Archive for Annie Hall

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!

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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.

Making the scene

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by dcairns

I first heard about ACTING OUT in editor Ralph Rosenblum’s book When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins, a very engaging and insightful look at RR’s life as a film editor, which includes transforming/rescuing films from William Friedkin, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. His work with Allen, from TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN to ANNIE HALL particularly comes to mind when viewing ACTING OUT (rescued from obscurity by trashmeisters Troma) —

The film is a sort-of documentary about sexual fantasies. Various New Yorkers are interviewed, then auditioned, then finally invited to attempt to enact their fantasies in real life on a plush estate outside the city (Project: Nim was probably being enacted a stone’s throw away… the building is also slightly reminiscent of the orgy palace in EYES WIDE SHUT, and it seems likely that, given his interests, Kubrick would have screened this).

Well, it doesn’t all go swimmingly, although probably most of the participants are glad they tried. A learning experience. “It was completely asexual,” complains one young woman, after her fantasy of medical domination turns out off-puttingly real. I would think anybody capable of imagining such a scenario might also be able to imagine how different it might all feel in reality, with a movie crew present…

Woody Allen lines kept cropping up in my head as I watched:

“A large vibrating egg. Well, I ask a psychopath, I get that kind of an answer.”

“I am in love with my sheep.”

“She is elderly, and she uses her wrist a lot.”

The up-tempo jazz tracks don’t do anything to dispel the hilarity, and the dry VO is a killer: “John Smoczyk and Karen Frohardt from Seattle, Washington, who wanted to make love to clowns in a funhouse surrounded by distorting mirrors, got lost in a pleasant but aimless orgy and forgot about completing their scene.”

“You may be interested in why am appearing without, uh, my face. I’m very interested in getting into this show naked and I’m interested in telling you my fantasy. BUT — I thought this was going to be a porn movie, and I have a family… they might think it unfair. My – my wife know about this, being in this p-picture, b-being in this interview, my children don’t know a thing about it. And I worked in civil service, and I was quite straight, and now that I’ve retired, I felt, Gee, modern times, why not get into all the act? So, uh, I’ve been out to the, uh, beach, and I’m going to tell you what my fantasy of sex is. I went out to the beach at Brighton. I don’t mean Brighton. I-I went out to the breach, ah, beach, I won’t give the name of, uh, they now have people… dressing… without any clothes. And it seemed very exciting and so on. And my fantasy is that I’m out there and everybody’s sitting there, some with clothes, some without clothes, and I fall asleep. And then I wake up and there’s a young girl come over to me… she’s interested in tickling me, she’s interested in having me have a party with her, and… either we have a party on the beach, or we have a party in her place, and, um, my fantasy goes on to all sorts of fun there, lots of fun similar to what you’ve probably heard in other people’s fantasies…”

My theory is that this guy just wants sex. That this isn’t his sexual fantasy — how could it be? I mean, I know he’s a retired civil servant, but still… The other stuff in the film is properly whacky and sometimes a little disturbing (only the men are disturbing), and mainly I was thinking “This is HIGHLY personal stuff… are you sure you want to be putting it out there?”

Rosenblum, I seem to recall, says in his book how moving he found the experience, and for the most part, although porn actors were used in staging the scenes, the movie is as far from the exploitation of “adult cinema” as you could wish. Except that not everybody seems to be going into the scenes knowing what to expect, which raises questions about informed consent which the filmmakers don’t seem inclined to answer. There’s also the straightforward incompetence, as when the guy with the dream of being a Salem impuritan (one of America’s F***ing Fathers?) and tickling a bunch of men’s penises with a feather goes awry when they line up a bunch of straight guys (including a lead player from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) who don’t, ah, respond as he’d hoped. The guy’s pretty upset about this, as well he might be — it’s like he’s gone to Fantasy Island, and Herve Villechaise won’t put out.

Foundering feathers.