In the world of film, one director, or rather auteur, has managed to constantly impress and inspire me in all facets of the art of cinema: Woody Allen. As a public figure, Allen does spark controversy and vitriol. However, as a writer/director (not so much as an actor) Allen has tapped into the human psyche in a way unmatched by any other one filmmaker. On this page, I plan to review and analyze several of my favorite Woody Allen films and welcome and encourage any feedback, commentary, and reactions. P.S. spoilers ahead!
Celebrity is a comedy about a phenomenon that has reached such unbelievable proportions that anybody, with a little luck, can achieve a celebrity status and find love. Every character in this film is either famous or in search of fame. Director Woody Allen’s main thought that he is trying to convey is that celebrityism is not achieved by people who earn it or deserve it, but rather by people who are lucky or more fortunate.
The story surrounds two paralleling main characters Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh) and his ex-wife Robin (Judy Davis). After Lee attends his high school reunion and sees that all of his classmates are boring, old, and balding he begins to go through a mid-life crisis and he realizes that he has never actually felt true love. Accordingly after 16 years of being married to Robin, Lee decides to divorce her. Lee then goes on a quest to find love and fame. Allen places Lee in several situations where he conveys his opinion that we, as a society, do not celebrate the people that we should. First Lee meets the seductive, yet married actress Nicole Oliver, whom he is supposed to write an article about. Nicole takes Lee to the house she lived in as a child, and although she states that she is happily married, she still feels it is ethical to service him orally, as long as she does not sleep with him. She denotes this by saying, “What I do from the nick up, that’s a totally different story.” Here, Allen demonstrates how people who achieve a high celebrity status, come up with a moral system that suites themselves, but not necessarily the rest of society. Her statement, besides having the sexual interpretation, also means that whatever she feels is moral in her mind is therefore justified.
Next, Lee meets a supermodel (played by Charlize Theron) that is popular solely because of her jaw-dropping good looks. Theron’s character remains nameless throughout the film. Allen purposely did not give her a name in order to stress how people who see these beautiful people are not concerned with who they are, just what they look like. This goes the same for Leonardo DiCapro’s character Brandon Darrow. Although he is a drug abusing, woman beating, hotel-trashing brat with no creative vision, he is still considered a huge star because he has got a pretty face.
After the supermodel leaves Lee, he becomes serious with a more practical and logical woman named Bonnie (Famke Janssen). Bonnie is made to seem virtually perfect; she is beautiful, sexy, intelligent, and nice. However, Lee loses interest in her and feels that he has to move on. The importance of Bonnie’s character, besides the fact that she shows what a shallow and low man Lee is, is that she destroys his novel. Lee’s novel is his ticket to stardom. The audience is made to feel that that the novel is what will put Lee over the top. With the destruction of his novel, goes his chance for fame. This is also directly related to the destruction of Lee’s chance for love.
Lee leaves Bonnie for Nola, (Winona Ryder) a woman who has been in and out of his life for some time. Nola is an actress with her own career on her mind. She is not willing to commit to a relationship and can not reach an emotional bond with Lee because she is on her own quest for fame, much like Lee.
Lee’s acts are strongly contradicted by the transformation of his ex-wife Robin. Robin, at first, is shown as a shy, sexually frustrated, Catholic woman. After Lee leaves her, Robin’s friend books her a session with a famous plastic surgeon that ends up examining her while he talks to a TV camera and interviewer. Robin’s transformation begins here when she meets Tony (Joe Mantegna) a television producer. Tony shapes her and makes her into a celebrity reporter on an Entertainment Tonight like show. No sequence shows Robin’s changed lifestyle better that the one near the film’s end where Robin is shown rushing around the tables of a restaurant, interviewing various stars. She eventually stops and talks to Donald Trump. Trump tells her that he is going to tear down a cathedral and put up a “really tall building.” At the beginning of the film, Robin’s Catholic upbringing would have come through and caused her to become highly upset by this statement, however, here Robin simply says, “Oh, that’s nice.” Here we see that although Robin has accepted love and been rewarded by fame, she has lost her identity.
