Timecode
<1>The career of Mike Figgis has been a fascinating one. Trained as a musician, he began his career
performing in a rock band and then segued to working with an experimental theater troupe that presented
multi-media productions. His earliest short films combined music and action and his first full-length film
1988's Stormy Monday established his use of musical motifs and jazz-like scenes in his work. Indeed, all of
his subsequent films were "composed" as if pieces of music. He reached his widest audience with his 1995
film Leaving Las Vegas which netted him Oscar nominations for the script and the direction. Figgis further
stretched his talents with the non-linear The Loss of Sexual Innocence and a screen version of Miss Julie that
employed split screens and was shot in just over two weeks. With the digital revolution in full swing, Figgis
jumped on the bandwagon with the intriguing if somewhat frustrating Time Code.
Instead of a bipart of triptych approach, Figgis pushed the boundaries by dividing the screen into four
quadrants with each introduced in a staggered fashion. What makes Time Code so fascinating is not its
story (a rather banal Hollywood-set drama of passion with a lesbian twist), but in the way Figgis has
employed the technology. Shooting over a period of seven days, he set up four separate but synchronized
camera crews. Each was following a specific group of actors (with some overlap) and the material was shot
in one continuous 93-minute take. Each afternoon and evening, he would screen the finished product for the
cast and crew, allowing them to see their mistakes and/or their triumphs. Then, the process was repeated
until he felt he had achieved the best possible version. In the mixing of the film, Figgis deliberately adjusted
the sound in order to make the audience shift its perspective to that quandrant he deemed most important.
Which leads to one of the major problems with the film: since audiences are not yet used to multitasking,
having to divide one's attention among four concurrent stories is a bit difficult at first. One initially wants to
shout, "Too much!" Provided the eyestrain and confusion don't induce a headache and one remains focused,
the adjustment comes. By that time, what little plot there is has kicked in and the relationships of the
characters becomes apparent. In his way, Figgis is "composing" (in every sense of the word) the film. Like
an unfamiliar piece of music, it takes time for the ear to adjust and so it is with the eye as well.
Saffron Burrows  ©2000 Screen Gems (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

While Figgis has assembled an impressive cast including Holly Hunter, Stellan Skarsgaard, Salma Hayek,
Jeanne Tripplehorn, Saffron Burrows, Kyle MacLachlan, Leslie Mann and Julian Sands, only a handful (most
notably Skarsgaard, Hayek and Tripplehorn) are able to make an impression because their roles edge to the
forefront. Burrows has continued to grow into a fascinating screen performer and I personally would have
preferred to watch more of her story. (Apparently that may be possible when the film is released on DVD.
Figgis has also mentioned that he plans to include the very first version shot as well as other alternate ones,
allowing the viewer in effect to create an interactive film by picking and choosing which version to watch. As
such, it should be noted that the role of the psychiatrist played by Glenne Headley in the released film, was
shared with Laurie Metcalf, who was unable to film in the afternoons. Figgis plans to include footage of
Metcalf's performance on the DVD.)
Ultimately, Time Code is more of a curiosity than a successful film. By pushing the boundaries and being on
the cutting edge of digital technology, Figgis has earned his place. Perhaps he has created the film of the
future, that remains to be seen. For now, Time Code breaks new ground technologically but not dramatically.
It is a noble, if flawed experiment.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.