W00DY ALLEN—DEMON “NOT ME” KID FROM BROOKLYN
Woody Allen, born Allan Stewart Konigsberg in December 1935, in Brooklyn, is not so unusual a product of that era in that pretty creative region of our country. I, too, was a somewhat older denizen of one dynamic Brooklyn area—Borough Park---where lived a very compatible mix of Jews, Italians and Scandanavians. In some respects, as I will later detail with our chief subject, I too marched to the beat of a distant drummer, but not any where near the discordant but highly successful and creative level of my fellow Brooklynite who is the subject of this admiring, but somewhat demurring overview. I, too, in my own small way defied the entire Brooklyn mass in one essential aspect. I was a fervent New York Giant fan defying the Brooklyn Dodgers, the beloved “dem Bums” still a lowly team in the standings but fated that year to deliver the crucial defeats to the former champion Giants, denying them another championship and thus reaping blessed vengeance on the sneers and taunts of future Hall of Fame player Bill Terry, Giant manager, who at the beginning of the 1935 season tauntingly, queried “is Brooklyn still in the league?”
Indeed, my social standing shriveled somewhat then, but I stayed the course, much as the devout “not me” Woody Allen elaborated in his disturbing and fascinating images that modern society compels him to glorify or at least flaunt. That is, as one noted psychologist expounded, there is the “good me, the bad me, and the not me” and our conscious psyche lulls us into very flattering and distorting versions of our actions and attitudes, selectively many “good me” obvious virtues, and still being objective enough to understand that we do have shortcomings—“the bad me”, eating too much, not exercising enough or being charitable or thoughtful enough, and maybe some traffic violations, but giving short shrift to the “not me.” Modesty and some objectiveness make it unnecessary or utterly bad form to emphasize our essential goodness, kindness, thoughtfulness, charitable feelings, necessary courage, and essential talent and intelligence and ability where we need to employ these worthy assets. The “bad me” is really our conscious awareness that we sometimes fall short of these worthy “good me” attributes,---after all we are not realy perfect!---or are misled by that old devil vanity which stresses the superficiality of good looks and external appearance too much. But the “not me” is the devil’s delight, guiding you in paths of selfishness, greed, dishonesty, jealousy, rudeness and above all, sexual license. Attitudes and acts that only a loving wife or devoted female companion would delicately point out, or that you would pay good money for your analyst to elaborate and expound upon, perhaps, only very tactfully.
Who me!? Really!? Indeed. You must somebody else!!
The reader will recognize, of course, that the “not me” persona is the stuff that the most intriguing reading
In journalism and literature feasts on. Indeed, our protagonist here, Woody Allen, even physically looks the living image of that type of disreputable person. He is short, balding, wears large horn rimmed glasses, and has a thin tenor voice. Not the prospective spouse one would hopefully bring home to a doting parent for approval. Physically far from the medium to tall virile male hero type. Rather a schmucky appearance ---a runty, neurotic, intellectual, alienated Jew! Indeed there are some brief cameos of the orthodox rabbi in full regalia when some subliminal unconscious negative point is to be registered; he at times screens and apparently is satirizing some orthodox rabbis in prayer. And in some of his seriocomic plots marriage is not necessarily the beatific result accomplished; many liaisons and duplicity is the prime event of the plot. But Allen manages to arrange some very uncomfortable “not me” situations of infidelity and almost careless and haphazard casual sex to an acceptable level for voyeur seeking straight people’s comfort zones. So much so that his films have grossed over the years $424 million, with an average gross of 12 million per film. Essentially, it seems to me that most staid and stable entertainment consumers ---the good me’s and the bad me’s---enjoy hugely the exotic and erotic exploits of the “not me’s” and can be titalated and still have the sanctimonious end feeling of “there but for the grace of God go I”.
