I just watched Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry for the first time and I have to say that I was really, pleasantly surprised by how much of a “film” it was. I’m usually used to his films being shot like, well, just a regular film, although with plenty of artful shots. As far as “artful” I’m specifically I’m thinking of the stage-framed planetarium scene in Manhattan and the “who the hell is talking?” long shot in Annie Hall.
Deconstructing Harry is cut very, very strangely. Individual shots are cut in such a way as to collapse time. Like a Hemingway story, everything that isn’t exactly necessary to the vision is cut with no respect for jarring the viewer. These quick cuts happen in mid dialogue and occasionally giving Harry just enough time to say “uh,” scratch his head and then, bam, another cut. You can see it in this clip wherein Harry solicits a prostitute. The first time I saw these cuts happening I honestly thought there was something wrong with the stream I was watching.
One thing of note is that Woody Allen’s trademark neurotic character is a genuinely dirty old man in this film. Even in Manhattan, wherein he played a 40something divorcee dating a seventeen year old, there was a certain amount of pathos to the relationship. The film used her age to force you to concentrate on her unnatural precocity and emotional strength. In Deconstructing Harry he cheats remorselessly, solicits prostitutes and tries to convince a woman to love him when it is really in her best interest to flee as far as possible from his advances. He closes in on Humbert Humbert territory in the way he elicits pity and identification for/with a character who, in retrospect, is just a terrible person.
Harry is an author whose stories constantly intrude on his life. Occasionally he will simply tell one, and they almost always feature a Harry Block stand-in. On of the tales he spins involves the first time he hired a prostitute – his love of hookers being a running theme – and he is played, fantastically, by a young Tobey Maguire. Another is the film’s cold open, which is then taken apart - deconstructed if you were - by his homicidally furious former mistress, furious at Harry’s co-opting of their failed affair for his hit novel. My personal favorite is the darkly hilarious and very, very Jewish “Max’s Dark Secret,” which is brought up by his brother in law as an example of Harry’s self-loathing anti-Semitism. The Star Wars Bar Mitzvah alone is worth it.
Anyhow, it is one of the current selections on Netflix’ Instant Watch feature, so gamble your time and give it a whirl. It really redeems the rest of his 1990s output.