Tag Archives: Woody Allen

Clint Eastwood’s America

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Clint Eastwood’s America
By Sam B. Girgus
Polity – £15.99

 
”His Bogart-like penchant for losers who function outside of society raises the question of the real meaning of winning and losing, succeeding and failing in corrupt, dishonest, and dysfunctional societies.”

 

Yes, I’d have to pretty much agree with all of the above, especially in relation to its succinct, descriptive analysis, of the continuing and ever prevalent work of Clint Eastwood. A most understated actor and director of such profound social awareness, it’s hard if not almost impossible, to find a recent comparison.

The above quote comes from the eighteenth page of this book’s Introduction, but one can stumble upon almost any page of Clint Eastwood’s America and find something that jumps out and makes one think – without any (remote) sense of trepidation whatsoever.

Not only of the actor himself; but America itself.

As Hunter Vaughan of Oakland University states: ”Girgus sharpens his ongoing scholarship on cinema and ethics with this thought-provoking analysis of Clint Eastwood, who has evolved into arguably the most conflicted and divisive American cinema icon, amd the ultimate symbol of what is best and worst about a national ideology and its film culture.”

In chapter five (Flags Of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima: History Lessons on Time and The Stranger), the author, Sam B. Gircus writes: ”Gaining from the experience of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), Eastwood begins Flags Of Our Fathers with a complexity that constitutes a form of self-reflection that eschews standard Hollywood direction for popular films and conventional Hollywood narrative styles. Such self-reflection elucidates truth-seeking processes and the problematic nature of truth in general in both historical films and works of fiction.”

What’s interesting here, is the rather wide, sociological aperture through which Gircus invites us – as both readers and film-goers – to ponder and investigate (perhaps further).

Moreove, the book’s 282 pages as a whole convey something of a wide aperture, simply because some of the dense, political depth articulated. Not only the ”truth-seeking processes” itself – which, unbeknown to many Americans, the ghastly Donald Trump in particular, is an alien concept – but ”complexity that constitutes a form of self-reflection.” The latter of which, has always been an elongated area of Eastwood’s work as a whole.

To be sure, what Woody Allen has done for the slightly dysfunctional Jewish New Yorker with a penchant for psycho-analysis, Eastwood has done for the existentialsit loner with a penchant for the truth: ””You don’t have to like incest to watch Hamlet. But it’s in the story” […]. Million Dollar Baby does not attempt to justify mercy killing. It does not make a general case for euthanasia under particular circumstances. Such readings misrecognise the ethical and moral achievement of the film. Million Dollar Baby makes an important case for the power of film art to dramatize complex ethical engagement” (Mo Cuishle: A New Religion In Million Dollar Baby).

To be sure, much of Eastwood’s directorial work, covers the ever widening gambit of life’s ever increasing fraught anthropological complexities – and this altogether excellent engagement of that very issue, accounts for Clint Eastwood’s America being an absolutely top-shout of a read.

So go ahead, make your day (punk), and get yourself a copy.

David Marx

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Woody Allen – Film By Film

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Woody Allen – Film By Film
Introductory Interview With Woody Allen
By Jason Solomons
Carlton Books – £25.00

”You could see Woody Allen’s out-of-time physical clowning as a corrective to our own assumptions of intellectual superiority, and there’s always humour in
seeing an inadequate Jewish man trapped within all this mechanical paraphernalia, usually trying to impress a girl. It’s a humour tinged with tragedy, of course, a crushing, absurdist comic mechanism.”

Reading this book is almost as good and enjoyable as watching Woody Allen’s films. The prime difference being, when watching his movies, you’re concentrating on
what you’re hearing and seeing: the movie itself – replete with the actors, the dialogue, the direction and naturally everything that watching movies entails.

Whereas reading Woody Allen – Film By Film, you’re fundamentally concentrating on more of the man. More of the artist. An invitation, which, if you care to think about, really is altogether fabulous, because Woody Allen doesn’t exactly show up betwixt the pages of glossy magazines every other week.

All we essentially have to go by, is the work – which is as it admittedly should be.

But within these 253 pages (excluding Index), we get a variant of inviting (colour) close-ups of Woody Allen the artist, the writer, the stand-up, the ragingly up-tight Jewish New Yorker.

Plus, dare I say it, that which makes the man tick.

So be it behind or in front of the camera, this exceedingly wonderful book brings Woody to the fore, in a way I have personally never come across before.

This is partially achieved by exploring the didactic subject matter of the work itself. From a premise might I add, that is not only surprisingly in depth, but which reflects on each and every one of us in a profoundly idiosyncratic and inadvertent manner: ”Woody Allen’s films capture the absurdity of life and love, the humour and the pain. He can somehow nail what is most modern and evolved about us and yet also skewer our most basic, primal urges. His characters take us to the abyss and yet transport us, in fits of laughter, on flights of fantasy. Alvy Singer, Fielding Mellish, Harry Block, Gil Pender – all these creations with their ties and stammers, their inadequacies, desires and thick glasses, are far removed from most of us, yet in them we see ourselves reflected.”

