From the moment in Annie Hall when he led Marshall McLuhan out from behind a film hoarding in a New York cinema I have been a huge fan of Woody Allen. He is America’s best writer director of ensemble urban comedies – truly a unique filmmaker.
Away from the homages, special screenings, classic films, away from the red carpet ride to that palace of dreams, away from the Cinema Paradiso deep in the watery hearts of those days of ‘how it used to be before they built the new Palais.’ Away from the game before it became the game it is “guarded by thin-lipped security experts..” (Roger Ebert).
Away from: This is a business after all, bringing in hundreds of millions (billions) annually. Away from the other Cannes down in the concrete heated bowels of an airless bunker where the sharp weave themselves into tongued-tied hoarse and whispery tanglings over business fits and contracts and suits.
Away from the silver screen stars of present and past, Charles Bronson and Miss Piggy, Arnold, Bruce, Brad, Brigitte, Mel, Kirk, Michael, Woody or Penelope, away from the belle epoque hotel suites and facades, away from yachts as big as small apartment blocks stock stilled by the importance of those they house out in the wide bay, away from those gleaming bright decks, practiced sunglasses, strategic smiles, away from trained binocularists, the annual crush and cheap ticket ride along the promenading, skateboard Croisette, away from the blinding baroque plaster, the guest only dinners, friend-of-a-friend-who-knows-a-friend ticket-only beach parties, away from the clickety-click crush of pass-only photo shoots, prized seats under the balcony, away from ‘go easy I’m-not-wearing-makeup’, away from the bright-new-glory of my-new-found-fame, those bullish, brave, belligerent and bereft smiles, away from the silent jeering, away from the exclusion zones out in the streets.
Away from get away from who-are-you-and-who-do-you-know big films and titles, away from that winnowy fame and limouey celebrity, over in the back blue road of Mediterraneanised cinema, over in – I only hole up in the dark to witness creative endeavour – over in this other plane and train load of tourist-class, over in the world you mostly will never hear talk long enough to remember how to forget, over in the altogether smaller world of Un Certain Regard, with a jury presided over by Tim Roth.
Among the yet no-so unfamous such as Benicio DEL TORO, Pablo TRAPERO, Julio MEDEM, Elia SULEIMAN, Juan Carlos TABIO, Gaspard NOÉ et Laurent CANTET with 7 DIAS EN LA HABANA @ 2h and 5m, four first-filmers, Brandon Cronenberg (yes, that Cronenberg) with ANTIVIRAL @ 1h and 50m, Ashim AHLUWALIA with MISS LOVELY @ 1hr 50m, and Juan Andrés Arango with LA PLAYA @ 1h and 30m.
Roth’s own brit pack ever-repressed to boiling anger ride through names and changes in life and cinema from Dulwich to Los Angeles via works by Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Greenaway, Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Nic Roeg, John Sayles, Wim Wenders, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola seems to offer interesting, experimental possibilities as what might emerge as the final choice.
Watching the video of the Guardian’s group of UK film critics on their annual junket to Cannes, sitting around a half empty glass of blanche, un bicchiere di bianco, mezza affogata nell’alcol doing the Guardian’s wrap up video Cannes film festival roundup: ‘A year of Prophets and Basterds, scandals and stars’, watching them get it so completely and utterly and horribly wrong on what and who would win, with at least one expert exhibiting an ‘Oh oh I’m gedding a liddle tipthsy’ half giggle, was one of the best laughs at Cannes 2009 in a year that seemed notably spare of the real thing up on screen.
The film hardheads guarding our take and hold on the fourth dimensional art form, displayed zero-none insight into the Cannes Festival Jury’s collective mind or political process of selection. It had me wondering if they ever got out of the UK film village at all over the two weeks. They weren’t idiots, don’t get me wrong. Intelligent, personable, likable almost – they just didn’t know anymore than you or me, their comments about as good as yours or mine on any given film at any given glassy-eyed moment. I mean who really knows what’s good or not in cinema? God only knows why or how anyone wins awards at these events – what really does go on behind those draped windows? Can you imagine the jury, sorry, The Jury, sitting around seriously trying to be serious about their role. I mean it’s a junket, an annual film publicity junket in a lovely breezy May-warm part of the French Mediterranean. Time to get the sunglasses and floppy linen out and the dingly-dangly things and say words from romance languages almost as the French do…okay, simulate the French.
But after being there and getting back and seeing the Guardian get it horribly, no, miserably, wrong, I thought I’ll have a go at being a film critic too. I went and sat through Synecdoche at the Rio Cinema and here’s my review:
It was an interesting film, an interesting two hours plus of my time spent indoors on a warmish rainless spring afternoon in London. I left the cinema thinking: real life aint so bad after all.
For me Charlie Kaufman is a genius, or the closest thing to true genius that film, well, the closest thing to true genius that American film… well, there’s also Woody Allen, an influence on him and his work Kaufman said. So who’s first and who’s better? Well…See it all gets very silly, very quickly, not just the genius tagging bit but film criticism all round.
Synecdoche is an uncompromising portrait of a human being doing everything but slip down the toilet before your eyes, all written and directed by someone who wrote Being John M, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine – we are talking serious film writing ability here. But Synecdoche is tough to watch. Not impossible, not horrible or miserable, well yes it is miserable – and between Woody Allen’s division of the world, “miserable” or “horrible”, this is Kaufman’s “miserable”.
It brought Woody Allen to mind, it brought Fellini back to me, Coppola, really anyone who made a film that was a tough ask, a tough sit, at least once, in their hey or other days. Bring on the heh heh days I say, because there seems to be a moment in many famous filmmaking careers when the auteur inside says screw the audience, screw entertainment, screw the laughs I’m going to give them a piece of my art, one from the heart ART.
It also brought to mind a scene in Woody Allen’s Anything Else, David Dobel (Woody Allen) and his protege Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) walking, nutty Dobel giving Falk some more sage advice.
DOBEL What goals.. wh-what are these goals?
FALK I want to write a novel, Dobel, a novel about man’s fate in the empty universe, no god, no hope, just human suffering and loneliness.
DOBEL Yeah well I’d stick to the jokes if I were you, that’s where the money is.
….Okay I’m a philistine, so what else is new.