Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Olde Review: Love and Death

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

"Love and Death" (Woody Allen, 1975) Let no one get the idea that I don't like Woody Allen. I really do. There was a time in my life that I was completely absorbed in the Allen "persona." For a time I was even writing term papers in his style (luckily I was a freshman and no one knew the difference). But even though I like Allen a great deal, it doesn't prevent me from not being too enthralled with "Love and Death," for there are too many times when Allen forgets that he is making a moving picture, and does a monologue much like the ones he did in his old night-club days. Indeed, there are times, when "Love and Death" becomes merely an illustrated version of his writings in "Getting Even" and "Without Feathers." *

The best
Allen movie is still "Play it Again, Sam" which, coincidentally, is being broadcast by CBS Friday night). Allen wrote it, based on his hit stage play, but Herbert Ross directed it. And one of the reasons that it is more successful is because the Allen "schlemiel" character is rooted to the present time. In "Love and Death," the movie takes place at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the jokes come easily...too easily. All Allen has to do is put together an anachronistic scene--very easy to do and he still gets the yoks! (Cheerleaders on the battleground, indeed!**) "Play it Again, Sam" and its current scene forced Allen to come up with genuine funnies, not anachronistic ploys. "Sleeper" was successful because it worked with our knowledge of the present with our ignorance of the future. "Love and Death" is less so because it worked our knowledge of the present against our knowledge of the past. The two don't work together.***

Broadcast November 4th and 5th, 1976

"Love and Death" would prove to be the last of what Allen cheekily labeled "his earlier, funny ones" in "
Stadust Memories." At the time this review was written, Allen was polishing the edit of what was at that time called "Anhedonia," which would become the Best Picture Oscar-winning "
Annie Hall," and Allen would never go back to making his anachronistic "easy-laughs" kind of film, and started taking the craft a lot more seriously. "Love and Death" was Allen's "Long Goodbye" to that style of film-making.

Actually, "Love and Death" was his transition film, a bridge between those two styles--for example, his classically framed "lions-roar" that he ripped from
Eisenstein's "Potemkin." His camera set-ups began to take on the spare look of an Ingmar Bergman film (he also took the Death figure from "The Seventh Seal"). The script was a mess--an amalgram of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy and "Sleeper," but it was funny stuff, and a lot less episodic than "Bananas," or "Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex****" One dismisses the craft of comedy in film at one's own peril, because there are enough well-shot comedies that can't eke out a laugh to save their box-office lives. If one is looking at the photography more than enjoying the jokes is that anhedonia?

So, I was wrong here, but not as wrong as I would be (for that, see tomorrow), and Allen would leave the blandly Ross-directed "Play it Again, Sam" (which is a bit offensive now with its "rape" jokes) behind, with such classics as "
Annie Hall," Manhattan," Hannah and Her Sisters," and "Crimes and Misdemeanors," and a lot of gems along the way. Every economically-made five or six films or so, Allen will make a great film. That's a fine batting average in the Biz.

* These are collections of Allen's essays for "The New Yorker."

** I guess I forgot the scene where the hot-dog vendor is yelling "Red Hots!" on the battle-field.

***Crap! Of course, they can work together!

No comments: