Tag Archives: Woody Allen

Rocks In The Attic #676: Dick Hyman – ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ (1985)

RITA#676There’s a strange part of my brain that immediately dislikes any Woody Allen film from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s in which he doesn’t appear as an actor, yet if he appears in one of his films post-2000 then I’m instantly disappointed. Maybe it’s easier to look beyond his supposed wrongdoings back in his youth, and the glimpse of him on screen post-allegations and post-Soon Yi relationship is just too jarring?

The Purple Rose Of Cairo is a rarity in that it’s one of only two of his 1980 films in which he doesn’t star or feature in a prominent role (1988’s Another Woman being the other). It’s probably a good casting decision – usually there’s a fantastical element of his work where his character ends up with somebody far more beautiful, desirable – or in the case of Manhattan, somebody far younger – than him. The audience is usually expected to suspend their disbelief that somebody like that could fall for somebody like him – a nebbish loser who looks like he’s crawled out of a Robert Crumb drawing.

But The Purple Rose Of Cairo is something else. It’s a fantasy film – but along the traditional lines of the genre – rather than a dating / relationship fantasy. Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden waitress in the midst of the Great Depression who finds solace in the escapism of the silver screen. After watching one film – The Purple Rose Of Cairo­ – numerous times at the local cinema, its lead actor, the charming Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) breaks the fourth wall and recognises her from being sat in the audience so regularly. He emerges from the screen and enters the real world, where the pair go on an adventure involving an odd love-triangle between Cecilia, Tom and actor Gil Sheppard (Jeff Daniels again) who portrayed Tom in the fictional film.

RITA#676aIt’s a nice little film which affords Allen the opportunity to play around with the conventions of cinema, and while the main plotline is compelling enough, it’s the small sub-plot featuring the abandoned actors stuck on screen in the fictional film, conversing with the cinema owner, that I find the most enjoyable.

Jeff Daniels plays the enthusiastic all-American hero well – a part which the audience would have had difficulty swallowing if Allen had cast himself – and Mia Farrow plays to her strengths as the innocent pulled along for the ride.

The music, as per the Allen trademark, is period rag-time jazz, ably composed and conducted by Dick Hyman (‘period’ and ‘rag-time’ – what an unfortunate pair of labels!). The tunes are so well executed that they easily stand up to the one piece of contemporary music on the soundtrack – Irving Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek, sung by Fred Astaire, from the 1935 film Top Hat, which we leave Cecilia watching at the conclusion of the film.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek (Main Title) – Fred Astaire

Hidden Gem: Hollywood Fun

Rocks In The Attic #635: Various Artists – ‘Hannah And Her Sisters (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#635A group of wealthy, intellectual Manhattanites fall in and out of love with other as they discuss their neuroses and insecurities.

So goes the synopsis for a good many Woody Allen films. The trouble is, once you’ve seen Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979), all of the others in this realm tend to pale in significance. Hannah And Her Sisters may be endlessly watchable, but it fits into the same bracket as the light-hearted half of Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989) and the very similar-in-tone Husbands And Wives (1992). They’re enjoyable films, relatively inoffensive, yet feel like they’re cut from the same cloth. You could probably intercut scenes from all three films and not tell the difference.

One small flaw of Hannah And Her Sisters comes from Allen’s intent on showing quick, naturalist dialogue between the principle characters. While I like the approach, there are a couple of moments where it doesn’t really work, when a character starts responding to a line of dialogue from another character before they’ve finished saying it. These moments ultimately turn into actors churning through their lines, with little thought given to how a conversation actually works.

Allen’s at his most interesting when he’s not doing the bittersweet New York romantic comedies. The brilliant mock-documentary Zelig (1983) never fails to provoke a wry smile for all of its madcap ideas, and the seemingly throwaway Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is one of his consistently funniest films. Recent clangers like Match Point (2005) show that not everything he touches turns to gold, yet mainstream hits like the time-travelling Midnight In Paris (2011) prove that there’s life in the old dog yet, particularly in commercially appealing genre films. I’m still holding out that he’ll direct a Star Wars film one day.

