The Reconstruction of the 70mm print of Jacques Tati's "Play Time"
Details about distribution, restoration and historical data
The 70mm Newsletter
Written By: Jerome Deschamps. Translated from French by Julie Theodore, with Paul
December 14, 2003
70mm frame from the 1967 version of the film. Aspect Ratio around 1,70:1
"Play Time" was the only Jacques Tati movie shot for 70mm release. The original (1967) negative material was so worn and damaged that, by the year 2000, it wasn't possible to make new copies without some restoration being done to it.
Moreover, in 1979, because of financial troubles, Jacques Tati had been required to cut some parts of it -- against his will -- in order to tighten the run time of the movie to under 2 hours. These measures were imposed by his financial partners. Indeed, after
"Play Time"´s production, Jacques Tati's company had gone bankrupt and all his movies were confiscated until 1976. At that time, new financial partners allowed him to reverse the confiscation, but in the process Tati lost most of his Director's rights.
On one hand, we had to repair the original film elements physically, using both chemical and digital methods, and also repair the sounds. And on the other hand, we sought to restore this version of the film to correspond to Jacques Tati's original artistic vision. So, we had to search to find the lost parts of the film, in order to add them to the new 70mm prints. Francois Ede led this investigation, described in the book Playtime, co-written by Stephane
Goudet, and published by Les Cahiers du Cinema. We had to be sure of the cuts Tati was forced to make. We did some research on all the documents we had from that era, and we could also refer to two 35mm copies from the Toulouse and the Lausanne
cinematheques, which confirmed our thoughts.
We should mention here that, because of the financial reasons, all early copies of
"Play Time" were issued from the original film, not from an
"interfilm" which is generally used to protect the original materials. Thus, the most recent copies from the original, issued in 1991, on the initiative of the French
Cinematheque, had put an end (it was thought) to any further use of this film. Indeed, it was torn and defaced in several sequences.
We began our first work on this damaged original film. Then we checked and restored all the perforated parts, strengthened the numerous splices, and reinforced the rips. To protect the film and avoid any other damage, the
Arane-Gulliver laboratory in France (the only European laboratory working with 70mm these days) set up a special 70mm "immersion" device, with a special liquid treatment protecting the damaged areas. Then we printed a working copy of the film to see the remaining damage.
The un-restored sequences were sent to Los Angeles to be scanned, frame by frame. The digital data came back to France, to piece back together the missing or torn images. These restored data went once more to Los Angeles to be photographed and ultimately were re-integrated for the new film in France.
The new version is as long as the Toulouse version, about 2h06, instead of 1h58. It's not as long as the complete original, but it was what we could locate and assemble.
The most-altered sequence was the first one of the movie, in particular most of the "false
Hulots" are still missing, compared to the first version. Thus, an essential idea of the movie has been compromised -- the idea of confusion, loneliness, the perdition of the individual in a society which sets up an organization of work, leisure, and city -- where the individual can't find his place anymore.
in 70mm reading:
Die Restaurierung von „Tatis
La restauration de "Play Time"
The restoration of "Play Time"
film frame from the reconstruction of the film.
Added December 20, 2003 by Bill Kretzel:
"Play Time" premiered at the Paris Empire (CINERAMA) on
Sunday, 17 December 1967 (reviewed in Le Monde #7135, 22 December 1967, pg. 1b, by Jean de
Baroncelli). The March 1968 issue of Cahiers du Cinema devotes 25 pages to Tati and
"Play Time" - filmography includes the notation: "ramene des la
137 mn" - i.e., reduced since mid-February to 137 mins. - includes a number of production stills showing 65mm camera with Mitchell nameplate
English-language version (dubbed) premiered at London Odeon Haymarket on
14 July 1968 - ad in the October 1968 issue of Films and Filming (pg. 31) specifies 70mm ("Presented by Dimitri de
Grunwald"); review by Allen Eyles
(pg. 43) notes: 123 min. running time (originally 152 min.) - also reviewed (with Tati interview) by John Russell Taylor in The Times,
13 July 1968 (pg. 17).
James Monaco writing in Take One magazine (3:11) published 26 September 1973
says of the American release: "Tati had held out for a long while to have it seen in its original format, but when U.S. distributors refused to
accept it in 70mm he found discretion the better part of valor and made it
available in a 35mm print with which he is apparently satisfied... The original version of the film (besides being at least half an hour longer)
also used a stereophonic sound track to great effect..."
was re-released May 19, 2002
during the Festival de Cannes. The Cannes film
festival celebrated the genius of Jacques Tati with a
screening of a new 70mm DTS
print of his restored masterpiece "Play Time".