Robin attains fame without even looking for it while Lee never reaches a celebrity status after all of his attempts. This again restates the film’s statement that love and fame are attained purely by luck.
The ending scene is crucial in establishing the film’s meaning. This scene begins outside the screening of the film The Liquidator where a reporter is interviewing random celebrities who are arriving.
This scene can be broken into three parts. First, the scene is shot with a normal lens and begins with a fast chaotic pace. This part is composed of 6 shots, the longest of which lasts for 46 counts. The camera is hand held to add to the disorganized and crazy atmosphere. The hand held camera also establishes the point of view to be that of an entertainment news television program. Chaos is the dominant impression this section is trying to establish. Sound also adds to this disordered feeling. The noisiness of the crowd along with the constant sound of the rain encourages a feeling of discomfort and uneasiness. The reporter is forced to yell her questions and comments out to the celebrities. The lighting is very bright. It seems that the lights are pointed right into the faces of the actors. This bright light results in more uneasiness, this is made evident when all of the people that are being interviewed have to squint while they are talking to the reporter. Flash bulbs are also randomly flashing all over the frame. This random display of flash bulbs creates a confused and disoriented feeling for the audience.
The second part of the scene is located in the theatre lobby. The pacing is much more relaxed. This part consists of only one shot, shot with a wide-angle lens, which lasts for approximately 2 minutes and 8 seconds. The scene begins with Lee located to the far left side of the frame and Tony and Robin are on the right. A strong bold vertical is separating Lee from Robin. Lee is trapped in the left 1/3 of the frame, while Tony and Robin comfortably occupy the right 2/3 of the frame. Throughout this entire shot, a vertical is always separating Lee from Robin. At the end of the shot Tony comes back from getting popcorn and forms the final vertical between Lee and Robin. The lighting is much more dimly lit than the first part, but the characters still stand out from the background. The shot begins with a third person perspective, however, the shot takes on a subjective perspective of Lee’s point of view when Robin says to him, “No matter what anybody says, when it comes down to it, love is luck.” This line is given while she looks right into the camera because it is the film’s central point.
Finally, the last part of the scene begins in the movie theatre and it consists of 1 long shot and 3 very short shots. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is the only sound throughout these final four shots. The music creates a sense of urgency and seriousness. The camera slowly cranes down the aisle of the theatre. The lens is a wide-angle lens and any motion by anyone in the theatre is noticeable and the faces of the people sitting near the camera are distorted. The use of a wide-angle lens helps illustrate the large amount of people that are in the theatre. The point of this last part of the scene, however, is to show that Lee is now completely alone and that he has failed. The lighting is very dim and dark and conveys a sad tone. Once the camera finishes craning down it pans over to Lee. Lee is staring blankly at the screen. The stoic look on Lee’s face shows that even in this large group of people he is still completely alone. The last 3 shots of the film convey this point very well. After the camera pans to Lee, it takes on a subjective point of view as he watches the movie. He sees the word “Help,” written on the screen. The camera then goes to an objective close-up of Lee’s face for the next shot. The final shot of the film is another look at the word “Help.” These three shots accompanied with Beethoven’s 5th Symphony create a tragic feeling and force the audience to feel sorry for Lee.
