Archive for Woody Allen

“…lead to the grave.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2014 by dcairns

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Years ago, when I discovered Fiona hadn’t seen PATHS OF GLORY and we watched it together, she put into words something I had felt about the film but not articulated — “It’s not just a war film, it’s about really big things — LIFE and DEATH!” Indeed, for us the film really kicked into its strongest phase after the three soldiers have been sentenced to death (off-camera, in a bold elision) and have to face their mortality (calling to mind Woody Allen’s speech from LOVE AND DEATH: “Isn’t all mankind ultimately executed for a crime it never committed? The difference is that all men go eventually, but I go six o’clock tomorrow morning. I was supposed to go at five o’clock, but I have a smart lawyer.”)

Like Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey and Joe Turkel, we have three choices about facing death — we can weep and pray, we can put on a brave face, or we can be unconscious when it happens. And ultimately it could be said to make little difference. “Pull yourself together — is this how you want to be remembered?” asks Bert Freed. “I don’t want to die,” replies Meeker, reasonably.

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I just ran the movie for students ahead of a visiting lecture by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s producer — one remarked that it was sweet to see Turkel being so nice, since in his most famous roles, THE SHINING and BLADE RUNNER, he’s kind of sepulchral and sinister. True, he does punch a priest in the face, but that’s not too unsympathetic by this film’s lights, and to be fair the priest was a bit annoying. By casting Emile Meyer, usually a heavy, with his pugilistic, clapped-in face, Kubrick somehow mitigates the anti-clerical brutality — you couldn’t slug the padre from MASH without losing audience respect, but somehow Meyer is fair game. When Meyer protests that he wants “to help you, with all my power!” Turkel responds, “You HAVE no power!” which is true, as far as the immediate problem goes. It’s the best bit of defrocking dialogue outside of  THE GREEN ROOM, where Truffaut yells that what the bereaved want from the church is the immediate resurrection of their loved ones, and anything less is an unforgivable tease. Unreasonable, you might say, but not when you take into account the authority these dudes claim to represent.

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Despite starring Chin Cleft himself (introduced shirtless, as was his wont), and being produced by his company, the film is really an ensemble piece (a fact emphasised even further by the tacked-on conclusion, in which Kirk is merely a passive witness), and everybody is really good. James Mason, impressed enought to take on LOLITA, nevertheless felt that the American accents let it down, which is objectively silly, but I guess the custom for using Brit to represent the entire non-American world was strongly established. Having gone for Yanks, Kubrick pushes it pretty far, with Meyer’s Bowery bum whine (wait, he was from Louisiana?) and Jerry Hausner’s bold reading of “What is life widout a liddle divoijshen?” and, of course, Timothy Carey.

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Listening to the film’s producer, James B. Harris, in Lyon, my NATAN co-director Paul Duane picked up lots of great stuff about Carey faking his own kidnapping on location and other typical crazy shit. John Baxter cites the story of someone questioning Kubes why he kept hiring Carey. “He can’t act!” Kubrick replied that he wanted either the best actor in the world, or a brilliant type. (Exemplified by DR STRANGELOVE — when Peter Sellers dropped out of the role of Major Kong, the director went straight for Dan Blocker and then Slim Pickens, genuine examples of what Sellers was to have imitated.) And it’s true — Carey carries his own reality with him, a beat-up beatnik doziness that anchors him in every scene. If he can’t quite do everything the script calls for, and has a slight tendency to strike poses (hilarious vanity in one with his lizard-lidded zombie face), his essential Timothy-Carey-ness keeps him credible, like the way a small child, or a very old person, or a dog is always believable on-screen even if they can’t act.

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Who else? Wayne Morris, a real-life WWII hero, is great as the drunken coward Roget (the script, partly written by alcoholic Jim Thompson, tends to equate boozing with vice, until the third act when everybody swears by it). My late friend Lawrie said used to drink with him– I can’t work out when this occurred, since Morris doesn’t seem to have had a British career. And the bad guys — Adolphe Menjou, whose rapid-fire delivery makes him the worst casualty of the boxy sound recording in vast halls — George MacReady, whose psychotic villainy keeps rising to new levels of outrageous hypocrisy, and that’s his arc — Richard Anderson, who probably oversells his sliminess early on and his doubt later — and Peter Capell, who plays the presiding judge at the court martial, and scores by buttering the most prejudiced and insanely unjust comments with a veneer of gentle, paternal reasonableness.

