Archive for Woody Allen

Nixon on Ice

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2020 by dcairns

SLEEPER came up in conversation the other day. You might want to consider getting frozen until this is all over (Covid-19/Trump/the Marvel universe).

The specific bit referred to is the reference to Nixon. Woody Allen has been revived from cryogenics in the year 2173, two hundred years after being put on ice. The people who have defrosted him try to bring him up to speed on historical developments.

A bit of TV news footage is screened for him: Dick Nixon addresses the nation. “Some of us have a theory that he might once have been a president of the United States, but that he did something horrendous so that all records, everything was wiped out about him. There is nothing in the history books, there are no pictures on stamps, no money…”

“Yes,” says Woody, “He actually was president of the United States, but I know that whenever he used to leave the White House the secret service used to count the silverware.”

What’s impressive here is that the movie opened in December 1973 and was presumably shot months earlier, and Nixon didn’t resign until August ’74. So that we could say that among his other accomplishments, WA doesn’t get enough credit for being a prophet.

(Please don’t let’s make this a referendum on his guilt or innocence vis-a-vis sex crimes. You’re allowed your opinion and I’m hanging on to my lack of one.)

I wonder how Trump will fare. Nixon, of course, was not erased from history but he certainly didn’t get commemorative stamps, just a bloated biopic. Trump seems unfilmable as even while he’s happening, he remains unimaginable. And there’s no inner life there to explore. Oliver Stone admitted he had to make his fictional Nixon gifted with more self-awareness than the real guy (as when he compares himself ruefully to Kennedy).

Back to SLEEPER: I had to look up a reference right before this one. It’s explained that our civilisation was largely wiped out by a war, when “a man called Albert Shanker got ahold of a nuclear warhead.” I had no idea who that was and probably audiences at the time outside the US didn’t either, but Shanker was president of the United Federation of Teachers. Which I find very funny, even without looking deeper into his character to discover what it was that made Allen feel he couldn’t be trusted with a nuke.

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.

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!