The extreme example of this is Allen’s picture Deconstructing Harry, where the central character, Harry Block, (really Allen himself) is being threatened by an ex girl friend, Lucy, because his latest novel, she thinks, is a thinly disguised story of their affair of yester year. After placating her she puts away the gun that she first threatened to use on herself—and later misfires at her ex lover, Harry, because now every one was aware of this liaison!!, but refuses to go with him to Adair University where he is to be honored for his great literary merit. Harry is miserable because he can not get anyone to accompany him on the ride to the honoring ceremony. He asks his exwife, Fay, and she refuses, also does not allowing their son to go with him. That night he sleeps with his prostitute friend Cookie who agrees to the trip and becomes the good hearted enabler for the distraught Harry. She dresses for the trip next day in most casual, informal summer comfort--- in relatively short shorts and an attractive low neck line blouse. That night Harry sleeps poorly, reflecting on his ex wife Fay and how he met her while going to a liason with his mistress Lucy.
The next morning they set out for the ceremony, after being joined by Harry’s sick friend Richard, who toward the end of the three hour trip dies peaceably in the back seat of the car between Woody’s son, whom he has “kidnapped” very willingly and Cookie, in her very comfortable attire. En route they stop at Harry’s half sister, Doris, a devoted Jew, who is upset by Harry’s depiction of Judaism in his stories. The image of the orthodox rabbi with tallis, skull cap and phylacteries appears briefly. At last they arrive at the university, but the projected honoring is aborted by the arrival of the police, who arrest Harry for kidnapping his son, Hiliard, for possessing a gun, which he had taken away from Lucy who had tried to kill him earlier, and for possession of drugs in the car—which belonged to Cookie. Harry spends his aborted honoring night in jail and is finally bailed out next day by his friend Larry (Billy Crystal) and his ex wife, Fay, who have quickly arrived after their wedding to bail him out. Harry reluctantly but gratefully gives them his blessing. (He had also tried earlier in the picture to woo her back).
The picture ends with a dream like sequence with the many literary images that Harry Block has created. And some of them now step forward to compliment and reprimand him for his work and his erratic behavior. He realizes that the artistic imagined path is still his best way.
Woody Allen continues down the path of “not me” film noir with two very successful films, Crimes and Misdemeanors, And Match Point. Indeed there are echoes of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky in that deep remorse and guilt occur after the murder of seemingly innocent people. But the outcome in both of Allen’s picture is ironically happy. In Crimes and Misdemeanors a happily married physician is having an affair that threatens his marriage. He confides in his brother,(Jerry Orbach) who conveniently is a small time gangster who hires a hit man to kill the woman who is now threatening to tell his wife. The job is well done and we watch a scene in the dead woman’s apartment where the guilty instigator is carefully removing any evidence of his involvement with this woman. Deep remorse sets in for the physician, however, and only at the end of picture is he able to be convinced that the that he wont be punished by an all seeing Deity, Who can be forgiving too.
Toward the very end we see a happy physician –Judah--sitting next to the Woody Allen prototype –Cliff. Cliff is miserable pondering outrageous fate because his assistant has become engaged to blow hard filmmaker Lester. (Lester is Alan Alda and Mia Farrow is the assistant.) Cliff, who had an unhappy marriage , had fallen in love with his assistant, and realized that we can be punished in life for our personal “crimes and misdemeanors” small as well large. The last scene is a narration by Professor Louis Levy, whom Cliff admired greatly, a renowned philosopher, who tries to thread the line between good and evil and how sometimes life’s fortunes seem unjustly and unequally attained.
That is, why the wicked prosper and the just suffer. Prior to this epilogue in had been stated that the good professor had committed suicide.
