Count me among the great admirers of Todd Solondz’ Happiness. Some viewers complained that Solondz mocked his characters, but I never got that. As far as I could see, that was his achievement. Without passing judgment, he investigated the failures of some of the least among us — the failed songwriter, the unlucky in love — and dug out the humanity among the worst of us — the obscene phone caller, the pedophile. The result was an uneasy mix of tone. It wasn’t quite comedy and it wasn’t quite melodrama. You weren’t sure whether to be amused or appalled, and the fact that Solondz could elicit a horrified titter of recognition at some of the most base material showed that he kept the human in human behavior.
I’m a little late to the Play Time party, having sampled and abandoned Jacques Tati on Criterion laserdisc way back when, finding his work to require, I guess, more patience than I had back in my college years. But Play Time is new on Blu-ray, transferred from a recent HD remaster of Tati’s 70mm comedy of modern manners that has it looking better than it ever will outside of a movie theater, and it’s clearly a singular achievement. In an essay accompanying the disc, Jonathan Rosenbaum outright disses the whole idea of watching Play Time on TV, arguing that because public space is the film’s very subject, it’s also the most appropriate setting for its exhibition. (The film was probably never going to be a tremendous popular success, but Tati limited its commercial prospects by insisting that its initial engagements in France take place only in 70mm.) I missed that boat — there was a restored 70mm print playing in New York a few years back — but this Blu-ray Disc and a decent screen will at least allow a viewer to imagine what it must look like on a proper screen, and in that it’s highly recommended.