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The grammar of monuments

April 28, 2009

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This week the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB)—where you can get a veritable film education, and pretty fantastic coffee—begins its `World of Tati´ retrospective. Jacques Tati´s Monsieur Hulot, aside from his silent, Chaplin-esque physical awkwardness in the humorless industrial world, was a masterful creation on the devolution of laughter and language. Tati´s Playtime (1967—did every impressive thing happen in 1967?) crystallizes this in the steely blue and verdigris interiors of International Style hospitals, office buildings, malls, trade show exhibitions and museums that are indistinguishable from each other.

The poetry critic David Orr wrote that great poets are less monuments to be looked at than grammars to be absorbed. The grammar of Tati, beyond his character’s gawky but athletic bumping into modern spaces, tourists, passerbys, etc., and staying soberly mute and sentient while doing so, is the taint of sadness on M. Hulot’s mostly expressionless face. Lost and blank,  it seems anguished by what has become of modern people in modern places doing modern things.

How would M. Hulot´s face contort in the hypermodern resort nightmare of, say, the artificial Palm Jebel Ali islands of the United Arab Emirates? Owned by the Government of Dubai (GOD), the islands will be manufactured to ecologically embody a ´poem´ by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler/CEO of GOD. I can think of nothing lacking more poetry than this.

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