The full quote is “The paths of glory lead to the grave,” hence all those tracking and trucking shots — at the execution, SK dollies over gravel towards the posts the men are to be bound to, and the POV shots heading forwards seem to represent the rush towards Death — three wooden poles marking the end of everything.

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For the first time I really thought about what the film would have been like without the musical number from the future Mrs Kubrick at the end. Ending on Kirk’s rugged face as he says, “Because you don’t know the answer to that, I pity you,” would be very strong indeed — the only note of grace being supplied by the lighting, which makes of him a lambent gargoyle-saint. What follows is a brilliantly judged attempt to soften the conclusion without softening the film, beginning with a sequence which actually makes us dislike the French troops we’ve been rooting for all along, developing into the musical montage of faces, magnificently lit again — I wonder how Kubrick got on with his German cinematographer, Georg Krause, who had been active all through the Nazi era? They do great work together. Most of the previous imagery has been figures in landscapes or interiors, Kirk’s big CU at the end of the “real film” starts this cascade of portraits. The best thing about it is it does almost nothing — it doesn’t alleviate the sense of injustice, it almost universalizes it. The final shot of Kirk leaving is pretty bleak and ugly — but isn’t even the last shot, since the end creds are a bunch more portraits.

Obviously PATHS OF GLORY is an emotional film, but it defies WWI movie convention by stirring up our sense of moral outrage rather than trying to break our hearts with the pity of it. It gives the lie to the cliché of Kubrick the emotionless. My friend B. Mite strongly argued that Kubrick was interested in “the emotions that don’t have names” — 2001 stirs up a kind of awe and terror that’s closer to the romantic poets’ response to nature than to anything in Spielberg. It’s cold in a tactile sense — all that black space and ll those white surfaces — but nobody, surely, could watch it without emotion. Even Pauline Kael felt claustrophobic.

The movie has been used by scientists testing the physiological effects of film — it has been shown to make people physically angry. Script guru Phil Parker once pointed out that injustice is a great plot engine, because it seizes and inflames everyone. As the line in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS goes, “When a child says, ‘This isn’t fair,’ the child can be believed.”

Shadows and Fog

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by dcairns

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Got into quite a debate with The Chiseler’s editor Daniel Riccuito on FaceBook about whether Woody Allen is guilty of child abuse, which led to him posting a fascinating account on his site. Opening this up again here could lead to a comments section that stretches to the crack of doom, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Danny’s elucidation does make somewhat clearer where he’s coming from — the accusation, if I understand it, is that cinephiles are predisposed to believe Allen innocent because they like his films, this leads them to disregard the accusations of an abused child, and this is symptomatic of a whole “rape culture” where accusations generally are ignored and powerful men are protected. And that agnosticism — saying “We can’t know” — is merely a pose, a defence that allows us to continue to suppose Allen innocent and the accusations against him false.

If you’re first reaction is to dismiss this as preposterous, I would suggest that you try not to. There’s something there that’s at the very least worthy of consideration.

I first want to say that my agnosticism seems to me a very correct attitude to disputed events which I did not see involving people I’ve never met. It is, I think, the only possible attitude.

I had a discussion with a filmmaker friend recently about Amanda Knox — he thought she was definitely guilty, I thought she was probably innocent. Mainly because her collaboration with her partner in this rape-murder starts to look very strange if you factor in “the third man,” the guy who DID leave DNA behind and DID flee the country and DID have a serious criminal record and who has also been convicted. There’s no evidence that he’d even met his supposed co-murderers. But my friend said, “She’s obviously guilty — she and her boyfriend were laughing and turning cartwheels after they were released.” And while that IS very strange behaviour for someone who’s just been falsely accused of murder, I would argue that it’s equally strange for somebody who’s guilty, and so it tells me nothing I can use.