This scene easily ties in with the rest of the film. First of all it re-introduces the characters to the audience. We see where many of them finally end up. This scene also restates the central theme that has been repeated throughout the film. This being that fame and love are both results of luck. We know that Lee is not as shallow and superficial as these celebrities have proven themselves to be. However, Lee still gets shafted all because he is unlucky. This scene also utilizes the techniques used throughout the entire film. First of all Sven Nykvist’s eloquent shooting in black and white requires a creative use of lighting that is seen in this scene as well as throughout the entire film. The music is always soft and relaxing. Beethoven’s 5th and the “…So You Want to be in Pictures,” song are heard throughout the film in different situations. One more common technique is Allen’s relaxed cutting rhythm throughout the film. Most of the film’s shots are long and relaxed. There are very few short or fast paced scenes. All of these techniques help define the film’s style as well as its important themes. B+
Crimes and Misdemeanors: A Mature Look at Morals
When one looks at the career and accomplishments of Woody Allen, one sees the maturation of an artist, of a genius. It is this maturation of Allen’s techniques, subject matter, and films in general that I find most interesting. Thus, of the films we have viewed this semester, I was surprisingly most engaged with his film Crimes and Misdemeanors. I see this as one of Allen’s most mature films, utilizing his broad knowledge of literature and film as well as exploring a whole range of moral ambiguities while accomplishing the difficult task of combining comedy with drama.
As in many of Allen’s films, the themes of Crimes and Misdemeanors are derived from a classic work of literature, in this case Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. However, this film is certainly not a remake of the classic novel. Instead Allen shapes it and molds it into a much different story told through the mind of Woody Allen. His knowledge of literature allows him to create an intellectually stimulating discussion on morality, basing it on the famous novel. As mentioned in lecture, the most obvious changes between Dostoyevsky’s tale and Allen’s film are seen in Allen’s altering of the title. First of all, Allen completely omits the word “punishment.” Crime and Punishment is about a man who suffers terrible guilt after committing a double murder. He is finally driven by his guilt to confess and goes to prison where he eventually does find redemption. Allen twists this “punishment follows crime” ideology and gives a contrasting view of a financially successful man who gets away with the murder of his mistress and finds solace without formal punishment. Guilt is the devise that Allen recognizes as the force that is responsible for a crime’s outcome. In Crime and Punishment the protagonist is haunted by guilt at no end until he has no choice but to confess. However, in Crimes and Misdemeanors Judah (Martin Landau) is at first plagued with guilt, however as time passes so does his guilt. Here Allen says that guilt is a passing phenomenon and that people are overall morally detached and indifferent.
The second change Allen makes to Dostoyevsky’s title is his addition of the word “Misdemeanors.” In law, a misdemeanor is usually a lesser charge for which one accused of a crime can plea. This addition of the word “Misdemeanors” suggests that although a crime is committed, it can be rationalized and categorized until it is no longer a crime and is now only a “lesser charge.” Furthermore, it is with the addition of the word “Misdemeanors” that the character of Lester (Alan Alda) is introduced. Crimes and Misdemeanors constantly suggests similarities between Judah and Lester just as the title ties the word “Crimes” with “Misdemeanors.” Lester, like Judah, is a successful and smart member of upper class society. Both Judah and Lester have trouble keeping promises. Judah promises Delores (Angelica Huston) his mistress that he will leave his wife for her and Lester seems to entice women to bed with promises of success. However, guilt, again, marks the one main difference between Judah and Lester. While Judah is tormented with guilt after committing his “crime,” Lester hurts people, or commits his “lesser crimes,” without feeling any guilt; an example being the scene when he yells at one of his writers, who happens to have Cancer, on the basis that his jokes are not funny.
Allen, thus, with the addition of Lester, has created a second separate plot. The first plot is a serious dramatic story of crime and guilt. The second is a series of comedic elements which allow the audience to relax their views of the harsh realties brought up in the first plot, thus further demonstrating Allen’s point on how people can eventually live with these harsh realities. Mixing comedy with drama is how Allen successfully gets his point across, and it seems rather likely that Allen is speaking directly through Lester’s character. There is a scene where Lester makes the insightful statement that “comedy is tragedy plus time.” He follows this statement up by saying that “the night Lincoln was shot, you couldn’t joke about it. Now time has gone by and it’s fair game.” These statements seem to sum up Allen’s argument that time erases guilt and emphasizes a kind of moral neutrality and indifference in humankind.
