Time Code (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I spent more than 20 years in the convenience store industry, and looked at hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of security camera footage. The most common technique uses four cameras throughout the store, with all four views available simultaneously on the monitor in quadrant format.

Holy moley! I should have saved it all. It was cinematic genius.

Imagine a robbery. One camera captures the innocent clerk reading his Hustler, while another captures the robbers hiding behind the Fritos waiting for the legitimate customers to leave, and still another camera is on the actual innocent customers, unaware of what is developing.

Sheer genius.

Remember Mike Figgis, who so surprised the world with the power of Leaving Las Vegas? Well, he decided to build an entire movie based on 1985 convenience store security techniques. Now that's innovation.

Figgis has been going in some odd directions since "Vegas". First there was the pretentious "Loss of Sexual Innocence", and now the highly experimental "Time Code". Maybe too experimental.

Experiments are always risky. The farther they are from the traditional methodology, the greater the risk, because it is difficult to keep in emotional contact with your audience when you decide to throw out every rule at once and leave everyone disoriented.

Here's what Figgis did in this movie:

1. He used four different camera shots in the four corners of the screen.

2. Each of the four digital video cameras began filming at exactly 3:00 one afternoon, and filmed for 93 minutes without stopping or cutting.

3. There was no real script. The actors improvised around a predetermined structure.

4. All four cameras filmed interrelated parts of the same general story (sort of), all occuring in the same real time. Therefore, the timing of certain incidents had to be perfect, so that the images would match up.

5. Sometimes two cameras covered the same action from different angles, or characters wandered from one storyline to another.

6. In th editing room, the director muted or reduced the sound on some of the stories, allowing a focus on whichever one he wanted us to follow at the moment.

Now, some FAQ.

Could this technique work? Sure. Why not? There is no hard and fast rule that says a story needs to be told one picture at a time. Movies like Pulp Fiction could easily tell more than one story at a time instead of cutting away from them and rejoining them later. There is also no reason why Figgis had to do all of these innovations at once. He could have done the same general thing, but allowed for scripted lines, retakes and edits, in order to produce a slicker product. After all, we viewers don't really care if it was actually filmed in real time. Only that it appears to be. How he gets it that way is his business.

Did he pull it off technically? Yes, more or less. The timing was excellent, and there was some emotional impact in the story, and some savage humor . Some of the actors have some very bad moments, and people sometimes miss their marks and fall out of the camera or out of the light, or other similar technical flubs, but what can you do when there's no retakes? You just keep going. If it doesn't last long, nobody notices, because there are three other images to watch.

Is it a good movie? You know, a lot of critics praised it for its innovation and pioneering. But I won't kid you. It is innovative and daring, sometimes very funny, and it may single-handedly invent the future, but it stinks. The Emperor is naked. I wish I could say it was dynamite. I love it when new techniques work to perfection, as in "Lola Rennt".

Well, nothing wrong with the technique here, but .....

Technique isn't enough. You still need content. When Thomas Edison recorded himself singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb", that was brilliantly innovative, and marked the dawn of a completely new medium. But not many people want to buy "Edison's Greatest Hits" from their local Wal-Mart.

... hey, Figgis. Now that you have a new way of saying things, how about figuring out something worthwhile to say?

IMDB summary: 7.4 out of 10. Apollo rated it 82, users rated it 69.

Rotten Tomatoes summary. 60% positive, and 50% from the top critics.

DVD info from Amazon. No review of the DVD. I watched it on video.

No nudity.

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