On a quadruple-split screen, four separate stories unfold simultaneously in real time.
Alex Green (Stellan Skarsgard) is a philandering film executive; Emma (Saffron Burrows) is
his wife. Salma Hayek is a wanna be actress having an affair with Alex, and Jeanne
Tripplehorn is an angry catalyst.
"The golden rule in showbiz - and in art - is 'be unique'. Of course it goes
without saying that you have to be good, too, at whatever you do. Time Code is unique, and
Mike Figgis is certainly a good director. His cast is full of good actors. His idea is
good; art & technology = a new unity, as one of his characters explains; the marriage
of digital filmmaking with storytelling is valid. Fresh and gripping, the film is also
self consciously avant garde, which is its only downfall. In the final credit sequence, we
are told the film was improvised by the actors around a basic structure and shot in four
unedited, real time sequences. These make up the four screens we see throughout the film.
I admire Figgis' creative vision and bravura, but I wish he had harnessed it. The film
feels more like an experiment - or work in progress - than a completed work of
artetainment. Dramatic tension is maintained, certainly, but characterisations are
incomplete. It is for good reason that Hitchcock described drama as 'life with the boring
bits cut out'. All the same, Figgis has done something remarkable with film; he's opened a
new envelope - not entirely to do with the technology he uses, but with the notion of
multi-view storytelling. Above all, his greatest success with this experiment lies in the
way he uses sound and music. Not just what he uses, but how he uses it, from its varying
volume to its varying directional source, profoundly altering our consciousness of the
screen events' relativity to each other. In a way, Figgis has given us the digital age's
equivalent of Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad (1961), where a filmmaker recognises
some sort of new technological frontier in filmmaking- and attempts to cross it."
Andrew L. Urban
"Fascinating in its concept, evocative in its execution, Time Code is an
intersection of ideas, characters and communication that flows with the fluidity of
unstructured jazz. As the four stories unravel, we dip in and out of each one, as if
tasting a new flavour each time. Figgis has elected a non-linear approach and connects
each part to the whole with innovation, imagination and flair. This is a unique project
and on most levels succeeds at being a hugely interesting one. That's not to say it is
always easy to follow; you do need to concentrate and allow the senses to be massaged by
the filmmaker, as the dialogue volume rises and falls, phones ring and are answered,
characters talk, listen and think. There are some who may well call it pretentious. Is
this style over substance? Style certainly is the key player here with the storyline
playing second fiddle. We take a deep breath and watch each story separately and as a
whole as one creative element. This is the creative mind of Mike Figgis at work
–writing, producing, directing and even orchestrating the music. Each story connects
dramatically not only with the other three, but emotionally by its music. The only
physical connection is an earthquake whose occasional impact shudders throughout. Adult in
themes with a marvellous cast that improvises expertly, this is art coupled with
technology at its most modern. The recurring themes are always those of relationships. We
meet characters who use and are used. We watch the passive as well as the active and
perhaps most effectively music is used as narrative when no dialogue at all is present.
Experimental, bizarre and tremendously powerful, Time Code shatters conventional
storytelling and filmmaking and presents us with a brand new world of cinema veritas
cocooned in art and style."
"Unsuccessful and often tacky as it is, Time Code deserves notice as one of several recent attempts to combine the demands of commercial cinema (sex, violence, movie stars) with an openly experimental form. Indeed, as a dictionary of just about every trendy filmmaking device of the last few years (from fractured multiple-perspective narrative through self-referential jokes and digital video rawness to the use of limited space and 'real time') it's second only to Run Lola Run. What the film fatally lacks is an interesting plot or characters. Like the upcoming Love Honour And Obey, it's less a story than an unfunny charade where a bunch of well-known actors smugly ham it up. Worse still, having hit on the device of showing four images onscreen at once, director Mike Figgis wastes many of its intriguing possibilities. 'Important' action tends to take place on only one or two squares at any given time - though there are a few ingenious moments where the sounds and images on different squares connect or overlap thanks to mobile phones or surveillance devices. But you only have to look at Brian de Palma's use of split-screens to increase suspense and multiply the spatial possibilities of an event to see how inert Time Code is by comparison. Rather than aiming for formal complexity, what Figgis seemingly really wants is to induce a 'millenial' sense of overload, of too much information on too many channels at once. Time Code's best moments in this vein come when the variously stressed-out main characters simultaneously succumb to their feelings of collapse and burnout, hovering uncertainly as soothing music washes over all four of their pallid, drained video images. For once, form and content function together expressively - though even these privileged interludes are like weak echoes of the 'Wise Up' sequence in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia."
"Imagine the scene on Sunset Boulevard at 3pm on Friday November 19th, 1999. Four digital video cameras start rolling and at 4.30 director Mike Figgis calls cut. Thanks everyone we've just shot a feature film. 28 actors, up to 36 channels of location sound and a quadruple split screen later Time Code arrives as the first cinematic landmark of the 21st century and one of the most astonishing achievements in the history of the medium. What Hitchcock could only dream of with continuous 10 minute takes in Rope (1948) Figgis pulls off brilliantly here thanks to digital technology and mind-boggling orchestration of actors and ideas. Time Code is not only an astonishing technical achievement; it's also a witty and suspenseful thriller which pokes fun at Hollywood and, by its very existence, serves Tinseltown notice of an impending revolution in the way films can now be made. Experimental in almost every department, Time Code is full of revelations on both sides of the camera. The cast, operating with a storyline and timing requirements but no script, deliver exceptional improvised performances. Particularly good are Jeanne Tripplehorn who registers her best work ever as a justifiably paranoid girlfriend, Stellan Skarsgard who is undeniably one of the great actors of his generation and in a lesser role Richard Edson who plays the manic Lester Moore, director of Bitch From Louisiana. Julian Sands, who has a very good friend indeed in Mike Figgis after being cast in five of his films, is also most convincing as a body therapist with no acting talent. Only Saffron Burrows, another Figgis favourite, doesn't quite make the grade in this company. Sound design and Figgis' music score play major roles in guiding our focus from screen to screen, making this bold and brilliant film a unique, must see experience."
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HEAR Andrew L. Urban & Louise Keller talk about the film in Real Audio.
In keeping with the digital nature of the project,
MIKE FIGGIS conducted this Q&A with Urban Cinefile via email.
TIME CODE (MA)
CAST: Xander Berkeley, Golden Brooks, Saffron Burrows, Viveka Davis, Richard Edson,
Aimee Graham, Salma Hayek, Glenne Headly, Holly Hunter, Kyle MacLachlan, Julian Sands,
Stellan Skarsgard, Jeanne Tripplehorn
DIRECTOR: Mike Figgis
PRODUCER: Mike Figgis, Annie Stewart
SCRIPT: Mike Figgis
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Patrick Alexander Stewart
MUSIC: Mike Figgis, Anthony Marinelli
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Charlotte Malmlof
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 14, 2000
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col Tristar Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: March 7, 2001
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