Archive for The Purple Rose of Cairo

Dog Scoop

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2020 by dcairns

I have this heap of unwatched Woody Allen films dating back decades — I’ve only seen two films he’s made after DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. Which makes it seem like at some level I believe the accusations against him and lost my desire to look at his work around that time. Which isn’t CONSCIOUSLY true. I don’t believe or disbelieve. What went on in that attic is like the inside of Schroedinger’s maybe-lethal cat-box to me. I can’t know.

But DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, which is quite a strong film, almost feels like a confession, Allen plays such a loathsome character. Around that time, he said that he could play two characters and be accepted by the public, an intellectual (“even though I’m not one”) and a low-life. Harry is both. And the low-life thing really emerges in the wake of the divorce acrimony, as if Allen intuited that a new characterisation had been fortuitously opened up for him.

So I have this suspicion that subconsciously I’ve been put off Allen even without accepting his guilt as fact. I’m not interested in relitigating it. I can’t CHOOSE to believe one thing or the other. But for some reason, I stopped watching his films. I had become a bit erratic at the time of BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, but looking back at it, that’s a good one too. Mysterious.

Anyhow, I pulled SCOOP off the shelf in a fit of perversity, having heard nothing but bad things about it. Boyoboy were those bad things on the money. But not very specific.

Overall, the typical “this is a dire comedy” type reviews are basically correct. But dire how? Well, it’s sloppy at nearly every level. Scarlett Johansson is introduced as an over-her-shoulder on some other guy and then we cut to a clean single of her ~

I guess it ought to work as his POV, but it’s impossible to express how wrong it feels in motion — you are completely convinced that the two characters are not in the same time, space or movie.

They must have been, though, because a couple of scenes later, they’ve slept together. In a clueless bit of writing, she’s talking quite lightheartedly about having been plied with drink and being unable to remember anything, the kind of development that wouldn’t have seemed worrisome maybe, oh, fifty years ago? Hard to imagine any modern woman NOT being seriously concerned at such an outcome.

But then, little seems to bother Johansson’s character — at the end of the film, the man she loves has turned out to be, not Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent, but Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE, merely played by Hugh Jackman with a Brit accent. But she’s not downhearted. If Woody Allen were her neighbour in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, her lack of emotional response would spark his suspicions.

But instead, Woody Allen is the Great Splendini, a stage magician. OK, the name made me laugh, and some of his crummy gags cracked me up through sheer exertion, though his timing seems a bit off. He used to have this strange gift for delivering jokes in a halting, stumbling way, while still nailing every moment that needed to be nailed to make the joke land. Here, his ums and ahs sometimes take the joke off at the knees.

Worse, his character is given no reason to tag along with Johansson, another instance of simply lazy writing. He’s against the whole thing. But he’s there. Participating. The thing is crazy. Hugh Jackman cannot possibly be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE. A scene later, when the evidence looks shakier, he’s certain that Hugh Jackman must be Jeff Bridges in JAGGED EDGE.

Running through the story is the on-paper amusing plot conceit of Ian McShane as a deceased reporter stumbling across a scoop while on the ferryboat to the afterlife, and apporting into Johansson’s presence to pass on the story. It’s the kind of charming fantasy Allen has succeeded with in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and some of his short fiction. But the relationship goes nowhere, maybe because Allen has shoehorned himself into the story and is using all the oxygen.

Everybody seems under-rehearsed, most of all McShane. ScarJo is fairly adorable and has learned her lines well enough to say them fast, which wins her major points in this creaky affair.

A shaggy dog with alopecia.

SCOOP stars Black Widow; Fielding Mellish; Wolverine; Lovejoy; Cassandra Mortmain; Grand Maester Pycelle; Rupert Giles; and Truman Capote.

Cinephage

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2008 by dcairns

Arch-blogger Girish (if you don’t know his site, stop reading this and get over there now!) was generous enough to send me a copy of the original, 210-minute French cut of HENRI LANGLOIS: PHANTOM OF THE CINEMATEQUE, which is a superb documentary with a fascinating subject. In archive film, Langlois himself commands attention, shambolically dressed, greasy-haired, bulbous-bodied, his arms two tapering tentacles undulating through the Parisian air, his hands two sub-octopi appended to their tips, each finger a fat sausage tendril, a tiny stub of cigarette wedged between two of these, the hand making darting, almost instantaneous trips to those voluptuous Langlois lips to deliver its precious cargo of life-giving nicotine.

But there was one moment that stopped me dead, and forced me to halt the film while I tried to retrieve bits of my sundered consciousness from around the room. It quite literally BLEW THE BLOODY DOORS OFF my mind.

A snap of Louis Feuillade’s great star, the Irma Vep of LES VAMPIRES, Musidora, fills the frame, and an interviewee remarks, quite casually, some words translated in subtitle as “Musidora ran the switchboard.”

The film’s persistent strategy is to hype the Cinemateque de Langlois as a magical, mystical and impossible venue, a place of anarchy where Lotte Eisner read the tarot cards and decaying nitrate stock summoned spectres of the past. The above one-liner did it for me.

When I had retrieved enough fragments of my mental faculties, I was able to reflect on the irony of a silent movie star working the telephones, and then to decide that “Rosemary, your glamorous switchboard operator” from the Hong Kong Phooey cartoons had damn well better MOVE OVER.

Returning to the splendid doc, which mounts a compelling case for Langlois’ anarchic administrative style, and forms a damning indictment of the bloodless bureaucrats who have fumbled his legacy, it has an ending so transplendently beautiful that I hesitate to give it away, but this blog is never what you’d call spoiler-free, so I’m going to anyway.

A story circulated just after Langlois’ death: a member of staff was sitting in on a screening of a Pastrone epic, when he spotted a minor character who looked just like his former boss. The following night, several staff members spotted another lookalike playing a major role in a Sjostrom drama. And so on — Langlois began turning up in every film, and his staff would congregate in the audience to receive their instructions from the screen.

The fable evokes our impossible dream of the Permeable Movie Screen. Something about that speaks to us, and accounts perhaps for Langlois’ injunction to sit in the front row and “eat” the movie. If you run Woody Allen’s PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO again you find that there aren’t as many good jokes in it as you’d expect from ’80s Allen, and his writing of the Danny Aiello-Mia Farrow relationship is startlingly flat (he doesn’t KNOW these people), but the central premise is so compelling that the film plods its way to the human heart anyway. No wonder the film begins with Fred Astaire singing “Heaven / I’m in heaven,” — to get up there and stand IN a film, as Buster Keaton does, with difficulty, in SHERLOCK JNR, is to enter a celluloid afterlife, occupied by little slivers of time, lovingly scraped from the souls of the dead.