Michel Piccoli was present dressed up as M. Hulot !
It was later re-released nationwide in France with 30 prints (28x 35mm/DD-DTS and
The restored 70mm print was shown at the Arlequin cinema in Paris with great
success. See below.
All the chemical and sound restoration of "Play
Time" was done in France by Gulliver Laboratories
from 1998 - 2000.
Special venue DTS, 5 screen channels, no surround and no sub. Tati did not use surround for
"Play Time" in 6-track magnetic stereo. But the 5 screens channels were very important to guide the patron's attention on a particular part of the picture.
The Gulliver team decided for this new mix to use the surround channels for
RC/LC. The sound diagram is R/RC/C/LC/L, no surround and no sub.
A new poster has been released by "Fondation GAN of cinema". The drawing is from Pierre
ETAIX, a long time Tati's friend. This new poster was for the Cannes Festival. The stills, trailers etc... are new prints of
the old ones.
A special poster was also released for "Play Time" at Chaillot, a movie-live show produced by Jerome DESCHAMPS and "the
DESCHIENS" (once a day, during 4 weeks).
The Red Book
Well, the notorious red book has been proven wrong again. Jacques Tati's
"Play Time" was not a blowup from spherical 35mm, but actually shot in 65mm and the screenings tonight and tomorrow at the American Cinematheque may be your only chance to see it in 70mm, one you really shouldn't miss if you're interested in that format at all.
This is not a film to be seen on video. It consists primarily of wide, long, and medium shots (the closest thing to closeups are some over-the-shoulders) which are so full of things to look at that you often miss some of the gags. In this day of claustrophobic cinema and quick cuts, it's actually a treat to see scenes leisurely played out in the context of their surroundings and the big wide frame used as the foundation for sight gags.
And, as there is very little dialog, creative use is also made of the sound track, though the sync is often rubbery. It sounds like only a three track stereo dub with no surrounds. I'm not certain what playback method is being used at the Egyptian, but Paul Rayton will probably clarify that.
US Release data
of Paul Rayton and Jacques Tati, in the courtyard of the Chinese Theatre,
in November 1972. "Paul says, 'I was just standing near, and had my
photo taken by a friend. I should have had him (Tati) sign an
autograph for me, too, you know?'"
Details added April 13, 2004 by Michael Coate
I enjoyed watching Tati's "Play Time" so much in January  that I've done a bit of research on the film that you and your readers may be interested in.
Passages from the book "The Films of Jacques Tati" by Brent Maddock; Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1977:
"Even though Tati's use of the camera is straightforward and quite basic, his use of sound is, to say the least, innovative. With
"Play Time"'s 70-millimeter image size, the width of which allowed room for more soundtracks on the film, five-track magnetic stereophonic sound became possible. Tati is one of the few filmmakers who makes known his interest in the improved sound quality of magnetic soundtracks over the more conventional optical tracks. One of the factors that held up the U.S. release of
"Play Time" was Tati's hope that it would only be released in the 70-millimeter format for the sake of sound quality as well as visual quality. The five tracks of sound on the 70-millimeter version of
"Play Time" allow for increased subtleties and richness; something that was sacrificed when Tati found it necessary to release it in 35 as well as 70
millimeter. The quality of sound is crucial to Tati who considers the building of his soundtracks to be, essentially, a reshooting of the film. Tati claims to film most of the scenes in his films without sound and claims to add the few voices and the variety of sound effects while in the controlled atmosphere of the studio." [p91]
"The distributors were able to convince Tati to shorten the film by fifteen minutes after its Paris premiere. Tati has commented on this: 'Of course, it didn't help any. You either accept it or you don't' The English version of the film was subsequently cut sizably from two hours and thirty minutes to two hours." [p93]
""Play Time" was released in France only to those theaters equipped with 70-millimeter stereophonic facilities. Tati did not provide a 35-millimeter version for the lower-priced
theaters. Consequently, the film was commercially unsuccessful in France. The lack of enthusiasm in its homeland made it an unlikely prospect for exportation to the U.S." [p94]
"The film was not released in the United States until the middle of 1973. If the distributors were concerned about the film's chances for a commercial success, Tati was concerned that the film be released only in its 70-millimeter stereo format. Tati held out until it became obvious that American distributors would not even consider the film with such a set of restrictions on it." [p94]
"It seems only natural that Tati would progress to the use of wide-screen techniques. He firmly believes that the use of such film gauges as 70 millimeter should never have been limited only to large-scale subject matter.
