didn't live up
to my expectations.
Stellan Skarsgard in "Time Code."
But then, Mike Figgis's latest film seems to be about its method rather than its
In an innovative experiment, Figgis uses hand-held digital cameras (no, not like the
one lying in your rec room; these were incredibly expensive high-definition digital
videocams) to record four separate stories in continuous time. There are no cuts in the
individual episodes, which would allow "Time Code" to jump to another time or place. And
the four stories run simultaneously in four equal sections on the screen.
This split-screen process is a little like watching the opening credits of "The Brady
Bunch," except with fewer kids.
In effect, this was four series of live (and simultaneous) performances caught on vid
eo, then printed into a movie. The 28 actors who performed including Holly Hunter,
Laurie Metcalf, Kyle MacLachlan, Julian Sands and Glenne Headly wore synchro
nized wristwatches so they could coordinate their dramatic arcs, climaxes and special
They had no specific script. Figgis gave everyone dramatic parameters and told them
to improvise their way to the end.
Figgis and crew performed several 90-minute takes at the eight-story brick
Ticketmaster building on Sunset Boulevard, where the story takes place. They ended up
with as many different outcomes. Eventually, Figgis had to select the 90-minute group take that would become the movie.
At a recent sneak preview of "Time Code," Figgis sat at a mixing board at the back of
the theater and manually adjusted the four soundtracks, subtly influencing our aural attention. It was fascinating to feel the presence of a filmmaker essentially disc-jockeying the soundtrack to his own movie.
The story, or stories, center around a film production company, headed by a
philandering producer (Stellan Skarsgard), who's married to Saffron Burrows and is carrying on with Salma Hayek. Meanwhile Hayek has a relationship with Jeanne Tripplehorn, who spends the entire movie sitting petulantly in a limousine. Using a series of tape recorders and microphones, Tripplehorn keeps tabs on Hayek as she enters the building to meet Skarsgard.
There's more, so much more. But the characters and their interwoven storylines are really too numerous to outline. Skarsgard's extramarital antics become increasingly outrageous. The pro
duction company gets more and more harried about the film they're working on. And someone in the story gets increasingly postal. There are some amusing moments, too, from Richard Edson, as a casting director fighting against the clock to find his next star; and Sands, as a masseur who goes from one character to the next, rubbing shoulders and pinching muscles.
As the movie progressed, my eyes flitted constantly from one plane of action to the
other, as if doing the cinematic equivalent of channel surfing. At times, I felt like a
drop of water on a hot griddle; at other times, I felt the joy of a visually
What we learn watching this movie, I think, is the power of our creativity as
viewers. You can watch this movie a thousand different ways. What you choose to concentrate on, or ignore, in a sense defines you. But for all the meta-movie excitement, the content danced somewhere between mildly interesting and moderately enjoyable. And although my interest was a series of ebbs and tides, my energy flagged about two-thirds into the movie. I thought of this as a moon landing of sorts. It was a bold, new experiment with great potential, but ultimately, just a few small steps for humankind.
TIME CODE (R, 93 minutes) Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and violence.