I’m currently reading John Baxter’s Woody Allen: A Biography, a book I bought – and started – back in the late ‘90s, but abandoned for some reason. It’s always stuck in my craw that I didn’t finish it at the time, but it’s good to finally get back to it, despite it now only covering half of his career.

Hit: I’ve Heard That Song Before – Harry James

Hidden Gem: Back To The Apple – The Count Basie Orchestra

Rocks In The Attic #592: George Gershwin – ‘Manhattan (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#592
I recently got to see Woody Allen’s Manhattan on the big screen – re-released and screened as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme.

Of the two most famous films of his ‘70s output – 1977’s Annie Hall and 1979’s Manhattan (the Rubber Soul / Revolver of Allen’s filmography) – I’ve always preferred Manhattan. While Annie Hall is undoubtedly a fantastic film, overshadowing Star Wars at the 1978 Academy Awards by winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton), it’s accolades also bring a lot of weight with it.

Manhattan, on the other hand, didn’t win a sausage at the 1980 Academy Awards – despite nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Brickman again). Where Annie Hall is the quintessential Woody Allen film, and the progenitor of the modern romantic-comedy, it also suffers from being the most obvious, the one chosen as a life template by dilettante faux-bohemian women due to the kooky allure of Diane Keaton’s character.

Manhattan is the Woody Allen fan’s Woody Allen film. It’s shot in 2.35:1 widescreen black-and-white, which avoids the risk of any low-brow audience seeing it, and it’s also a much more low-key affair. The nature of the relationship between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters might be the narrative focus of Annie Hall, but in Manhattan this is merely a peripheral matter. Instead, the later film deals more with the threat of being alone in a city full of people. As a result, while the one-liners in Annie Hall may be funnier, the jokes in Manhattan have more weight.

While Annie Hall may serve as the template formula for the rom-coms of today’s cinema, it’s the overbearing melancholia of Manhattan that inspired perhaps the greatest film in the modern-day genre, Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Hit: Rhapsody In Blue

Hidden Gem: Mine

Rocks In The Attic #514: Frank Chacksfield – ‘The Music Of George Gershwin’ (1956)

RITA#514Frank Chacksfield has been hiding from me. I’ve just spent the best part of the last hour searching for this record on my shelves. I’m a super nerd when it comes to organising, so my collection is sorted alphabetically, and chronologically within each artist. As a result, things don’t tend to get lost too often. Chacksfield had other ideas though.

After a fruitless search looking side-on at the spines, I started thinking that maybe it had been stolen. Perhaps a burglar had eased his way into the house at night, gliding in stocking feet past the sleeping Great Dane, to remove an obscure orchestral record from 1956 out of my collection.

It could fetch a pretty penny online. I may have discovered it in a charity shop for a dollar or two, but its age – sixty years old – means that a copy in good condition can secure $25 online. The loveliest thing is the disc itself, as heavy as a slab of lead, and with the original deep-red Decca label.

I resorted (or should that be ‘re-sorted’?) to pulling my records out of their indexed prison to flick through the covers one by one. I really need to store my records like this, in racks like you would find at a record store. You see much more that the couple of millimetres that a record spine allows. Starting back from M, I eventually found Chacksfield holidaying in the ‘H’ section. Which dyslexic former version of myself did this?

My suspicion now shifts from the unlikely burglar to the chaotic children of the house. My ‘A’ to ‘M’ section sits in shelves next to play-mat of theirs, waiting for the day when its spines will be sprayed by a mixture of vomit, milk and Weetabix (only they call it Weet-Bix in this heathen country; it still sets like concrete when it dries, so at least some things never change).

I only bought this Chacksfield record because I like Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue from the opening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. I’ve since found that soundtrack, so I have the real thing. I still love this sixty year old record though.

Hit: Rhapsody In Blue

Hidden Gem: Fascinating Rhythm