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Love And Death and Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Adventures at a Woody Allen film festival

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This is going to be a shorter entry. What can I say, I’m having a melancholic day, for reasons having nothing to do with Woody Allen (years ago, perhaps as a surly college student, certainly not long thereafter, I wheeled angrily upon my father and screamed “You are hereafter forbidden from describing any moment that involves New York, Jews, verbiage, or American popular song as being a Woody Allen Moment!“)

We’re becoming quite the little tribe. I’m starting to see regulars (not terribly surprising in the art house demimonde of Manhattan. A years-long stint of being entirely shut down during renovation wasn’t enough to eradicate the atomized cadre of hissing, angry Hebrews who populated the Titus theater in the basement of MoMa. Go see a movie there today and there they are, newly sprung up like mushrooms, as if the place hadn’t even been closed for a day). Downtown at Woody, there is me, the white-haired Hummer (meaning man who hums, not hypertrophic military vehicle repurposed for a greedy consumer market), the surly cinéaste, the old woman in the maxi-length down jacket, the fellow who could be doing some sort of Marcel Duchamp Dada experiment on his own body, so conspicuously ill-fitting is his…no, I will go no further with this unkindness. At one point, he dips his raisin bagel into his coffee, spilling some on the floor, and in the space of a half-second at the longest, my interior snarl of impatience transforms into a wave of such empathy for the passing parade of malformed humanity, myself included, that it’s like being hit in the face with a frying pan.

Along with Young Frankenstein, Love and Death was an absolute touchstone of hilarity when I was ten/eleven. I must say, the filmmaking is beautiful and the humor mostly holds up in all its silliness. And there are things that my younger self (an inordinately sophisticated if not high-strung and unpleasant little pansy) didn’t even get. I understood that the shot of the soldier on the battlefield with the broken glasses was an Eisenstein reference, but I had had no idea, for example, what the “hygiene play” that Woody’s regiment was shown just before being sent to fight in the Napoleonic Wars was. Similarly, the tsunami-like force of the love-making between Woody and a Countess almost destroys her boudoir; furniture is upended, dishes are broken, linens scattered, and all of it in the course of five minutes. Again, lost on me.

Not picking up on all the sexual references might have been what interfered with my optimal enjoyment of Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) when I saw it as a child, but seeing it again as an aging grown-up, I’m not so sure. It’s Love American Style, albeit with dirtier talk (“snatch,” “beaver,” “tit”) and less satisfying resolutions to its sketch format.

Sequences just peter out in a half-cooked whimper. Although there is a fantastic, pitch-perfect riff on La Dolce Vita, delivered entirely in un-subtitled Italian wherein Woody/Mastroianni wonders what to do about his frigid wife (a completely counterintuitive Louise Lasser as an icily elegant, almond-eyed, neurasthenic blonde). And What’s My Perversion?, a What’s My Line? spoof, done with actual panelists (including a young Regis Philbin), shot on black-and-white kinescope is marvelous if only for its coda wherein Rabbi Chaim Bauml is that week’s lucky viewer to have his fantasy fulfilled on national television. It involves silk stockings, being tied up, whipped by a miniskirt-clad model (“You’ve been a baaaad rabbi!”) and the coup de grace, his wife, the Rebbetzin Bauml, who will sit at his feet and eat pork. Now that’s dirty!

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Love And Death and Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Adventures at a Woody Allen film festival

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