Allen’s enemies point to creepy jokes about fancying young teenage girls in his early films (is it LOVE AND DEATH, and is it a line about “two fourteen-year-olds”?), and his character’s relationship with a sixteen-year-old in MANHATTAN, which certainly prepares the way for his real-life liaison with Soon-Yi, but ephebophilia is not paedophilia, exactly, and there is a difference between a man having sex with a teenager and with his seven-year-old adopted daughter — even if you don’t admit a moral difference, they are different activities appealing to somewhat different desires, though both could certainly exist in the same person.

Allen’s starting an affair with Soon-Yi while he was engaged in a relationship with Mia Farrow is, as everybody on both sides except Allen admits, hugely wrong. Zachary Scott in MILDRED PIERCE wrong, and look what happened to him. The trouble with this inciting incident is that it serves both narratives. In one, Mia Farrow is a psycho bitch from hell driven over the edge by Allen’s betrayal, coaching her daughter to say and eventually believe she was abused in order to revenge herself on Allen. In the other, Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi was just the tip of a vile iceberg, as he sexually abused another of Farrow’s adopted children. Everybody has motivation to lie, and those who have no trouble seeing Farrow as a passive-aggressive schemer tend to believe Allen, while those who see him as a degenerate predator have no trouble seeing why he might lie.

Allen doesn’t help by acting exactly as he would in a movie if accused of a terrible crime — see SHADOWS AND FOG for example — whining and stalling and coyly denying and convincing nobody ~

At 1:45 he refers to the alleged incident as “a total non-event,” presumably meaning “an even that never took place” but actually translating as “an insignificant event that I don’t know why everyone’s making such a fuss over.” Allen, a writer, ought to be able to use language more compellingly. He argues that he “would never” molest his child, rather than saying he didn’t, and his reasons have to do with it being an awkward time to embark on such activity. It’s like the old horse thief’s protestation, “I didn’t steal your horse — I don’t steal horses, and anyway you have a lousy horse.” The second reason seems to reinforce the first, but really it doesn’t.

But Allen’s failure to be convincing is exactly what I’d expect from him, based on his movie character. I think it’s folly to guess at what somebody may have done based on your reading of their manner, or based on other, different things they’ve done. We can’t help but form our own suppositions, but to become passionate in our belief in them seems odd to me, even when the issues at stake are so emotive.

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If Allen is telling the truth, there are a few witnesses who do actually back up some aspects of the Farrow version, and these aren’t so easy to explain. And Allen’s own story is also a little inconsistent. If the Farrows are telling the truth, actually not much needs to be explained — Allen’s passing a polygraph is certainly within the bounds of possibility, and the doctors who weren’t convinced by little Dylan’s account were simply wrong.

Part of the reason Danny Riccuito was so passionate about this was his contention that to sit on this particular fence is to call Dylan a liar, or crazy. I don’t think that’s the case, and in the Mia Farrow false memory brainwashing scenario, Dylan is still honest, sane, and a victim rather than a perpetrator. D.R. says that false memory is a rare, exotic and unlikely phenom to haul into this storyline when a simpler explanation exists. I’m generally inclined to regard those claiming rape as highly trustworthy, since the advantages to be gained from lying about such a thing seem virtually non-existent. Exceptions for me are cases of “recovered memory,” which I don’t, on the whole, believe to be a real thing, and cases where some obvious reason to lie exists — in such cases, the needle wavers midway between True and False.

Danny also argues that, since Woody is now quite safe from legal pursuit, we should simply accept Dylan’s account — the negative consequences of failing the victim are worse than those of vilifying a maybe-criminal who can’t actually be legally punished anyway. But I can’t actually choose to believe something because I’m told it’s the best belief to have. I believe what seems to me believable, and in this case both sides of the story fall within the grounds of possibility.

The most damaging accusation is that cinephiles don’t want to believe an idol to be guilty of such a foul act, and so we will ignore any evidence and concoct any lunatic theory to find him innocent. Not having seen an Allen film since DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, I at first dismissed this. But I have fond feelings for a lot of earlier Woody movies, and I have to admit I don’t want to believe he did this. I don’t want to believe Mia Farrow poisoned her daughter’s life either, but there’s less of a sentimental attachment involved to Mia as celebrity. But ultimately I don’t think Allen’s case is that weak or bizarre — but it could certainly stand being stronger.

