Much has been made of how the digital revolution will radically alter the future of cinema, but such discussions usually boil down to economics, with idealists claiming that the cheaper format will democratize production, projection, and distribution. But with the exception of innovative films such as The Blair Witch Project, The Cruise, and The Celebration, the artistic potential of digital video has been largely unexplored outside of the experimental realm. More than simply an astonishing technical stunt, Mike Figgis' Time Code 2000 counts as a landmark in the new format, pushing it into territory that would be unthinkable with film. Outlined on sheets of music paper like a chamber piece, the film was shot in a single take by four cameras running simultaneously in different locations. All of the dialogue was entirely improvised around a basic story and the actors wore synchronized digital watches to assure that their actions were precisely choreographed. The finished product is Take 15, with the unedited recordings from each camera presented in four corners on the screen. As a jazz musician who regularly composes his own scores, Figgis conducts the film like an orchestra, using sound to lace the interweaving stories and draw the viewer's eye to the most important visual information. Though Time Code 2000 courts the supreme self-indulgence of Figgis' recent work (One Night Stand, The Loss Of Sexual Innocence), he pulls off the miraculous feat of creating an original and coherent audio-visual template. The only drawback is that he fills that template with a fairly pedestrian narrative about the goings-on at a small Los Angeles production company. The four principal characters are Stellan Skarsgård, a philandering motion-picture executive with a drinking problem; Saffron Burrows, his emotionally shattered wife; Salma Hayek, an actress intent on sleeping her way into an audition; and Jeanne Tripplehorn, her furious lover. Holly Hunter, Richard Edson, Kyle MacLachlan, Julian Sands, and a host of other prominent names round out the ensemble cast, some of whom are better at improv (Edson, Skarsgård, Sands) than others (MacLachlan, Hayek, Tripplehorn). But Figgis still manages enough tension and humor to keep the story moving, and his quadraphonic design is always stimulating. Since each corner is a complete 93-minute take, there are none of the expected cuts when little is happening; the mundane mingles with the eventful in a manner that approximates real life. The experience is uniquely hypnotic, a refreshing change from the way movies are made and watched.
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