Oct 2, 2009

Woody Through a Glass Darkly

Thinking of a film that I truly disliked at first viewing, yet found myself admiring today, was a difficult decision. There are plenty of films I did not like at first glance, but later liked them a bit more or understood them better or saw their "point" in the second analysis. George Roy Hill's Slap Shot came to mind ... a film I truly hated, then felt kinder toward. Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye was not to my liking initially; mostly due to what I felt was his dissembling my idea of Chandler's detective hero. However, that film is one of my very favorites today. Its deconstructing of the 40s detective aura is what, I see now, is its main strength and I love it for that very cinematic disemboweling. There are many films I loved as a child or teen and find not so ripe as an adult. As a lad, I loved the spoof version of Casino Royale. I thought it was a jaunty thrill and could watch it over and over again. The shine is tarnished a bit on that shiny 1967 movie windup toy. I see it for the mess it is, but it introduced me to the wonderful music of Burt Bacharach, screen sexual innuendos and delightfully daffy actors like Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. This was where I first discovered my favorite director and screenwriter; in this glorious technicolor, loud, fast moving mess of a movie. Thinking of that film made me think of Mr. Allen and a film of his that I felt so angry and bored after seeing on the screen; so cheated. Today I think it is a masterpiece.

Having watched many Woody Allen films before being exposed to Interiors, I had been conditioned to expect pure comic genius. His earlier films provided shining brilliant comedy that melded sight gags and comic dialogue and provided wonderful entertainment. You could see his talent burgeoning film by film; from the primitive reconstruction of a Japanese spy film with his own silly dialogue added to his science fiction parody Sleeper which reminded me of Buster Keaton in the future. Each film showed comedy muscles being strengthened and the pleasure of more and more intelligent comedy scripts. I feel it culminated in Love and Death, his Tolstoy Russian spoof, which showed the full blossom of what we would expect from this director/writer. That film perfectly blended the New York neurotic humor, his ideas about God, Life and Death and great physical and visual comedy. It was the cinematic bridge work to his masterpiece Annie Hall.

What would he do next?

Expecting more comedy, more cerebral humor I waited with great expectation. What the public received was a dark, deeply serious, Ingmar Bergman type film that delved into the psychological and emotional problems of a tightly wound New York City Waspish clan. I must remember that, at the time, I had never seen an Ingmar Bergman film, but I knew of Mr. Allen's love of the Swedish director. I had heard him talk of him with great admiration in magazine articles and television interviews. In Annie Hall, you can even spy the poster to a Bergman film outside a theater that Alvy and Annie stand in front of having a very aimless neurotic argument. Interiors is unrelenting in its drama and depression. I was utterly confounded by the story and what Woody Allen had in mind. What was this humorless dry pity party of a film about? I thought, "So, he got a couple of Oscars and now he thinks he is a serious filmmaker? This is an incredible bore ... Diane Keaton is staring out a window at the water and thinking of death? Where's the FUNNY??!!" Maybe I expected a spoof of a serious foreign art film. But, I shouldn't have ... Woody Allen was maturing and continuing the growth I had not really noticed at the time. Now I can see how perfectly he blossomed and continued to blend all the "funny" with the "tragedy" in his later films.

I call Interiors a masterpiece because it is masterful in its plotting, it's dialogue and visual construction. It achieves everything it wants to achieve. It seems quite snobby in its telling of these perfectly smart New York people and their problems. But it is a beauty to behold. You feel totally dropped into their lives and their problems. Most of all I love the look and sounds of the film. There is no music ... only street sounds, traffic, the wind, the waves on the beach. The cinematographer Gordon Willis has a steady camera that lingers on the emotion; it never pulls away. The set direction and art direction is perfect in the way it captures the coldness of this family. The colors of slate blue, icy gray, pale green, white, and taupe are constantly present. Only later, when a more vibrant character enters the story, do we get some reds and bold colors. There are shots in this film (see above photo) that are very similar to a Bergman film (and I have now seen many of that genius' works) but Woody Allen dwells more on madness, death, bitterness and the need to be creative, yet not feel adequate enough in that creativity. He repeats that theme ever so much in his later films ... even his recent Vicky Cristina Barcelona. When you see this film today, you can see the elements, themes and recurring character-types in every Allen film since 1978.

He asks many times in his work if we are ever to be happy or fulfilled or what Life is all about. One of the great pleasures I can attest to in Life is being able to see films.; especially being able to see a work over again and see it with different eyes and to be so impressed by its visual and emotional impact.

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