Jacques Tati Catches the Train (Monsieur Hulot and Progress)


In my previous post, I wrote about the prospect of the railway commuter as someone whose behaviour and performance was entirely determined by the timetable of the machine-ensemble and the workplace. Of course the idea of performance is freighted with all sorts of issues to do with economics and ethics; of time and motion; and of success and failure. Also, there an explicit reference to the idea of panoptic control…


One way of exploring this idea is to examine the films of Jacques Tati, or Monsieur Hulot.

Jacques Tati was a French music hall comic actor who elaborated a series of complicated “silent” sketches. These were eventually put together and filmed. For the purposes of this post, you can find the back story, here


The films are

Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)

Mon Oncle (1958)

Play Time (1967)

Traffic (1971)


The idea of man as machine also cropped up in my review of the big Richard Rogers architecture exhibition in London. You can read that post, here


The most recent post on that site is a follow-up post to Richard Rogers. It explores the idea of architecture as “a machine for living.” You can read that post, here


Which brings us to Monsieur Hulot as an exemplar of “railway man.”


The Monsieur Hulot of “Holiday” is an innocent abroad. The slapstick comedy comes from this character’s inability to engage consistently with the rules and norms of “holiday” behaviour. Needless to say, chaos is never very far away…

In subsequent films, especially “Mon Oncle,” and “Play Time,” Tati looked at the material progress of contemporary life. His films provide a powerful critique of the “machine for living” idea as progress. Indeed, from where Tati is standing, you can see that the ergonomic discipline of everyday life becomes a kind of prison; comfortable, convenient and constraining. The freedom of material comfort is an illusion…

In the old days, the Left would speak about “bourgeois conventionality” as a way of describing the cultural rules that are identified as socially acceptable. It turns out, that nothing is socially acceptable as making lots of money.

I also wrote a post that made a connection between Monsieur Hulot and Jean Luc Godard. Tati is a kind of Godfather for “Weekend,” or “Alphaville;” even though these are dystopian, violent and chaotic stories.

You can read my post, here



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