Since the success of Leaving Las Vegas, Mike Figgis has rejected the mainstream and continued to experiment with lo-fi innovative techniques. The Loss Of Sexual Innocence may have been too self-consciously arty, but Time Code is the business: a bravura piece of film-making which goes beyond Dogme in challenging conventions.
Figgis and crew used digital cameras to shoot four separate, simultaneous 90-minute takes. These now share the screen, which is split into quarters, and the movie's 20-odd characters often walk between segments as the stories interweave in real time. Crucially, Figgis handles the sound-mix like a maestro, shifting levels between sections so as to guide the audience towards crucial moments in each narrative.
Plot is secondary here, but Time Code's subject - the duplicitous, drug-addled world Hollywood is imagined to be - is perfectly represented. At one point, for example, we see Rose (Salma Hayek) and Alex (Stellan Skarsgard) hard at it behind a film screen, as well as, simultaneously: the reaction of Rose's lover (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who's listening to them with a bugging device; Alex's wife (Saffron Burrows) walking dejectedly around Sunset Boulevard; and his colleagues sitting on the other side, watching a sex scene which drowns out the real passion.
Though hardly original, the story is freshened up with lashings of irony. The fictional Red Mullet production company (sharing its name with Figgis' own) is the calamitous centre of the action, and the phenomenal Stellan Skarsgård the rock on which the whole drama rests. Actors improvising for 90 minutes brings mixed results, but stand-outs include Alessandro Nivola as a preposterous DJ and Figgis regular Julian Sands as a New Age masseuse who lends new meaning to the phrase "giving head".
Mike Figgis was innovating before either Dogme or the Blair Witch crew, and Time Code reminds us just how daring he is. It's exhilarating cinema, and demonstrates the interactive possibilities of film - without recourse to the internet.