Saturday, March 10, 2012

Your Friends and Neighbours, circa 1900

You know, I believe it was filmmaker and provocateur extraordinaire John Waters who once issued a challenge to other filmmakers, one that he obviously could never accomplish himself: to make an X-rated film with no sex, violence or profanity... I think all three of those. Maybe I'm just getting squeamish as I get older, but Woody Allen's 1982 notch in his personal filmography A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy is what that film just might look like. Now I've circled around the Herbrand Universe that is the collected themes of Woody Allen for a while here now, and patterns are slowly beginning to emerge. Of course, he also deviates from the formula in a few places, especially with the character he plays here. Fondly recalling the giant inflatable suit of Sleeper, we start off the film... the Woody Allen portion of the film with Woody flapping a giant pair of Man Wings. He runs off camera and we hear a crash. You won't usually see Woody, one of the Kings of the Hypochondriacs, trying stunts like this. Later on, we see a flying machine that he pedals to stay aloft in the air. Also a fine excuse for blatant crane shots.
Anyway, I mention the 1998 Neil LaBute pic because both feature six characters, and both focus on the sexual habits of those characters. Woody's characters are a little more developed, as they don't have names that rhyme, for one. There's some depth to the characters, but for the most part they represent philosophical opposites: Woody and Tony Roberts (he's the Max this time!) differ about fidelity and the purpose of marriage. Jose Ferrer and Mia Farrow are at opposite ends of the age spectrum, Jose Ferrer and Woody Allen (and pretty much everyone else) are at opposite ends of the Belief in the Supernatural spectrum, and, well, Mary Steenburgen and Julie Hagerty are at opposite ends of the spectrum of, let's say carnal knowledge. At first, anyhow. Sorry... SPOILER ALERT. Julie seems to be playing the opposite of what she did in Airplane!, it's probably safe to say. Then again, there's the auto pilot... ah, skip it.
I wonder if there's ever been cast reunions of any of Woody's films. This one would be an interesting one. I mean, Mary Steenburgen? Julie Hagerty? Mia's probably busy, but the other two haven't done any other Woody pics, have they? They didn't stick around as long as Caroline Aaron, that's fer sure.
I guess there's a fair amount of food for thought here, and of course there's the lush locations of what I'm assuming is upstate New York. Walden's backyard! With blatant animals to boot. DP Gordon Willis worked harder than he wanted to, let's put it that way. Then again... there is a blatant "midnight" scene. Full moons sure are brighter in New York!
Woody seemed to be taking a break from his usual angst-ridden film here, which is kinda nice in a way. A rare celebration of the outdoors, and of course probably a challenge to the crew to make a period piece, with period cars and a lack of modern conveniences. But the same old themes are there: can there be passionate Platonic love? Is marriage really "the death of hope"? Are man and wife doomed to grow into brother and sister? (my extrapolation; at least the South cuts to the chase and eliminates the middleman, am I right?) Woody himself channels the spirit of Groucho Marx and sums it up beautifully: "I think love and sex are two different things. Sex relieves tension, love creates it." Might as well end with that.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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