Woody Allen


"A plethora of people have written about Woody Allen", John Lahr said
"and they either like him or dislike him. But no one has yet managed, I
think, to interpret him." Woody Allen has been revered as one of the
brilliant artists of the twentieth century and at the same time called
a pervert. His works have been called jokes but also masterpieces. Many
critics have tried to explain why Allen writes the things he writes but
not one has had success. The drive and brilliance of Allen has not
been understood yet. Seeing his movies gives us two opposing views. One
is the screwball comedian who is obsessed with death and sex while the
other is the serious artist commenting on and criticizing our society.
The latter view is more difficult to grasp but is nonetheless there.
Through different film techniques Allen mocks our society and film
industry without us even realizing. His most widely used technique to
do this is the film within a film. In movies such as The Purple Rose of
Cairo, Play It Again Sam and Hannah and Her Sisters Allen uses this
technique to show us his opinion on a particular subject, and also uses
it as a driving force behind his movies.The most notable use of film
within a film in Allen?s movies occurs in, The Purple Rose of Cairo.
The time is The Depression and the scene a small town. Cecilia (Mia
Farrow) is the central figure in the movie. She is married to an
abusive gambler and heavy drinker. To cope and escape her problems,
Cecilia constantly goes to a nearby movie theater called The Jewel.
There she spends hours on end watching movies, sometimes the same one
more than three times. When she gets fired one day from her job, she
goes to The Jewel and watches a movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo
"at least five times" (Blake 117). On her fifth time watching the
movie, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) jumps out from the movie and enters
the theater telling Cecilia that he has noted her faithful presence and
is attracted to her. As they leave the theater together, the actors in
the movie aimlessly wonder around bewildered by what had just
transpired. Deeply concerned is the real life actor of Tom Baxter, Gil
Shephard because this misfortune could "wreck his blossoming
career"(Kauffmann 37). To add to the trouble, other cities have
reported that the Baxter character has stepped out of The Purple Rose
of Cairo in various theaters and has disappeared. Why would 
Woody Allen