Since neither psychiatrists nor judges, contrary to what they themselves believe, are any better at detecting when they are being lied to than any regular member of the public, we can basically discount their opinions about who is being honest. Justice Wilk’s 33-page analysis of the case, which takes Farrow’s side, isn’t perfect either. Wilks puts a lot of faith in the fact that Mia came forward with the claim that Dylan had been abused before she knew that Allen had been alone with the child for fifteen minutes. Later, corroboration was obtained that showed that despite Farrow’s request that Allen shouldn’t be left unsupervised with the children, there was a period when he was out of sight. The problem with that is that since Dylan apparently was alone with Allen, she could have reported THAT to Farrow even if nothing happened, something Wilk apparently never considered. So all that’s proved there is what had already been corroborated — Allen and Dylan were out of view of the nannies and maids. Wilk’s report gives a good account of the Farrow side of things, but the trouble is he’s so one-sided he makes you suspicious. “Ms. Farrow’s statement to Dr. Coates that she hoped Dylan’s statements were a fantasy is inconsistent with the notion of brainwashing.” This is so naive it’s surreal — a circuit judge is apparently unfamiliar with the idea that somebody might say something without meaning it. Certainly Farrow may have been completely sincere, but the fact that she said that does not prove her sincerity.

If Allen were guilty, it wouldn’t change the fact that he’s made some brilliant comedies and quasi-comedies. It might make the experience of watching them still more uncomfortable — it already became a bit awkward after the Soon-Yi thing broke. (A director friend actually said, “The one thing that would make me think he’s innocent is the fact that you get the impression from his films that he’s quite ethical.” Which is true, but the Soon-Yi thing — about as vile an act as you can imagine within the realms of the adult and consenting — kind of disabuses us of that idea. He’s clearly not terribly ethical.

The timing of the revival of this story bothers me. Is it designed purely to hurt BLUE JASMINE’s Oscar chances? Dylan Farrow’s open letter almost says so — but then, if I’d been sexually abused and the man responsible was potentially about to be publicly honoured, I’d probably want to shout denunciations at that time too. The only thing I don’t like about the letter is that it calls upon us to — do what, exactly? What do the Farrows want? For us to stop liking Woody Allen films, because of what he did? Which he hasn’t been convicted of, or even charged with. I’m not willing (or able) to do that. What an artist does should have no effect on their art.

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As with a huge number of things, I hover between disbelief and belief. I can suppose both sides, but not wholeheartedly believe either. It would be reassuring to have absolute knowledge. But I’m not prepared to absolutely believe without it, and I rather resent being told I must.

Oh well, it’s been quiet around here lately…

Paris By Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2012 by dcairns

From Duvivier’s ALLO BERLIN? ICI PARIS!

Two couples on a night out — according to the plot contrivance, all work in the telephone exchange, two in Berlin and two in Paris. When the Germans visit, there’s a deliberate mix-up and a scheming German boy and French girl go out with the French boy and German girl who were supposed to go out with each other. Hard to explain.

Anyhow, the naughty French girl’s idea of a night out — Club Negro — looks more fun that the boy’s, although he does get a song co-written by the film’s director.

The gimmick of the film is that every line of dialogue is translated from French to German or vice-versa, so audience’s of both nations can enjoy.It’s an early experiment in making a talkie which could transcend the language barrier — while Pathe-Natan and others were making co-productions in multiple versions — French, German and English, Duvivier makes a truly bilingual film. Oddly, this has the effect of de-emphasising language, so that the film can be enjoyed even if you speak neither tongue.

Thirty-some years later, Godard tried something similar by including a translator character in LE MEPRIS, in the hopes that the Americans wouldn’t dub it. They dubbed it anyway, so that the translator is just kind of re-phrasing things that Palance says to Piccoli and Piccoli to Palance. For no reason.

Kind of like this ~

Thanks to La Faustin.

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