This second subplot also revolves around another character Cliff (Woody Allen). However, if Lester is Allen’s voice in Crimes and Misdemeanors, then what is the purpose of Allen’s presence in the film as the lovable loser Cliff? I think Cliff is Allen’s way of poking fun at his own (Lester’s) “crimes and misdemeanors.” It is through Cliff’s documentary that the audience learns about Lester’s bad qualities. Before the audience is shown Cliff’s finished product, they are exposed to very little of the pretentious behavior Lester exhibits. I think that Woody Allen is making fun of the pretentiousness that he has been accused of by critics in real life. However, his character of Cliff offers a look at the “real Woody Allen” just like Cliff’s documentary offers a look at the “real Lester.” Cliff, like Allen himself, remains an outsider for the entire film. He is constantly unhappy with the world around him, but he is also completely aware of how that world is pretentious and reliant on glitz and glamour.
Allen uses his knowledge of film to organize and eventually fuse these two plots together. Firstly, Allen literally uses other films to move along his narrative. Allen creates a parallel of the comedic subplot and the dramatic subplot with the other films he showcases within his film. Cliff watches somber Hollywood movies with his niece that include such subject matter as adultery and disloyalty, an obvious parallel between the themes of his own film. However, in order to make him feel better about life, Cliff says that he “…watches Singin’ in the Rain every few months.” This once again echoes the theme that comedy and laughter helps obscure the harsh realities of life in order to make them livable. Thus, Allen creates a subtle connection between the two subplots by using movies.
Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors is a powerful and mature look at modern-day morality. Allen utilizes his knowledge of the genres of comedy as well as drama to create this well organized and structured story. I am impressed by his ability to parody himself and to voice his opinions through other characters. Allen uses his knowledge of literature, film, and life to emphasize his ideas and to create a charged and engaging film. A
Editing in Hannah and her Sisters
When I had the idea for this page, I wanted a whole new Woody Allen viewing experience, however there were so many, I did not know where to start. My answer came on Thursday July 26th at about 2:00 am when Hannah and Her Sisters was being shown on cable. As I watched this incredibly involving film, I began to realize that the source of much of my laughter and enjoyment of the film was due to the editing and scene construction of the film. I had just reread Vsevolod Pudovkin’s article on editing and I was very aware of the different editing techniques Allen used in his film. Allen used many of the relational editing techniques Pudovkin writes about. Allen uses these techniques as a main source of drama, comedy, as well as a way to urge the common themes Allen likes to use in his movies like religion and his love of New York.
Relational editing, as defined by Pudovkin, is a special editing method or technique with the goal of impressing the spectator in some way. Thinking of Hannah and Her Sisters with this in mind makes for a very interesting analysis of the film as a whole. First of all Allen uses rational editing techniques to create tension or dramatic situations. An example of this is the scene early in the film where Elliot (Michael Caine) secretly watches Lee (Barbara Hershey) leave her apartment building and then runs down the street to organize a “chance meeting.” To make this scene effective Allen had to use simultaneous editing, a technique Pudovkin mentions in his article. Pudovkin defines simultaneous editing as a scene that “… is constructed from the simultaneous rapid development of two actions, in which the outcome of one depends on the outcome of the other. Here we have Elliot trying desperately to “bump into” Lee without her knowing he was planning the whole event. Thus, Allen has to show shots of Lee walking down the street interchanging with shots of Elliot running franticly to get ahead of her without her seeing him. All along Allen creates a dramatic tension in the audience forcing them to wonder if Elliot will make it or in other words to ask Pudovkin’s question of: “Will [he] be on time?”
In the very next scene Allen uses relational editing to create a quick bit of dramatic symbolism. After Elliot meets Lee on the street, they decide to go to a bookstore. Allen then jump cuts to the scene in the bookstore where the first frame is focused on a poster of a naked woman. The audience is aware of Elliot’s desire for Lee and after they see his ridiculous endeavor to try to meet up with her, the illustration of a naked woman symbolizes once again Elliot’s lust for Lee.
