Saturday, December 1, 2007

"I had a great time tonight...


...it was like the Nuremberg Trials."

Woody Allen is an old man. Well, that's nothing new - Woody has been an old man since he popped out of the womb, an incredible 72 years ago today. And he's still churning out films like his life depends on it (which, y'know, it probably does). I'm no great Allen fan, but I have to hand it to him for Hannah and her Sisters (1986), his best, most sympathetic and warm-hearted film. It's a favourite of my mam's, and we watched it together as a family last year. It's funny, beautifully acted and shot (New York is idolised in Manhattan, but it's a real, living city in this film) and there's a genuine goodness of heart to be found. Take this scene, when Mickey (played by Allen himself) describes how he managed to overcome his depression:

            MICKEY
Well...
(chuckling)
I'll tell you.
(sighing)
One day about a month ago...

The film abruptly cuts to Mickey's flashback, a visual
counterpoint to the story he is telling Holly. A close-up
of a nervous, perspiring, and panting Mickey alone in his
apartment appears on the screen as his voice is heard.

MICKEY (V.O.)
...I really hit bottom. You know,
I just felt that in a Godless
universe, I didn't want to go on
living. Now I happen to own this
rifle...
(coughing)


Mickey raises the barrel of a rifle to his forehead. He
shuts his eyes tightly.

MICKEY (V.O.)
...which I loaded, believe it or
not, and pressed it to my forehead.
And I remember thinking, at the
time, I'm gonna kill myself. Then
I thought...what if I'm wrong?
What if there is a God? I mean,
after all, nobody really knows that.

The camera moves past the desperate Mickey to a mirror on
the wall behind him. Its reflection shows his spiral
staircase and some standing lamps. A clock faintly ticks.

MICKEY (V.O.)
But then I thought, no. You know,
maybe is not good enough. I want
certainty or nothing. And I
remember very clearly the clock was
ticking, and I was sitting there
frozen, with the gun to my head,
debating whether to shoot.

The gun goes off with a loud bang. The mirror shatters.

MICKEY (V.O.)
All of a sudden, the gun went off.

Mickey, holding the rifle, is seen running over to the
shattered mirror. The sounds of his excited neighbors,
their shouting, a knocking door, are heard as he continues
his tale.

MICKEY (V.O.)
I had been so tense, my finger had
squeezed the trigger inadvertently...

NEIGHBOR #1
(offscreen, overlapping)
What's happening? Wh-wh-what's
going on?

MICKEY (V.O.)
(continuing)
...but I was perspiring so much,
the gun had slid off my forehead
and missed me.

NEIGHBOR #2
(offscreen, overlapping)
I don't know. I heard a gun. Is
everything all right?

Mickey, still brandishing the rifle, runs into his sunlit
living room. He looks around frantically, his shirt loose.

Finally, he throws the rifle down between the sofa and the
coffee table. The gun goes off a second time. Mickey,
standing nearby, jumps, his hands flying to his head. The
doorbell rings; the neighbors begin pounding at the door.

MICKEY (V.O.)
And suddenly, neighbors were, were,
pounding on the door, and-and I
don't know, the whole scene was
just pandemonium. And, uh, you
know, and I-I-I-I-I ran to the door.

Mickey runs offscreen briefly to answer the door.

MICKEY (V.O.)
I-I-I-I didn't know what to say.
You know, I was, I was embarrassed
and confused, and my-my-my mind was
r-r-racing a mile a minute...

He returns onscreen, panting; he looks frantically once
again around the living room.

MICKEY (V.O.)
...and I-I jus knew one thing.

The film cuts to a West Side street. It's an overcast day.
Mickey, walking slowly along the sidewalk, passes several
other pedestrians and numerous storefronts, including
Klein's Pharmacy and a "Bar-B-Q" take out. Occasionally, he
is obscured by a tree trunk on the opposite side of the
street; a few taxis go by as he talks over the scene.

MICKEY (V.O.)
I...I-I-I-I had to get out of that
house. I had to just get out in
the fresh air and-and clear my head.
And I remember very clearly. I
walked the streets. I walked and I
walked. I-I didn't know what was
going through my mind. It all
seemed so violent and un-unreal to
me. And I wandered...

The movie cuts to the exterior of the Metro movie theater,
with its smoked glass entrance doors and its Art Deco feel.
An old publicity photo hangs inside. Mickey's reflection is
seen at the almost-transparent doors, as well as the
reflection of the street and various cars whizzing by. His
reflection walks towards the theater entrance; he continues
his story.

MICKEY (V.O.)
...for a long time on the Upper
West Side, you know, an-and it must
have been hours! You know, my, my
feet hurt. My head was, was
pounding, and, and I had to sit
down. I went into a movie house.
I-I didn't know what was playing or
anything.

Mickey walks into the movie house. He is seen through the
glass doors, which still reflect the street and traffic
outside. He makes his way through the lobby into the actual
theater.

MICKEY (V.O.)
I just, I just needed a moment to
gather my thoughts and, and be
logical, and, and put the world
back into rational perspective.

The film abruptly cuts to the theater's black-and-white
screen, where the Marx Brothers, in Duck Soup, play the
helmets of several soldiers standing in a line like a live
xylophone. The sounds of the "xylophone" are heard as the
movie cuts to the darkened theater, where Mickey slowly sits
down in a balcony seat. The "xylophone" music stops and
changes to "Hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-ho" as sung
by the Marx Brothers and ensemble in the movie. The singing
continues faintly in the background as Mickey continues his
tale:

MICKEY (V.O.)
And I went upstairs to the balcony,
and I sat down
(sighing)
and, you know, the movie was a-a-a
film that I'd seen many times in my
life since I was a kid, an-and I
always u-uh, loved it. And, you
know, I'm, I'm watching these
people up on the screen, and I
started getting hooked o-on the
film, you know?

The film cuts back to the black-and-white movie screen as
Mickey continues to talk. The Marx Brothers, as well as the
hundred-odd other cast members in Duck Soup, are kneeling
and bowing as they sing "Hidee-hidee-ho." They kick their
heels up in the air. They sway back and forth, hands
clasped, singing "Oh-h-h-h-h-h..."

MICKEY (V.O.)
...And I started to feel how can
you even think of killing yourself?
I mean, isn't it so stupid? I
mean, l-look at all the people up
there on the screen. You know,
they're real funny, and, and what
if the worst is true?

The movie cuts back to Mickey, sitting almost obscured in
the dark theater. The Oh-h-h-h-h-h's coming from the
offscreen movie are heard as he continues to speak.

MICKEY (V.O.)
What if there's no God, and you
only go around once and that's it?
Well, you know, don't you want to
be part of the experience? You
know, what the hell, it-i-it's not
all a drag. And I'm thinking to
myself, geez, I should stop ruining
my life...

As Mickey talks, the film cuts back to the antics of the
Marx Brothers on the black-and-white theater screen. The
four brothers are now swaying and singing and strutting,
their voices indistinct over Mickey's narration.

MICKEY (V.O.)
...searching for answers I'm never
gonna get, and just enjoy it while
it lasts. And...you know...

The film is back on Mickey's dark form in the audience.

MICKEY (V.O.)
...after, who knows? I mean, you
know, maybe there is something.
Nobody really knows. I know, I
know "maybe" is a very slim reed to
hang your whole life on, but that's
the best we have. And...then, I
started to sit back, and I actually
began to enjoy myself.

This is why we watch films, the transcendental nature of movies. The almost spiritual connotations of the cinema. something Allen understands very well. There are times when I really, really dislike him; and then there are times like this.

Happy Birthday.

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