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Watching Time in The Hudsucker Proxy

by Ethan Tussey

by Matthew Moore for IN MEDIA RES

During the first half-century of American film history, watching films was largely a cinematic (i.e. social) event. Films rolled according to some pre-ordained (quasi-religious) time schedule operating well beyond the control of the audience.  One of the striking facets of the digital age is the new capacity for audiences to manipulate films as emblems of time.

Standard features on DVDs include the ability to manipulate size and aspect ratio. Others include the power to skip to several commentaries on a film being watched, literally opening up multiple narratives or meta-narratives at the same time. One can jump forward or backward in the diegesis, skipping whole chunks of the film. And of course, DVD audiences can control film time. Film can be sped up, slowed down, paused, repeated, etc. It goes without saying that digital audiences now have unprecedented access to the previously transcendent authority of the film’s start time.

Several films made in the 1990s seem to subtly reference the changing relationship between watching films and watching time in the digital era. Films like Groundhog Day (1993), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), and Nick of Time (1995) signal America’s realization that some aspects of time are malleable (such as our time-keeping devices which were about to switch from one millennium to another: remember Y2K?) and other aspects of time transcend our human intervention.

In this clip from The Hudsucker Proxy the mechanics of time (a watch and a clock) are constructed in quite a darkly comical way to reference the end of life. Hudsucker’s last minute of life is framed by pre-digital time-keeping devices which made up the very cultural and economic architecture of modern society. Is this clip suggesting that we are able to control time or that we are enslaved by it? Knowing that this film was originally released in the first decade of mainstream DVD technology, what might the filmmakers be suggesting about the ability of home viewers to stop, reverse, or otherwise manipulate film time?  What is the film’s attitude concerning our access to pre-digital modes of keeping time through the medium of film?

Clip from The The Hudsucker Proxy

Clip from The The Hudsucker Proxy

from The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Creator: Joel Coen
Distributor: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Posted by Ethan Tussey