Four Screens Capture Four Points of View ; Mike Figgis's Roots in Experimental Theater Inspired Radical, Improvisational 'Time Code'

By David Sterritt writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

Four Screens Capture Four Points of View ; Mike Figgis's Roots in Experimental Theater Inspired Radical, Improvisational 'Time Code'


David Sterritt writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Mike Figgis has always been an artistic experimenter, but with "Time Code" he broke his own record for boldness.

Released to theaters last year and now available on video and DVD, it's one of the most radical films ever to come from a major studio (Sony) and a filmmaker known primarily for mainstream pictures. Figgis's earlier productions include "Stormy Monday," with Melanie Griffith and Tommy Lee Jones, and the Oscar-winning "Leaving Las Vegas," with Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue.

What sets "Time Code" apart from these movies is less its story than its style. Instead of a finished screenplay, Figgis gave his cast a plot outline and asked them to improvise their dialogue. Then he photographed their performances in "real time" with four digital-video cameras, using four side-by-side versions in the final film.

It's an unprecedented way to make a movie, and Figgis didn't dream it up in one inspired moment.

"It's something I've been fascinated with for a long time, even before I started making films," he told me in a phone interview from Red Mullet Productions, his London-based company. "I did experimental theater for about 15 years. Toward the end of that period, I was [interested in] parallel storytelling - dividing the stage up into different areas where the actors couldn't see each other ... and using film as another element."

Figgis began his movie career in the early '90s with pictures like "Internal Affairs" and "Mr. Jones," both starring Richard Gere and both using traditional styles. As a fledgling filmmaker, he says, "one gets absorbed by the technical aspects of conventional techniques." Feeling his creativity was being stifled, he thought about returning to live theater or moving to noncommercial cinema.

Then he decided to make a movie version of August Strindberg's classic play "Miss Julie," shooting it with two cameras on inexpensive 16-mm film and using a minimum of shot-to-shot editing as a way of preserving the immediacy of a live theater production.

"I was saving time by reviewing the [shots] from both cameras at the same time," he recalls. "I became more and more fascinated by the amount of information you get from two cameras. It's much more than twice the information you get from one camera, and watching two screens is invigorating for the eye and the brain ... so I made a decision to actually show one of the scenes on a split screen."

This led him to revive a "what if" idea he had considered in the past: the notion of making an entire film in one shot, using video equipment that can photograph much longer than standard movie cameras. "I was going to do it as a performance-art piece on very low-end video," he says, "shooting it on a Friday morning, say, and having the world premiere that evening." The project acquired a bigger budget and a famous cast - Salma Hayek, Stellan Skarsgard, Kyle MacLachlan, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Holly Hunter, Julian Sands, Richard Edson - when a Sony executive liked the plan and agreed to back it.

In addition to theater and video, Figgis has been strongly influenced by his training as a musician. "Time Code" is basically a string quartet, he says. "It's literally written on music paper," he explains, "and each bar line represents exactly one minute of screen time. I used a musical structure to write the piece, in terms of the timings and the dynamics of the characters."

This method allowed his actors to work as if they were jazz musicians improvising on a theme. They could "shoot in the morning, break for lunch, then come back and view the entire film . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Four Screens Capture Four Points of View ; Mike Figgis's Roots in Experimental Theater Inspired Radical, Improvisational 'Time Code'
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.