Archive for Annie Hall

Recalliery

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2021 by dcairns

Watching HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY I wondered if it appeared in time in 1941 to influence Orson Welles’ plans for THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS? (Welles being a big Ford fan after all. And there are thematic similarities in these accounts of a vanished past.) The idea to keep much of the narration from Richard Llewellyn’s source novel, and play it over dialogue-free scenes, and use montage to cover a story with a long span, apparently came from studio head Darryl Zanuck. It’s an approach which could easily be disastrous if applied clumsily, since you lose firmly dramatic scenes which grip, and gain, if you’re lucky/skilled, a more ethereal, intangible quality, poetic rather than dramatic.

Looking at Searching for John Ford by Joseph McBride, I learn about William Wyler’s crucial involvement, casting much of the picture and overseeing the design of the village, an incredible setting. Wyler chose Roddy McDowall for the lead — screenwriter Philip Dunne called Roddy the true auteur of the picture, and said “This solves our length problem, because they’ll never forgive us if we let that boy grow up.” The film was set to be four hours long and the kid was supposed to mature into Tyrone Power. Imagine. Technicolor was also considered at an early stage, Zanuck envisioning an epic to rival GONE WITH THE WIND. And, after all, it’s How GREEN Was My Valley, right?

Same year as KANE — and note the ceilings.

It’s all wondrous to think of, since although the book is the reason there’s a film, the principle things that make it a great film are Ford’s use of McDowall and the b&w cinematography of Arthur C. Miller, which is exquisite. Miller mostly wasted his gifts on indifferent Fox fodder. The Malibu Hills are not the Welsh Valleys, but the movie conjures its own version of Wales, complete with a cast of assorted accents — Donald Crisp, a cockney who affected Scottishness in real life, like Eric Campbell, Chaplin’s Goliath, makes the most consistent effort to sound right — Rhys Williams, playing blind boxer Dai Bando, is one of very few actual Welsh actors.

Another thing I wondered is if this movie invented the highlights reel — a closing set of flashback memories to certain golden moments in the preceding movie. When “Seems Like Old Times” plays for a second time in ANNIE HALL and we get glimpses of earlier scenes, that kind of thing. Reminding the audience how much they enjoyed the film, hopefully — with an indifferent film it’s infuriating — this movie is all flashbacks anyway, from a largely unseen present tense, so it’s a bold and interesting choice to repeat certain flashes. I can’t think of an earlier example. Of course it’s a clever Hollywood device to diffuse the downbeat effects of a tragic ending. Go into the magic past and end on something happier. Those memories will never fade. Things may be bad now, and uncertain to get better, but happiness is real — the past is still here. We just can’t quite step into it. Time may be an illusion, as Einstein said, but it’s a very persistent one. So this kind of Hollywood illusion is bittersweet — we’re presented with a joyful image but with a little thinking we can see past it.

Feed the Clown

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 14, 2019 by dcairns

“My analyst says I exaggerate my childhood memories, but I swear, I was brought up underneath the rollercoaster in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. […] My father ran the bumper car concession.” Woody Allen, ANNIE HALL.

I don’t know why I was so entranced by the sign saying Feed the Clown in this shot from WONDER WHEEL. Maybe it made me think about the fact that I haven’t given Woody Allen any money in years. Though I didn’t believe Mia and Dylan Farrow’s accusation of child abuse at the time, and now I don’t know what I think, I did stop going to see his films a couple of years later. And the last one I saw on the big screen was BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, which I loved. But obviously something was making me uncomfortable.

On the small screen I have seen only DECONSTRUCTING HARRY and bits of some others. And yet I’ve had long, heated discussions with an online friend who urges me to admit that Allen is guilty, and I won’t, because Mia Farrow weirds me out, and I don’t know these people so I am not required to have a firm opinion, OK? Dylan is obviously completely sincere, her parents less so. If I met any of the principles, I would probably have to form a definite opinion. I don’t have a problem with other people feeling certain.

So I watched WONDER WHEEL and was very impatient with it. The theatrical borrowings were obvious, the repetitive use of two damn songs for the whole movie infuriating, and I was unmoved. It looks AMAZING, but still feels mostly like a bad play.

It looks amazing due to Vittorio Storaro — so amazing that I went on to watch CAFE SOCIETY, which is even worse. Allen plagiarises the romantic triangle of THE APARTMENT and ruins it. He also narrates, which proves to be a big mistake. If we could see him, maybe we could get used to how old he now is. But his mushy-sounding voice, robbed of all its former precision (those over-enunciated Ts, for instance), is just disturbing, because it makes you try to imagine what he looks like. A mumbling memento mori. And he’s too often describing plot developments you get through visuals or dialogue anyway,

Allen has always favoured on-the-nose dialogue. I discussed this with a friend back in the nineties and proposed that maybe it’s OK for Allen characters to talk this way because they’re all in therapy and are used to unpicking their every emotion. But it seems very un-OK for the working class characters of WONDER WHEEL. They might do it, but not like this, and even if we decided it was realistic, it’s not FUN because it removes all subtext and so we don’t get the pleasure of working to understand. That’s where jokes used to be useful, but can Allen still do jokes?

Maybe I do feel he’s guilty — certainly he’s guilty of cheating — because I feel more cross than sorrowful at his apparent loss of facility.

But I have a heap of other Allen films available to watch, so maybe I’ll try some of the more acclaimed ones from a few years back.

Why am I torturing myself?

Oh, and Storaro is at the top of his game, somebody else hire him, quick!

The Psychic Sunday Intertitle: Thinking Aloud

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2017 by dcairns

Heard about this one in a Facebook discussion about surtitles or supertitles or whatever you call them — the rare practice of superimposing an intertitle over action. Not very popular due to the difficulty of re-doing the opticals for foreign markets. Academic Carol O’Sullivan was asking for examples, citing BEN-HUR as one. I weighed in with Hitchcock’s THE RING, which uses the effect during a climactic boxing match possibly for the same reason they used it in the BH chariot race — to keep the action going under the dialogue, for a faster pace.

Eric Scheirer Stott recommended WALKING BACK, directed by Rupert Julian under Cecil B. DeMille — right under him — which is a hectic jazz age road to ruin romp, exulting in Charlestons, hip flasks and slang while wagging a stern finger at them simultaneously. The DeMille Hypocrisy in full cry.

The superimposed intertitles are fascinating — they represent the hero’s stream-of-consciousness inner monologue. A unique bit of film language, at least until ANNIE HALL’s date scene.

If you can think of any other examples of superimposed intertitles, let me know and I’ll make sure Carol hears about them.