Monday, January 21, 2013


Jacques Tati From Bicycles to Space Ships_2010_APB_The University of Melbourne

The idea of the exhibition is to explore the relationship(s) between transport and the city, (an integral part of this question is sustainability).

If we look at Jacques Tati's films from JOUR DE FETE (1949) to TRAFFIC (1971) we see can a massive transformation in the shape and form of the city and the modes of transport that are represented. I propose to show stills from the four films of this period depicting bicycles, walking, boats, trains, cars, other forms of motorized vehicles and space ships. I would show approximately 500 images from the films projected via a computer on to a screen.

Even though the last of these films was made almost 40 years ago, I believe that the films are still relevant today, and that we still have much to learn from Tati. One of these lessons could possibly be regarding sustainability especially in relation to how transport shapes the form of the city and intern then how we live within these spaces.

And as Tati always addressed his films to us, the viewer, in that he often reminded us that we were watching a film and in turn the film came from the place in which (we) the viewer sits - specifically, of course, this was Paris and France. But as the events in Paris often have an influence internationally, in terms of modernity at least, I believe that the argument applies to all of us who watch Tati's films.

In light of this to high light the connections between the films and us I would ask people who attend the exhibition to note down their “transport memories”. From riding a horse to school, or the first time they remember riding in a car (depending how old you are), the space ship launch to the moon and so fourth.


Trans_ port Memories

I was at the hair dressers when the first moon landing was shown on the television, a very grainy reception...
One evening I was travelling with a friend in a tiny car which was unable to drive up Spit Hill in Sydney. So, he reversed all the way until forward gear was possible. That was in the early 60’s...

Our only access to town during the floods in 1973 was by tractor and trailer, a garden was seat was provided for passengers...
Until the 60’s there was a regular shopper’s bus service in Forbes... Before supermarkets, groceries could be ordered by phone and delivered to my kitchen and perishables would be put in the fridge if I wasn’t there...

Judy’s grandparents Holidayed in Orange which was about 100k’s from their home. The journey took many days and sometimes 5 tyre changes. It wasn’t until after the war that country roads were gradually sealed which reduced travelling time and fewer punctures...

Many country kids road their bikes to school which was scary when the magpies swooped and I had many busters at magpie time... There were many small country primary schools and the kids would ride their horse to school and some came by horse and sulky...
To-day, in N.S.W with the benefit of a senior’s card, it is possible to travel by train, bus and ferry, all day for $2.50...

Jacques Tati: From Bicycles to Spaceships _ Hulot & Tati Transiting Modern Life

If we look at Jacques Tati's films from JOUR DE FETE (1949) to TRAFFIC (1971) we see can a massive transformation in the shape and form of the city and the modes of transport that are represented. Tati made five feature films between 1949 and 1971 JOUR DE FETE, MR HULOT'S HOLIDAY, MON ONCLE, PLAYTIME and TRAFIC. These films were made in France and mostly set in Paris or shown in a relationship to Paris. It was a time when massive changes were experienced in the way that people lived due to a rapid modernization. Kristen Ross of this time writes in her book Fast Cars Clean Bodies that, “French people, peasants and intellectuals alike, tended to describe the changes in their lives in terms of the abrupt transformations in home and transport: the coming of objects – large scale consumer durables, cars and refrigerators – into the streets and homes,....”(5).

The 19th and 20th  Century Modern Street
Marshall Berman in his third chapter “Baudelaire: Modernism in the Streets”  of his book All that is Solid Melts into Air suggests what is significant in urban design in the 20th century, especially since the 2nd world war, is the space that has been made available for the car.  He writes that the streets have been re-designed for traffic to exclusion of all else which differs greatly from Haussmann’s and Baudelaire's Boulevards of an earlier modernism in the 19th Century (165). These 19th century boulevards Berman he tells us where teaming with life, a “moving chaos” of traffic, pedestrians, the rich and poor, business and residential...(168). In the twentieth century modern architectural and urban design all these items have separated out put in different parts of the city (168), as we can see this depicted in Jacques Tati’s film Play Time.

Le Corbusier also suggested that the street should be for cars alone...and all other elements such as cafes and pedestrians should be removed from the street (167). Berman, in referring to Jane Jacobs, suggests this is what maybe, in part at least, the cause of the death of the street.  Jacobs her book The Death and Life of Great American Cites, first published in 1960, suggests 20th century modernism made orderly but spiritually dead streets;  and that the congestion and noise (of the 19th century street) actually kept urban life alive;  and further the “moving chaos” was in fact a “complex human order” (Berman 170). Berman writes,

“The distinctive sign of nineteenth century urbanism was the boulevard, a medium for bringing explosive a materials and human forces together the hallmark of twentieth –century urbanism has been the highway, a means for putting them asunder” (165).

