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'Time Code': Filmmaking's Digital Divide

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2000


    'Time Code' Stellan Skarsgard in "Time Code."
(Screen Gems)
Mike Figgis slices the screen into four equal parts in "Time Code," a brain-cramping and eye-straining experiment in digital filmmaking. Think multi-tasking: While munching popcorn and balancing overpriced drinks, moviegoers must also keep track of four different plots, all of them unfolding simultaneously.

To get the gist of it, pretend that you're a security guard overseeing the images from a bank of surveillance cameras or perhaps a voyeur peeping into four apartments in the high-rise across the way. Now imagine you have eyestrain but must follow the comings and goings until the four story lines finally converge.

Of course, the various characters--28 in total--are also all gabbing with each other at the same time. So the audience must also strain to hear what everybody is saying, although Figgis raises the volume of the most crucial scene of the moment.

Shot simultaneously by Figgis and three other cinematographers, the unedited film takes place in real time at various locales on Sunset Boulevard. The plot, mostly improvised by the film's cast, is sure to reassure Hollywood's insecure screenwriters that they'll always have work. But then "Time Code" isn't really about anything except digital filmmaking.

The technology eliminates the need to cut from an argument in a limo between a jealous lesbian (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her lover (Salma Hayek) to a meeting of a dissolute producer (Stellan Skarsgard) and his anxious staff. Both scenes are continuously visible along with the producer's distraught wife (Saffron Burrows) at her shrink's and a coked-up strong-arm (Danny Huston) in the production company's lobby. To add to the chaos, Figgis throws in an earthquake and a series of aftershocks.

All are secretly linked to one another through dramatic contrivances that mostly involve sex, cell phones or psychiatry. Some of the story lines stop dead: Poor Tripplehorn spends most of the movie fuming in her limo. And when she's not in therapy, Burrows tends to wander aimlessly. Nobody's going to describe them as sure-fire Oscar nominees, but the actresses make the best of their inert situations.

The drama features a hodgepodge of acting techniques. Skarsgard, terrific as a man torn between his wife and the rest of the women in the world, might well be in a Bergman movie. Hayek, on the other hand, draws attention as a low-rent "Pretty Woman." Julian Sands, as a persistent masseur, and Huston, as the Cheech or the Chong of security guards, adds offbeat and slapstick comedy to the mix.

Figgis, who provided a sketchy outline for the players and held one of the four digital cameras, also composed the film's pleasant score.

But did he really write or direct anything? Is his unedited innovation the greatest thing since "talkies," or will it suffer the same fate as Odorama? If "Time Code" is the future, then audiences may well find the moviegoing experience one of Tempus Fidget.

TIME CODE (93 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for language, sexual situations and violence.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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