"Play Time", Tati's first and only 70-millimeter production to date, is aptly suited for the larger film size. The towering buildings and crowds of people are particularly interesting subject matter in this new format." [p141]
Was "Play Time" seen in the U.S. in 70mm???
"[Tati] photographed ["Play Time"] in 70mm though it is being shown here [in New York] in
35mm." [Vincent Canby; film review: "Playtime a Funny Film, And Tati's Most Brilliant"; The New York Times; 28 June 1973]
"Shot (but now not shown) in 70mm..." [Kevin Thomas; film review: "The Return of Mr.
Hulot"; Los Angeles Times; 23 January 1974]
"Tati's insistence that 'Playtime' be shown only in its original 70mm stereophonic format delayed its release in the U.S. until the middle of 1973, when eventually he agreed to a 35mm release print." [Mike
Selig; Cinema Texas Program Notes; University of Texas at Austin; Vol. 16, No. 3, 17 April 1979]
"["Play Time"] has already been seen noncommercially at festivals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, as well as publicly all over Europe and in England, in its original,
70mm. form. The delay in the national release [in the U.S.] was caused by the reluctance of exhibitors to go to the expense of installing
70mm. equipment. The hilarious perfectionist, onlie begetter of
"Jour de Fete" (1949), "Les Vacances de M.
Hulot" (1953), "Mon Oncle" (1958), and
"Traffic" (1971), clung to the 70mm. form he shot in. Now, at last, he has made for public release here a 35-mm. version that he is happy with. [The Current Cinema: Time Off; 2 July 1973]
U.S. 70mm Blow-up Filmography, 1973: "Play Time" (Continental, 1973; spherical 1.66x1)" [Robert E. Carr and
R.M. Hayes; "Wide Screen Movies: A History and Filmography of Wide Gauge Filmmaking"; McFarland, 1988] [There appears to be an error in the "Wide Screen Movies" book regarding the
"Play Time" entry: the film does not need to be included among the 70mm blow-up titles because (1) the film was originated in wide-gauge 65mm, and (2) the film appears to have not screened commercially in 70mm format in the United States during its 1973/74 release. -- Michael
"The 70mm director's cut of Jacques Tati's "Play Time" will be screened at 7 p.m. March 28 in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences." [Variety; 18 March 1994]
"Friday May 7, 1993 7:30 pm at the Directors Guild of America Theatre. From Ciné Memoire and the Cinémathéque
Francaise. In conjunction with CinéMemoire, the festival of restored films held annually in Paris, the French Ministry of Culture is lending newly restored French films for special presentations in the United States.
"Play Time" was recently restored by the Cinémathéque Francaise in collaboration with cinematographer Jean
Badal. "Play Time" (1967), 70mm, 112 min." [UCLA Film Archive]
"Play Time" screened three times during the 4th Great Big 70mm Film Festival (22-25 January 2004), American
Cinematheque/Egyptian Theatre, Los Angeles, USA.
"Play Time" on January 17th 2003 in Berlin - One Reviewers
We saw "Play Time" on January 17th 2003 and were very disappointed, firstly because of the lack of color timing in the
French laboratory and secondly because of the Sound-transfers from magnetic analogue tracks to the "compressed" DTS track, sadly as in other cases of reductions from the original.
