Friday, August 09, 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color

I grew up in Corpus Christi, TX. For my last couple of years of high school my family moved to the suburbs, outside of Tulsa, OK. I hated that place. After I graduated, in 1999, I moved to Portland, OR. And that's where I met most of the Reviewiera personnel.

In 1998 I enrolled in a film appreciation course at Tulsa Community College. For one semester, I made an A in that class, along with Fs in 4 others. My final paper was a superlative-ridden celebration of the first Woody Allen movie I'd seen, Celebrity (1998). That was the first film I'd admired the cinematography in--shot in black-and-white by Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman's longtime D. P., crowded with statuesque supermodels like Charlize Theron and the earthy ingenue Gretchen Mol--and the beginning of my obsession with all of Woody Allen's films.

Being in a small town I quenched my itch at collecting that had failed to persist with baseball cards, comic books, or other novelties by cataloguing my own Woody Allen filmography and watching every title I could find. I had bought my own satellite dish that showed many of them, the rest were only available on VHS.

I didn't hang on to my VHS tapes.

But Woody Allen's films will always remain vital.

I've made ageist comments about directors here before. However, the best screenplay of the year 2013 has been filmed by a 77 year old man.

Wealth attracts deception.

Woody Allen is known for having delightfully clever creations in his scripts that play with parallels. Like the sketch in Husbands and Wives (1992) about married Pepkin and playboy Knapp envying each other, all of Melinda and Melinda (2004), or Roy's and Strangler's respective fates in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010).

The screenplay for Blue Jasmine (2013) focuses on a tower of petite bourgeoisie characters headed by Hal (Alec Baldwin) that leave a deluge of disaffectedness, deception, and destruction at its base; although, the victims are the working class whom these noveau riche are family with, and find love with. The consistency that occurs most clearly is that men with money abuse women. But, early on Ginger (Sally Hawkins) defends her sister Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) by citing, "she wasn't the crook, he [Hal] was," which follows down the tower by disavowing Jasmine's culpability because she was oppressed by Hal, yet Ginger was innocent.

This movie is about "looking the other way," as Jasmine is accused of. The rich characters are devoid of ethics and if their middle class loved ones want anything at all to do with them, they must ignore their glaringly hostile transgressive-abusive natures.

Jasmine's rich backstory is told in flashbacks. This stuff is Woody Allen showing off his master screenwriting skills. It's charming. Every character is desperate to salvage some catastrophe on the verge of disaster, but it's modern and class-conscious. Jasmine is similar to some of the best roles Judy Davis acted out, as the hysteric jilted lover she so often played in other Allen films. But Jasmine goes insane for real, not movie ha ha insane, and this is where the story shows it's got balls.

The rich are made out to be insane for actually buying into the myth that they are above everyone else, and in the world of fiction that's fun to play around with. Why not? The WASP culture of material obsession is sickening in this film, and it's played for high drama. And it is because Allen is deriving his comedy from such a touchy real life source that it works so well. It's funny because it's true.

Allen has a couple of penetrating closeups that really compliment Blanchett's face. The scene where she boasts of her socialite life to Ginger's bewildered boys; the scene where she's without make-up at the end, lost, deranged.

Alec Baldwin has been in a few Woody Allen films before. He's great. But, Sally Hawkins really is the other half of Blanchett's movie. These are probably two of the most established American female leads of the year, and both of the women playing these characters are British--just a trivia note.

With the exception of Hal and Al (Louis C. K.), the men in this film are subservient to their women. And Hal and Al are the only guys who own their own businesses or are otherwise financially wealthy.

I first appreciated the way Allen can take real life situations and get so much out of class, sex, age, race, religion, and have mostly just scenes of people talking be so accomplished. But, at this late in his career, the fact that he's still covering this same material and getting more out of it is really something rare in movies.


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