Woody Allen's directorial debut, Take The Money And Run, has some scenes of physical comedy that would be appropriate in a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton film. Long before he went for the head, he'd go for the gut with scenes like this one, demonstrating the trials of urban living and date-induced absentmindedness.
Co. Bohemian Cinema
In honor of this Hallmark Holiday, here is something really genuine. It's my favorite scene from Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, which is otherwise a difficult undertaking if you're not really into his films and film in general. Everything about Stardust is utterly overbearing: the constant assault of Felliniesque faces, the towering images, and one of his least likeable protagonists this side of Deconstructing Harry.
...and then there's this scene.
I didn't particularly care for Woody Allen's Bananas, although the following nine second-long scene was one of his funniest short takes:
Bananas wasn't the only Woody Allen film to feature an actor we would only grow to love later in his career. 1977's Annie Hall features a young Christopher Walken. In this film he plays Annie's somewhat off brother, Duane Hall. You can very well see how he develops into an actor whose every word triggers the human fight-or-flight reflex.
Today I am writing on Caravaggio while attempting to memorize Sonata form for my Music final. Here's a little NYC slice-of-life piece in silent film style, courtesy of Woody Allen's 1971 film Bananas. One of those thugs look a bit familiar? Well, that's because it is America's Sweetheart Sylvester Stallone in one of his first on-screen appearances.
While context would help you to identify with one of the characters in this scene, the complete lack thereof is the perfect way to identify with the other:
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.
I watched Ingmar Bergman's 1957 classic The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) last night. For those of you who have never seen it, the mark the film left on media is absolutely indelible. Its imagery persists through time, especially in the films of Woody Allen, who loudly and proudly carries Bergman's influence on his cinematic sleeve. One of my favorite Allen films, Love and Death, references it repeatedly, as does Bananas (which, in an irrelevant aside, also takes credit for being one of Sylvester Stallone's first feature film appearances.) This is the film that loosed the robed-and-accented-Death-as-the-Grim-Reaper archetype into pop culture, although the figure eventually evolved into a skeleton in a robe, rather than a pale man. Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, for instance, took Bergman's character wholesale, barely bothering to modify it.
The iconic chess match between the wittily morbid Death incarnate and the unfearing Knight has also been repeatedly referenced. I've spotted it most recently opening Grant Morrison's loving comics-medium paean Seaguy.
My personal favorite (and first witnessed) homage the film was an episode of Animaniacs entitled “Meatballs or Consequences.” On location in Sweden (birtplace and lifelong home of Ingmar Bergman and the setting of The Seventh Seal) for a meatball eating contest, Wakko Warner imbibes one too many and dies, to be escorted into the afterlife by a Swedish-accented Death. The cartoon goes on to parody not just the plot and setting of Seventh Seal, but also the classic lipline-match scene from Bergman's 1966 film Persona. Fun fact: it's one of Bergman's better known pieces of imagery outside of Seventh Seal and was also parodied in Love and Death (roughly 2:20 in. Spoiler alert: Final scene of the film.) Unfortunately, I can't track down the original scene from Persona. Anyway, here's the cartoon. Enjoy!
In unrelated news, my friend Nathan a.k.a. Renegade Accordion (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) was profiled by Thirteen. He busks around the city, playing accordion in his trademark Boba Fett helmet. If you see him, say hello! (He plays parties too, folks.)
Woody Allen is, occasionally, my favorite director and for a few years Play It Again, Sam was my favorite of his films. This was mainly due to the fact that I had not yet seen Manhattan, which I consider to be one of the greatest cinematic works of all time. While it has become my favorite Woody Allen's movies, this remains my favorite of his scenes. I always found it inspiring, still do, even, how an optimism born of sheer desperation burns a hole right through through one of the most (intentionally) overwrought descriptions of bleakness on film.
(P.S.: The entirety of Manhattan is on YouTube. The quality, for YouTube, is fantastic. Give it a go, and if you regret it I'll personally take you to the film of your choice. Offer only good in New York and includes the price of one Sunday matinee ticket and a small soft drink.) Scratch that, only a few of the sections actually work. It comes up on Netflix Instant Watch occasionally, though.