Thursday, December 14, 2017

Going out the window and Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors is by far my favourite Woody Allen film. I find a lot of his films annoying (his early comedies, for the most part) or strainingly pretentious (did it ever get worse than Another Woman?).  There is a vast swath of his cinema that I haven't seen - basically anything since 2005's Match Point, which is basically a tennis-centred remake of Crimes and Misdemeanors, reiterating the theme wholesale ("murder goes unpunished") while altering the plot and characters. I found it boring, if competent, and ultimately totally unnecessary (I could have just watched Crimes and Misdemeanors again!). I didn't mind Celebrity, the previous film of his (from 1998) that I'd watched, or Deconstructing Harry (only seen once, when Charlie Smith introduced it at the Vancity). There are a couple of others - mostly ones he made early in his career. Of his films I have actually seen more than once, and want to see again, there's (in order) Crimes and Misdemeanors, Interiors, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and maybe Hannah and Her Sisters (and that just for Max von Sydow's line about how if Christ were around today and saw what was being done in his name, he'd "never stop throwing up." Best single English-language line of dialogue ever put in Max's mouth!) The Front, about the Hollywood blacklist, is great too, though Allen only acts in that one, along with several actors, like Zero Mostel, who were directly affected by the blacklist. I might consider looking at Husbands and Wives again if it landed in front of me. But given that Woody has directed 48 films now, and I'd only re-visit five or six of them, which I have already seen, and that I have no plans to watch any that I haven't seen, unless someone gets very, very persuasive... I can't say that I'm exactly a fan.

Note that that has nothing to do with the question of whether or not he sexually abused his daughter. (Not his stepdaughter and current partner; he's definitely with her, though whether you consider that abuse or not is sort of open to discussion). With apologies to Dylan Farrow and her siblings, I can't say that I actually know what happened. I am prepared to give credence to the narrative that Mia Farrow cooked up the "child abuse" story as revenge for Woody hooking up with Mia's adopted daughter, to whom he was a father figure for a time - because, you know, I could see how that might REALLY PISS A WOMAN OFF. But maybe that piece has been debunked? I am not sure and don't want to go down the rabbithole; I am pretty much uninterested in Woody Allen ANYHOW, y'know? And, I mean, I still watch Roman Polanski movies, and he's definitely guilty of sexually abusing a child (though the fact that other people have been coming forward to add their  names to the list of people abused by Polanski is upsetting and would probably make me think twice about seeing a new film by him). It does seem to me interesting and possibly telling that both Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point deal with characters getting away with a heinous crime, being unpunished. It's also kind of troubling - nevermind Manhattan - to see the child-adult relationship Woody has in Crimes in Misdemeanors, which I'd totally forgotten about. (The child is also related to Woody's character, in the film - and he has an obvious affection for her that he shows to none of the adult women around her). But all of that might be Woody expressing guilt about Soon-Yi, and nothing more.

However, what really struck me about Crimes and Misdemeanors, watching it last night, besides how perfect it is, has to do with the Violent Femmes. See, I had always thought "Out the Window" was referring to Gilles Deleuze, the French philosopher who killed himself by throwing himself out a window in 1995. But the Femmes' song was written BEFORE Deleuze killed himself (the song came out in 1991). And it turns out their lyric - "he said yes to life for all his life til one day he said no" - is actually an almost direct quote from the movie.

For the record, Louis Levy - the philosopher in the film, who chooses to die by going out the window - is a fictional character, played by psychologist Martin S. Bergmann, who died of old age in 2014.

That's it. That's all I really had to say. It's still a pretty good movie - it holds up. Martin Landau is terrific. Some very funny moments, also some very sobering moments, and some great use of classic cinema in the clips where Woody sneaks his niece (and then Mia Farrow, who he hopes to woo) off to see matinees. I'm willing to separate the art from the artist when the movie is this good.

There aren't many others of its stature in Woody's filmography, that I've seen, however.

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