Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Debate of Appearances

Allen somewhere close to the middle of the frame, Hollywood Ending(2002)
The problem with latter-day (post Hannah and her Sisters) Woody Allen films is that their philosophical concerns are reduced almost entirely to a debate of appearances. While the usual Allen-tussle between characters, one being seemingly perfect and the second being obviously imperfect – is still the blueprint for his post-1986 films, it is conducted not  through theoretical insinuations but through the completely phony methods of making the differences between the two characters ‘visible’ and because it is an Allen film, ‘audible’. The latter obviously-imperfect character in the template is usually occupied by Allen himself- he of the hypochondriac, bespectacled, frowning, wrinkled, meek, stuttering and bundle-of-nerves variety – and the former role, that of the seemingly perfect man, is invariably played by a conventional looker who dresses in light-pink cashmeres, suede loafers, white pleated trousers, hair gelled back; speaks like Cary Grant and needs a separate carry-bag for his persona. This discrepancy is manifest in more equally discernible conflicts – Allen’s a sensible, intellectual therefore cynical, artfully solemn New Yorker; his competition is a rich hustler from the West Coast. Allen’s character invariably has lines ridiculing the other guy, but more importantly, revealing him to be a snobbish twat; he just cannot believe that the world’s system conspires to give the hustler so much (for all his intelligentsia, Allen’s concerns are purely material), and him, close to nothing. By letting the subtext of some of his earlier major films – Manhattan, Annie Hall, even The Purple Rose of Cairo and of course, Hannah and her Sisters, be taken care of by the production and costume design departments in his later films – Manhattan Murder Mystery, Crimes and Misdemeanors (the film where Allen reveals a greater concern altogether, his La Dolce Vita), Celebrity but most potently, Hollywood Ending – he reduces the slightly bittersweet depiction of life in his earlier films to simple-minded underdog stories; where he is invariably, the underdog ( Allen and Schwarznegger should star in a film together – it would be interesting to see them reconcile with each other’s absolutely alien fallibility and invincibility respectively. ) 

Which is perhaps the reason why so many of Allen’s post-Crimes and Misdemeanors films, upto Melinda and Melinda, are simple genre pieces and betray no genre-jumping tendency like his earlier films. Manhattan Murder Mystery is well, a mystery; Shadows and Fog is an aesthetic throwback to Expressionism, Hollywood Ending is a farce. Allen’s career is also essentially a progression of the syndrome of a romantic relationship – in Bananas, he is trying to get with the girl; by Annie Hall, he is with the girl but she leaves him; in Manhattan, he is with someone; in Stardust Memories, he has found someone else; in Hannah and her Sisters, the someone else has left him – for, in Crimes and Misdemeanors, the richer guy, who makes his first appearance in an Allen film. In Shadows and Fog, he settles down again, but by the time he reaches Manhattan Murder Mystery, he is suspicious of his wife again. They reconcile, but too much damage has already been done by the time of Deconstructing Harry.

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