Husbands And Wives and Hannah And Her Sisters
Adventures at a Woody Allen film festival
Time to make the angst-y, Jewish donuts. It’s already half-past-eight in the evening and I haven’t yet written up today’s post, and with each passing minute that I waste, say, eating supper or paying bills or returning the calls of people who tried to reach me while I was spending five hours at the movies, my scrawled notes—written with the aid of the faint, toothpaste-green firefly light that is my Indiglo Timex—become less and less legible. If I were to leave this until the morning, I’d be completely lost.
It’s a shame that it should seem so arduous this evening. Perhaps that’s because of how marvelous today’s bill was. It’s always easier to grind an ax, certainly, but it’s also the fact that I’d almost rather just sit quietly and let the experience percolate. I’m further disinclined to let this blog (I’m sorry, I still feel a repellant thrill of hatred for that word in relation to myself. No matter: if a certain degree of self-loathing isn’t welcome here on a New York-based Jewish literary website, where then, I ask you?) descend into film reviews, and since today’s films were numbers seventeen and eighteen, I fear I might have used up all my insights. I’ve documented the crowd (although today the theater was packed to capacity. Doesn’t anyone in this town work?), I’ve made my Fosse-choreography-taken-in-large-doses-is-like-watching-the-tacky-dance-routine-at-an-auto-show observation, and I’ve weighed in on Allen’s prolificacy, although that will come up again, I’ve no doubt. I am starting to groove on the very repetition of the exercise, however. The ritual of it all. The daily walk to and from Film Forum, and the immersion in the body of work. As I’d indeed hoped, the internal logic is asserting itself. The closest thing I can liken this to is an extended fast I once did over the course of a few weeks. A kind of insular calm has set in (although that might be the films I saw today and the fact that it is nearing my bedtime).
I’m also moved to repeat that journalist’s pronouncement to me about not wasting Henry James on the young (see the Radio Days entry, if you remotely care). Films I dismissed in my 20s I now see in a whole new light, viz Husbands And Wives. What I remembered about it from the first time around: the hand-held camera work was literally nauseating; that Judy Davis, a bolt of errant energy, is an astonishment and every time she narrows her eyes to show her character’s gimlet-brained incapacity to stop thinking too much about everything, I was in heaven; that Sidney Pollock—probably a completely nice guy in real life—projects an unpleasant jerk energy. The kind of aging Jewish swinger who still thinks he’s God’s gift to women. I remember being horrified by a scene where he manhandles his girlfriend into a car, and more horrified when the audience had laughed.
All these recollections turn out to be accurate. But the film is terrifically good, too. Mia Farrow, back to her Rosemary’s Baby gamine ‘do, is more and more turning into the true revelatory find of the festival for me. She is just a marvelous actress. My friend Rick often argues that he thinks Diane Keaton sometimes just “behaves” and he’s often not sure if she lacks serious craft (then again, Rick loathes Gene Kelly, so grain of salt). But Mia Farrow keeps turning in touching, nuanced, measured, and frequently hilarious performance after performance. I had completely forgotten Juliette Lewis’ existence in the movie as a ticky Sutton Place Lolita. Fantastic. Asking for a proper kiss from Woody Allen’s character in honor of her 21st birthday, he jokes, “Why do I hear $50,000 of psychotherapy dialing 911?” Even watching former president of Yale Benno Schmidt as Farrow’s first husband say, “she’s what I call ‘passive aggressive'”as if he were proferring an absolute jewel of arcana only served to charm me. My youthful opprobrium for Husbands And Wives merely proves the adage I have inverted to my own purposes to never trust anyone under thirty.
Interiors (about which more when it shows next Tuesday) might be argued as being the maiden voyage of Allen’s serious (as opposed to comic) interrogation of all those Big Picture questions of love, hatred, and the ties that bind. But in that film he does so with all the sophistication and finesse of a four-year-old boy wielding the chunky blue plastic hammer from his Ingmar Bergman My First Toolkit in his chubby little fist, smashing at everything in sight. (For the very best example of this kind of annoying pseudo-intellectual therapy speak, listen to Nichols & May’s brilliant routine from their Improvisations to Music album where one of them indicts their family’s emotional distance by claiming that “there was proximity but no relating.”) By Hannah And Her Sisters just a few years later, Allen is a master with the hammer and the film an absolute masterpiece, with perfect acting, most notably Dianne Weist’s Holly (her first Allen-derived Oscar), who judders and lurches in mid-80s thrift store cutie-pie outfits, looking all the while like the overhead lights have just been turned on too bright. I can’t write a review. It would be like “recommending” Paris or describing the pyramids, it is that canonical, and I am unworthy. Or perhaps that’s just bedtime beckoning.