create such a unrealistic movie critics called "the most innovative single film during his period of startling originality"? (Blake 116) Well, in his own words he wanted to show, "the difference between fantasy and reality and how seductive fantasy is and how, unfortunately, we must live with reality, and how painful that can be" (Girgus 70). In making The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen wanted to show us the way film influences our opinion of real life experiences. This is portrayed through one of Allen?s major themes: "the sovereignty of fantasy even in the humblest". (Kauffmann 38). Cecilia?s desire and imagination are so strong that they penetrate the boundary of fantasy and reality to withdraw Tom Baxter from his cinematic world into our real one. "Like a modern-day Pinocchio, Tom is brought to life by the loneliness and suffering of another" (Lee 178). Her imagination is so strong that when Baxter comes out from the screen, he comes out complete, affecting everyone. He doesn?t come out as some ghost leaving his shell on the screen. Nor can only Cecilia hear or see him. More, her fantasy affects the lives of other people including the audience, the manager, the producer and the original actor of the film role. Even more than fantasy, Allen focuses on the power of movies to create an escape from the real world. It is no wonder Allen picked one of the hardest times to live in American history as a setting to the movie. The power of movies, Allen is saying, is so powerful that it can obliterate the pain associated with something as distressing as The Great Depression, even if only temporarily. As a child, Allen would cut school and spend hours in the movie house lost in the magical world of movies. ?I lived in Brooklyn, and on these hot, hazy summer days when it was humid andy you couldn?t move and nobody had anything to do, there were thousands of movie houses around, and you could walk in for 25 cents. Suddenly it was cool and air-conditioned and dark, and there was candy and popcorn. You could sit down and there would be two features. And you would see pirates and you would be on the sea. And then you would be in a penthouse in Manhattan with beautiful people. The next day you?d go to another movie house, and you?d be in a battle with the Nazis and in the second feature you?d be together with the Marx Brothers. It was just a total, total joy! The greatest kind of tranquilizer and embalmment you could think of. (Bjorkman 149) Cecilia parallels this in The Purple Rose of Cairo. We constantly see her trying to find an extra minute to sneak into the theater. At work, she is screamed at by the customers and her boss because she is either daydreaming or fantasizing about movies with her sister . We get the sense that work is an impediment to her movie going. "She is an addict using Hollywood as a substitute for her miserable life" (Girgus 75). At the theater, Cecilia thoroughly concentrates on the task at hand, the movie. Mesmerized by the movie, only the motion of her hand from her popcorn basket to her mouth gives us evidence that she is still alive. The movie theater is a sanctuary for her not only because it?s an escape but also because it gives her hope (Bjorkman 51). When Cecilia sat at the movies, she did not consider what happens to be fictional. On the contrary, she considered movies as the life of other people, luckier people, people that live far from her poor hometown in New Jersey. This nativity explains her decision at the end by choosing Gil Sheperd over Tom Baxter. By picking reality over fiction, she expected to live with a man in reality, though a fictional life. This new choice brings up another theme in The Purple Rose of Cairo, fiction versus reality. Not only does this theme require that the two mediums coexist but also that they oppose and contest each other. Cecilia wants to live in the fantasy world while Tom wants to come to the real world. When Tom Baxter comes off the screen, he acts with the same personality as he does in the movie. This makes Tom a nave, childlike character. In a scene when Gil Shepard confronts Tom, Tom expresses his opinion about realism. "I don?t want to be in film anymore, I love Cecilia". When Cecilia reciprocates Tom?s feelings, Gil responds to Cecilia, "How can you love him, he?s not real." "I can learn to be real", Tom says, defending himself. "You can?t learn to be real", Gil Shepard says, "like you can?t learn to be a midget. Some of us are real, some are not." Like Tom, Cecilia dreams of being on the other side of the screen. At one point, Tom decides to take her on a date into the movie with him. "The first words that come out of her mouth as she enters the screen are, "I feel like I?m walking on fluffy air." The plot of the inner movie resumes, temporarily, with Cecilia now a part of it. But shortly after Cecilia enters, Tom decides to forget about the plot and take her for a night on the town. At the end of the night, while they?re at Tom?s apartment, Gil shows up at The Jewel. Cecilia exits the movie world to join Gil while Tom follows her. Gil proclaims something new to Cecilia: he has fallen in love with her. Now Cecilia is confused. A week ago, she led a loveless life but now, two men love her, "and they?re both the same person" (Cecilia, The Purple Rose of Cairo). Everyone, including the movie cast, agree that Cecilia must choose either Gil or Tom. Tom says, "I?m honest, dependable, courageous, romantic and a great kisser." Gil simply responds, "Yeah, but I?m real." Cecilia sides with the latter. She now understands that she does not belong in the movie world just as Tom does not belong in the real one. She comforts Tom by saying, "In your world, things have a way of working out right." At those words, Tom sadly stumbles into the movie while Cecilia goes packing for Hollywood. On her return, she finds that Gil left without her. Betrayed, she goes back to her abusive life and relationship. The final betrayal is Woody?s comment on his view of reality. I think what it boils down to, really, is that I hate reality. And, you know, unfortunately it?s the only place where we can get a good steak dinner. It?s very seductive, fantasy, but we can?t live there permanently. (Bjorkman 50) The last and most intriguing point that Allen wants us to grasp is hard to detect and yet the whole movie is based on it. It is the mystical fact that an actor?s performance in a film, with his personality and voice, has a life completely independent of the actor?s own personality and voice that gave it being (Kauffmann 38). This is true with no other art except TV, which is basically film itself. The idea of a character rebelling against and threatening his creator, who is himself identical in every physical way, is more appalling than any other science fiction story of look alike humanoids because the mystery is part of our lives and around us everyday. The first sign of an actor having a distinct personality is when Tom Baxter talks to Cecilia. Seeing the movie five times, Cecilia know what the order of events should be. That is why she is completely surprised when Tom looks up from the screen and looks at her. "My god, you must really like this picture. You?ve been here all day and I?ve seen you here at least twice before. This is the fifth time you?re seeing this movie." At this moment, we realize that Tom has watched Cecilia throughout his performances and this fact is later reassured to us when Tom tells Cecilia he has observed her from the corner of his eye. During the next scene, Tom complains to Cecilia that he is hungry and in response, Cecilia give him a bag of popcorn. "So that?s what popcorn tastes like", says Tom. "I?ve been watching people eat it for all those performances. They rattle those bags. That really annoys me." This is a very important quote for it tells us that not only can Tom see the audience, he can also hear them. Even though Tom is the first one to show his personality, he?s not the only one. The other characters in the movie also come to life although they can?t escape their world. When Tom leaves the screen, the characters are left to bicker and fight. They develop individual personalities and carry on conversation with the audience. More, when Cecilia enters the movie and goes to dinner with Tom and his friends, the Maitre De and the woman Tom is supposed to marry recognize that Cecilia is not in the plot. When Tom takes Cecilia out on the town and announces to the other characters that they don?t have to follow the plot anymore, the Maitre De yells for the band to "hit it" and starts tap dancing across the floor. He explains that it has always been his ambition to dance and not to wait on people. This ambition certainly demonstrates that the Maitre De has a very unique personality that is different from the character he portrays. The greatest testament to this final theme occurs in a scene where the movie manager is talking to the characters onscreen. As the characters on the screen start fighting about who has a more important role, someone in the audience suggest to the manager that he just turn the projector off. A wild look crosses the character?s faces. One remarks, "No, don?t turn the projector off. It gets black and we disappear? You don?t understand what it?s like to disappear, to be nothing, to be annihilated. Don?t turn the projector off." Here, Woody is equating fictional figures with one of life?s ultimate events, death. Of course if the characters were totally fictional, as we first thought of them to be, they would be in a sense To view the rest of this essay you must be a screwschool member click here to become a member.

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