Another “crime does pay” picture is Match Point, where two people are killed: one a harmless old lady and the other a very nubile but somewhat obsessed sex partner of our “hero” Chris who is now securely ensconced in a sweetheart deal with both a doting wife and generous father in law. But he remains obsessed with the sex pot Nola secretly, and when she becomes pregnant and threatens to break apart his happy domesticity with a legitimate baby borne by his adoring wife, Chris is shown in the hasty act of “borrowing” his father-in-laws’ shot gun and then killing an innocent ,”expendable” old lady just prior to his real victim’s arrival for the neighboring apartment. After the first killing he ransacked the old lady’s apartment to make it look like robbery, and then kills Nola, who lived next door, timed perfectly as she returns from work. Thus the appearance of the second murder as a burglar’s act of desperate cover up. Apparently all is well but back at the detective’s office some brilliant second guessing is going on and one of the detectives hypothesizes exactly what did occur---that it was a fake robbery and planned double murder; almost a perfect crime. But the other detective on the case has his own more “holistic” idea the of burglary, for he shows the skeptic detective a bracelet found on the ground outside the widow’s window, which has been positively identified as the murdered woman’s, thus confirming the story of a burglar who dropped this piece of loot. The picture that we did witness after the two murders showed Chris throwing the murdered woman’s jewelry and bric-a-brac over the railing and into the river. He is standing about 15 feet back as he is doing these tosses and the bracelet in question hits the railing and the camera zooms in on its trajectory as it falls back and lands fatefully not in the obscuring water but back on land. It has a rather high bounce, almost like a tennis ball--- reminiscent of his tennis pro days, which was Chris’ upscale handiwork before he became enmeshed in this ultra sophisticated society. The fact of the loose bracelet fully confirms the casual burglary theory and Chris and Chloe, his doting bride and mother of his child, go off into the setting sunset with the full support of his wealthy father and mother in-law.
Annie Hall represents a modification of the black noir technique of the above pictures. It is much acclaimed for its almost buccolic feeling compared to the above pictures described. Alvy (Woody Allen) and a feisty Annie (Diane Keaton) fall in and out of love several times and then split up. Eventually they are still good friends, although with different lovers. The movie ends in an almost benign, tranquil mood, with Alvy musing about our universal need for love and companionship and the sometimes devious paths our unique souls seek to satisfy these powerful emotional needs.
The film is powered also by basic changes of style and technique. The basic “take” or time length of each story segment is lengthened , which seems to give more dramatic power to the film, as does the length of time each character seems to be talking or walking and talking and/or eating. But by the substance of what is said or pondered , these sequences usually seem very real and not boring! And the actors address into the camera directly too, as if talking sincerely to the presence of the invisibile audience. In one sequence, which satirizes gently the situation, we have Alvy and Annie waiting on line with two similar avid culture consumers for an intellectually esoteric film, impressing each other with Marshall Mcluhan and the “media is the message” bit which he was espousing so knowingly. This is resolved by McLuhan himself appearing from behind a full size poster board effigy and telling the very omniscient McLuhan expert that he had it all wrong.!
Allen to date has produced 20 full length movies, four plays on Broadway, many short stories and essays. Many of his other movies are still very vibrant and resonate wonderfully well today. Radio Days is beautiful and true nostalgia of by gone days in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn near fabled Steeplechase. Sweet and Lowdown and the Purple Rose of Cairo are bittersweet but have an genuine feel of the realities of lifes’ trials and triumphs for many people in depression America years ago. Bullets Over Broadway is mostly comedy with a light taste of mob exposure as topping. And then not be missed is Hannah and Her Sisters up to once again more angst but more involvement with reality.
There is, of course, the dark side of some aspects of his personal life. His marrying the adopted daughter(Soon Yi Previn) of his live in 12 year companion(Mia Farrow) seems a shocking thing if only for the 35 year age difference. There is no blood relationship if you are old fashioned enough to think of an incestuous link!. However, to have no qualms of breaching the deep bond with his other adopted and biological children who treated him almost as their father, as well as the ruptured prior loving link to the mother of these children whom he cohabited with for so long, seems monstrous. And I, much impressed fan of most of his work that I am, may read the fictional rendering of this human dilemma later on with much morbid interest. Hopefully I and the author and perpetrator will continual well and healthy and all the family members will blend together in some sort of Canterbury Tales thing, with amnesty and peace and absolution of sorts. As I indicated above, he did write some reasonable sunny things at times. Not always the “not me” enfant terrible.
And I don’t think he is an anti semite Jew. Just a verbisseneh Yid, a very, very angry Jew because God has not yet delivered for his chosen people, or the world in general. And, I also like Wagner’s music very much, although I revile his avowed Anti Semitism.
Also, parenthetically, was Allen ever an anti Dodger, Giant sympathizer though deep in the heart of Brooklyn, before that traitor O’Malley took them to Los Angeles? And forced my Giants into full pursuit to San Francisco?!