Transport and the Shape of the City
In the film Mon Oncle in the Aprel family's new part of the city any sociality on a community level that was possible in a the old part of city - largely due to the form of the square and there being no cars in it - is lost where the shape of the city is formed by the car. 

Different modes transport of have had a major influence on the shape of Paris (as it has on other cities). Paris has transformed, over centuries from a walking city to one of automobiles.
Paris was initially a pedestrian city. Nicholas Papayanis notes in his book Horse-Drawn Cabs and Omnibuses in Paris that in the 1500s most people got around the city on foot, even the king (11). Papayanis notes that in the 1600s it became fashionable for the Monarch and Nobility to ride around the city in horse drawn carriages (8).  During the 1600 and 1700s the number of private carriages and carriages for hire steadily increased from 320 in 1658 to 22,000 in 1752 (Papayanis 16) - be coming a common way for people to move around the city. 

Jean Bastie notes in the book URBANIZATION AND PLANNING IN FRANCE that not long after the first train lines were in laid down in the 1840s that  “...houses with little gardens began to spring up around the stations in the suburbs” (47).  These eventually created a pattern of patches of housing around the stations along the train lines, with gaps in between each station, which were not filled in until after the second world war, when the car became affordable as an everyday object (Basties 60 and 61). The trains and cars enabled people to travel from home to work. These modes of transport meant that people no longer had to be walking distance from work. 

The Old Square: Walking to Cars_ Public Outdoor Space
In Jacques Tait’s film Mon  Oncle we see the old square change from a place where the modes of transport are horse carts and walking - to that of the automobile.. The film shows how the car may have transformed the shape of the city.  Here we can see the disruption and intrusion brought by the car to the city and the way that people live. We see the transformation of the physical fabric of the city and what this meant for how people lived with it. 

In the film Tati makes a comparison between the old and new parts of the Paris (as he depicts them).  Tati suggests the different ways the car has shaped the city. The public outdoor space we see in the new city is reduced to roads and very narrow foot paths. The Aprel family in the new city, has tall fences, dividing them from their neighbors and the street. The majority of the out door space in the new part of the city is private. In the old square the outdoor space is public. This allows for co-incidental and informal interactions on which relationships at a community level at least can be built.  (This might not be entirely determined by the car but also by the “snobbery” of the bourgeoisie. Tati seems to suggest this by the repeated jokes surrounding the front automated gate and the fountain – that is turned off and on depending who is at the gate.)

We see many cars in the new – ultra modern – parts of the city – in the Aprel's neighbourhood, the school of Gerard Aprel and the factory where his father works (Charels Aprel).  The repeated images of cars in the new parts of the city illustrates that the outdoor space has been created for them. In one montage all we see are cars and parts of cars - cars on the move, tail lights, bonnets. 

We only see a car in the old square in Mon Oncle at the very end of the film  (where also unusually compared to the other sequences in the square during the film most of the people have gone).  Gerard and his father have come to pick up Hulot so that they can drop him off at the air port in order for him to start his new traveling job - that Aprel has organized for him. 

As they drive into the square we see an old building being knocked down.  The car in this space is awkward and can not move easily.  After we have been to the airport we return to the old square for the closing sequence of the film. This time all the people have gone, only the old carts (no longer in use) and the old form of the urban fabric remain. From an interior shot looking out onto the square a sheer curtain closes across the screen. This perhaps also suggests some connection we have with the past - maybe all does not have to go (by the way of the jack hammer – cleaning space for the motor car). Something closes on the recent pass but we can still see back to it. Perhaps Tati is suggesting we use this to create something new.

Works Cited
Bastie, Jean. “The Paris Area – Growth and Organization.” Centre de recherche d'urbanisme (CRU). Urbanization and Planning in France. Paris: CRU, 1968.

Berman, Marshall. All that is Solid Melts to Air. London: Verso, 1995: 15-36.

Papayanis, Nicholas. Horse-Drawn Cabs and Omnibuses in Paris: The Idea Circulation and the Business of Public Transport. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996: 1-86.

Ross, Kristin. Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1998: 15-70.

Tati. Jacques, Dir. Jour de Fete. 1949
Tati. Jacques, Dir. Mr Hulot's Holiday. 1953
Tati. Jacques, Dir. Mon Oncle. 1958
Tati. Jacques, Dir. Play Time. 1967
Tati. Jacques, Dir. Trafic . 1971