Tuesday, February 21, 2012
I gave up on Woody Allen about 10 years ago, finally willing to admit, every time I sat down in the dark of a theater and the trailers ended and the clarinet music started and that same old white font on that same old black screen appeared, that I was dying just a little. I don't think I could possibly articulate the terms of his appeal any better than the second half of the Andrew O'Hehir piece from 1998 that I'm linking to below. However shabbily and however self-involved he is in going about it, Woody Allen even still represents a sensibility (arguably middlebrow, arguably overprivileged) that prizes wit, intelligence, and all their cultural standard-bearers above nearly everything else, a value that seems perfectly valid to me.
I can't speak well to the compulsion I had to see Another Woman again and again, but I'm willing to argue it's the best of his "serious" movies, though it rarely gets its due. Preoccupied and enamored and all decked out with 20th century signifiers of modernism—Brecht and Klimt and Rilke and Satie and above all Chekhov—the screenplay about a politely failing marriage moves with astonishing confidence from straightforward narrative into flashbacks and fantasies and back again, looping in and around and back across time, practically tying itself in knots, but always with preternatural clarity and textured by production design elements straight out of a theatrical staging. It's all in the service of a somewhat trite theme—getting in touch with one's feelings, probably the appeal for me if I'm going to be honest about it—but that doesn't stop the cast from hammering it to the ceiling. Gena Rowlands is tremendous, as she always is, and Ian Holm, Gene Hackman, and Mia Farrow are more than adequate too. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist paints the picture in an impossibly warm glow. Maybe best of all, at this point in things? No aging Woody Allen onscreen to clutter up the proceedings.
"I realize that you've been hurt, and if I've done anything wrong I am sorry. Forgive me. I accept your condemnation."
Andrew O'Hehir, "Yucky Woody/How Woody Became My Dad"
Phil #47: Hud (Martin Ritt, 1963) (scroll down)
Steven #47: My Family/Mi Familia (Gregory Nava, 1995)
Another of case of semi-explained obsession; it somehow fit the contours of my life at the time, or something? Phil yelped that this pick was really out there, which I think meant he hadn't seen it, being an early adopter of Woody Allen fatigue, and who can blame him. Steven later rated it 6/10 on his blog. In the first few years after its release I must have seen it some nearly two dozen times and wore it out almost completely. When I looked at it again finally last year for this countdown I thought it actually held up pretty well, much better than I expected, but the problems were more obvious too.
Meanwhile, Phil really shamed me (or I shamed myself, you know what I mean) with the first pick by either that would illustrate painfully the various gaps I don't even want to own up to. As long as I'm on it, full disclosure, I had never seen The Wild Bunch—which supplied the name of our Facebook group, "If They Move, Kill 'Em!"—until shortly after Steven thought up the name and Phil endorsed it. Then I thought I had better see it.
So for the sake of searing honesty I plan to note in passing other glaring gaps, some of which surprise even me, as I go along with this countdown recap, the ones that somehow prompt me to see them immediately. Last weekend that was Hud and, sure enough, it's a good one. I loved the photography and the ambling way it proceeded and somehow the cattle were always very moving. I will say that I have also seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Left Handed Gun, and The Hustler in the last year or two as well and am suffering some Paul Newman fatigue. Melvyn Douglas was a nice tonic.