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Posts Tagged ‘cinema’

Cinema of bygone days

Recently I was listening to one of the podcasts I subscribe to, one with the unfortunate title of “political gabfest” (I happen to think this is a really dumb title and that I would never listen regularly to something with the stupid name of “gabfest”– and at first I didn’t, but now I am hooked). At the end of the conversation, one of the participants opined that Woody Allen’s films were utterly meaningless in the larger scheme of things, and that 50 or 100 years from now, no  one would find any value in them whatsoever.

That took me aback.  I grew up watching Woody Allen movies, from Bananas and Broadway Danny Rose in high school to Crimes and Misdemeanors and The Purple Rose of Cairo in college.  I must admit that my viewership has fallen off in the intervening years, so that while Allen seems to produce about a movie per year, I probably watch about one every three years.  And, the current ones seem to simply reproduce the “Woody Allen” brand. But surely, just because a writer/director has gotten a little stale, it doesn’t mean that his entire body of work is meaningless, does it?

To test my gut feeling, I borrowed a copy of Hannah and Her Sisters from the public library.  Like many, I consider Annie Hall to be Allen’s best, and because I like it so much, I re-watch it every two or three years.  So, I picked one that I hadn’t seen since it first appeared– in this case, in the late 1980s.  Yes, the movie is dated– the clothing and hairstyles attest to that.  But meaningless?  No.

To recap the movie’s plot:  Mia Farrow plays Hannah, one of three adult sisters.  Divorced from Woody Allen’s character, she is married to a well-to-do financial advisor played by Michael Caine, and is raising several young children.  Her sisters are somewhat less stable: one is a directionless intellectual in a longterm relationship with her former art professor, while the other is a perennially out of work actress with a drug problem.  Hannah’s family gathers each year at the home of her parents, also former show-biz performers with their own dramatic issues.

Like many of Woody Allen’s other movies, the plot of HaHS revolves around sex and men’s sexual urges.  For some, that might equate to triviality or meaninglessness.  But the movie is not entirely about sex or lust.  It’s about relationships and family, about the continuum of love and its expression.  Hannah’s family might be urbane and steeped in show biz, but they are also like many other families: permeated with a complicated mix of jealousy, irritation, attachment, and care.  The fragile members are held up by the strong ones, and at times the distribution of strength and effort seems unfair.  Money complicates the relationships even more:  all three of the sisters rely, to a certain extent, on Hannah’s husband’s ample income. 

As I describe the plot of this movie, I am reminded of another author whose work may have seemed unlikely to persevere:  Jane Austen.   Her books are steeped in time and setting, are driven heavily by the intricacies of relationships between characters, and have something to say about the way that money motivates the characters’ actions.

So, maybe I don’t have the perspective yet to know whether audiences of the future will find any meaning in Woody Allen’s work.  I predict that if they choose the right film, they will agree with me that his work does have lasting value.  But, only time will tell.

photo by Colin Swan, licensed by Creative Commons

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