Furthermore I had a look at the print: it was not a print from the original negative (as in the case of
"Hello, Dolly!" during the Festival of the American Cinematheque) but from a new
Several shots had nearly the full sharpness from the original roadshow version of 1967; otherwise several "Duplicate"-parts and inserts from 1967 looked like very grainy after this transfer to a new negative. The print was to bright and to green mostly what produce a "flat look", if the density is wrong.
Regrettably the projectionists at our Communal Cinema 'Arsenal' mistake the reel numbers or started with side-turned reels. The projection took place on a flat 70mm screen of 11 metres, however reduced by
"Play Time"'s special Aspect Ratio of 1.7 : 1. About 600 people wanted to the new
"Play Time", but the cinema has only about 200 places. A second performance at midnight could satisfied any of them. The costs of the print transports was overtaken by the
French embassy, not the cinema. Apart from my "critic" many people were the opinion, that the look of this performance were a little bit better than
today's cinema experiences.
Later I will write you a letter once more as I desire any photos from you for my project this year, a book about "50 Years Widescreen Cinema", with many pictures from German theatres and
advertisements to differentiate this work from the Website by Martin Hart, who has the best
photos, I think.
Hope, I can include restoration analysis's and the Filmography with all Wide Gauge-"stripes" ever appeared.
Jean-Pierre Gutzeit, Berlin, Germany
Box office results for "Play Time" week 1, July 2002:
Arlequin: 7024 (70mm DTS)
Le Balzac: 2.210 (35 SR)
MK2 Gambetta: 2743 (35 SR)
Cinema des Cineastes: 2288 (35 DD)
TOTAL Paris+suburb (5 prints): 14716
Rest of France (23 prints): 13097
FRANCE: 27812 (ratio per print: 993)
Box office results for "Play Time" week 2, 2002:
Arlequin: 5355 (70mm DTS)
Le Balzac: 2046 (35 SR)
MK2 Gambetta: 2221 (35 SR)
Cinema des Cineastes: 1814 (35 DD)
Roxane Versailles: 614 (35 SR)
TOTAL Paris+suburb (5 prints): 12050
Rest of France (23 prints): 12165 - (It was 23 prints and not 25 !)
FRANCE: 24215 (ratio per print: 865)
SUM for the two weeks: 52 000 patrons for a repertory films. Not bad !!!
Box office results for "Play Time" week 3, July 2002:
Arlequin: 3298 (70mm DTS)
Le Balzac: 1051 (35 SR)
MK2 Gambetta: 883 (35 SR)
Cinema des Cineastes: 907 (35 DD)
Escurial Panorama: 951 (35 DD)
MK2 Quai de Seine: 1372 (35 SR)
Roxane Versailles: 387 (35 SR)
TOTAL Paris+suburb (7 prints): 8849
Rest of France (23 prints): 9129
FRANCE: 17978 (ratio per print: 599). The best ratio of the week is Scooby-Doo with 614, then
SUM for the three weeks: 69978 patrons.
Box office results for "Play Time" week 4, August 2002:
Arlequin: 2400 (70mm DTS)
Le Balzac: 763 (35 SR)
MK2 Gambetta: 633 (35 SR)
Cinema des Cineastes: 751 (35 DD)
Escurial Panorama: 820 (35 DD)
MK2 Quai de Seine: 1041 (35 SR)
TOTAL Paris (6 prints): 6408
Rest of France (27 prints): 6277
FRANCE: 12 865 (ratio per print: 390).
SUM for the four weeks: 82 055 patrons.
Box office results for "Play Time" week 5 & 6, 2002:
Box office results for "Play Time" 5th week, August 2002:
PARIS(6 prints): 7 737 (3 021 for the 70mm print)
Rest of France (28 prints): 7 463
FRANCE: 15 200 (ratio per print: 447).
SUM for the five weeks: 97 255 patrons.
Box office results for "Play Time" 6th week, September 2002:
PARIS(6 prints): 6 446 (3 112 for the 70mm print)
Rest of France (26 prints): 6 261
FRANCE: 12 707 (ratio per print: 397).
SUM for the six weeks: 110 185 patrons.
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