Another scene where Allen creates drama and tension by use of editing is in a scene about an hour through the film where Hannah (Mia Farrow), Holly (Dianne Wiest), and Lee are all out to lunch. The scene is set up with a conversation between Lee and Hannah about how Elliot has been distant with Hannah. Lee obviously feels guilty about this due to her affair with Elliot and abruptly changes the subject. Holly arrives and they all sit for lunch. Allen then begins a revolving camera shot around the table as Holly and Hannah argue about Holly’s life. Allen then cuts to a full frame shot of only Lee, as she looks very uncomfortable. The camera continues to move around the table past Hannah and back to another full frame shot of Lee where she tries to stop Hannah and Holly’s argument. Her attempt does not work as the camera continues to move. Allen makes one final cut to Lee’s face as she begins to unravel due to the guilt she is feeling about the affair. These close shots and frames dominated by Lee bring the audiences attention to the torment and tension that Lee is feeling and foreshadows her reaction to Holly and Hannah’s argument as well as her later decision to date another man.
Allen uses editing techniques to create comedic as well as dramatic situations. Allen’s main source of humor is Mickey (Woody Allen). Many of the humorous situations that occur involving Mickey are attributed to Allen’s editing. One short example happens during the scene where the audience is introduced to Mickey and his job as a television producer. Mickey is shown frantically running around his studio with countless problems occurring 30 minutes before his show is about to air. Allen contrasts this with a shot of his ex-partner Norman (Tony Roberts) driving happily and calmly during a sunny day in California while Mickey is heard in voice over mentioning how easy business has been for Norman lately. This “contrast edit” technique is mentioned by Pudovkin and is used here for comic value as well as to make an impression on the audience about Mickey’s lifestyle.
Perhaps the greatest moment of comedy in Hannah and Her Sisters occurs during the sequence when Mickey converts to Catholicism and again the comic value is increased by the use of editing. This sequence begins with Mickey talking to a Catholic priest about his need to find a meaning to life and his desire to believe in God. Allen then jump cuts to a scene in his Jewish parents’ house after he has told them that he is converting to Catholicism. This structural jump cut is the source of much humor as we see watch Jewish raised man try to explain his bazaar reasoning for why he has just decided to convert to Catholicism on a random search for meaning.
Allen also uses editing to comment on some of his more familiar themes that are present in most of his films. In this film he showcases his ideas on religion and his love of New York. Allen comments on religion in several of his films and Hannah and Her Sisters is certainly no exception. In order to show Mickey’s desire to convert to Catholicism, Allen edits together a montage of shots. The montage begins with a quick transition shot as Mickey walks to a church. Next it cuts to a shot of the church, and then it cuts to a shot of a portrait of Jesus. Then cuts to a shot of Mickey getting several books from a priest in the church. The final shot is one of Mickey in his apartment where he is taking items out of a paper bag. The first item is a crucifix followed by a loaf of “wonderbread” and then a jar of mayonnaise. This montage sums up Allen’s true idea about religion, that it is all relatively meaningless and should not be taken too seriously.
Allen also uses editing in Hannah and Her Sisters to show his love and respect for New York. Holly and April (Carrie Fisher) take a tour of New York with David (Lloyd Nolan), an architect that they meet at one of their catering jobs. Allen creates a montage of the many beautiful architectural feats of New York. He sets the montage to driving classical music. As the music gets faster and more energetic, the individual shots of the montage become shorter and more rapid. Allen has an eye for beauty when it comes to the town he loves; this montage is not unlike the famous Gershwin montage from Manhattan.
Editing is key to Hannah and Her Sisters and through good editing, Allen allows himself to creatively and effectively illustrate his most important themes and ideas. He manages to tell a dramatic yet funny tale about several main characters’ dilemmas and the relationships they have with one another. A