That we do – which probably accounts for Allen’s relentless popularity.

Indeed, through the perplexing and quite often, poignant prism of his huge body of work – the bar of which has remained uncontestedly high throughout most of his career – we the audience, are subliminally reminded of our own doubts. Our own desires. Our very own, uncontested pangs of ridicule and remorse.

Not to mention the variant short-coming(s) of comedic sexuality. Comedic, simply because, whether it’s Alvy Singer himself, or an array of other fictitious characters; we, as film-goers, readers and society, can, and do, so very strongly relate to them all. Characters whom again and again, we meet ”throughout this book, and many more, male and female, all of them prismatic reflections of both of us and their creator, Woody Allen. Can we separate these fictitious folk from his life and our lives? Can he, especially when he plays most of them, or his real-life girlfriend does? As Alvy says of writing his first, rudimentary play in Annie Hall: ”You know, you always try to get things to come out perfect in art because, uh, it’s real difficult in life…” This book will examine the career-long tussle between the two.”

Lest it be said there are a menagerie of terrific one liners scattered throughout Woody Allen – Film By Film, which is another aspect that makes flicking through the pages, ever more inviting:

”My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.”
”I believe that there’s an intelligence to the universe, except for certain parts of New Jersey.”
”I was born in the Hebrew persuasion but I converted to narcissism.”
”Drew Barrymore sings so badly, deaf people are afraid to watch her lips move.”
”My view of reality is that it’s a grim place to be… but it’s the only place you can get Chinese food.”

That said, there is, as previously mentioned, an in-depth quality to almost all of the writing contained herein; of which the following, from the chapter ‘Themes, Styles and Motifs’ is a most pertinent example: ”What typifies Woody Allen’s films is their remarkable facility for toggling between past and present, slipping into different modes with a smooth economy and narrative precision. Despite these huge leaps of logic, the audience are rarely left wondering: ”What just happened?” or ”Is this a dream sequence?” or ”Wait, how is he talking to his mother?” There is never any need for wobbly visual dissolves,special effects or Twilight Zone-style music to signal this alternate mode. And Woody can do it in any genre or tone: Midnight in Paris, Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Another Woman – in all these films, characters wonder the rooms of their past and interact with other characters to comic, philosophical or tragic effect. The weird thing is that it never, not for a second, feels weird at all.”

Compartmentalized into five specific sections, the book is made up of the five decades in which Woody Allen has been making films. Starting with the 1960s (with What’s New Pussycat in 1965) and concluding with the 2000s (by way of 2015’s Irrational Man), this nigh un-put-down-able, absolutely superb book, is a resolute MUST for any discerning, serious fan or admirer of Allen’s work.

Woody Allen – Film By Film is quite possibly the next best thing to a new release; the one difference being, you can both enjoy and refer to it, at random and at will.

David Marx

Love Poems

LovePoems

Love Poems
By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn
Norton & Company – £12.99

In the Forward of this altogether intensely colourful collection Bertolt Brecht – Love Poems, the poet’s last surviving child, Barbara Brecht-Schall coquettishly writes: ”Papa loved women, many women […], and he was faithful to each of them. I still do not understand the attraction […]. To be completely honest, Bidi – the nickname that I used for him, a name he acquired as a little boy in Augsburg – did not wash enough and wore long underwear, well after it was fashionable. But even as a young girl, I remember that women, like flies to honey, would always find him witty and charming. His passion, whether expressed to women, to his art, or to his children, seemed all-encompassing.”

Said exposition of deep passion and (self) belief, whether its manifestated through that of art, music or indeed politics, has always been something of an abreaction – the original word of which, oddly enough, stems from the German, Abreagierung – induced aphrodisiac between the sexes. Of particular bemusement, not to mention indelible proof, is the fact that women need not always be attracted by the tall, dark and exceedingly dull type of man such as Fitzwilliam Darcy – unless of course you happen to be Keira Knightley (in which case, all artistic merit counts for nada).

For confirmation, one need only think of the effect Adolf Hitler had on women. Likewise, Jean-Paul Sartre, Woody Allen or more recently, Peter Crouch – all three of whom wouldn’t be quite so alluring to women were they mere bus conductors or fruit wholesalers.

So in answer to Brecht’s daughter’s, aforementioned comments with regards the wearing of long underwear, her father’s attraction went f-a-r beyond such norm parameters as staid visibility and hygiene. The attraction lie surely in her father’s conviction to the everyday. Not to mention the commitment to his work – of which Hannah Arendt once wrote: ”Brecht staked his life and his art as few poets have ever done.” Like Goethe, write unquestionably talented translators David Constantine and Tom Kuhn: ”Brecht was always more or less in love.’ A place where we have all invariably found ourselves from time to time. Although amid these 107 pages, it’s a love that ”is expressed, discussed, enacted in an astonishing variety of modes, forms, tones, and circumstances.”

All of which need to be read and fully visualised, before even beginning to contemplate love and life’s next move – of which Brecht was clearly something of a potential master: ”In circumstances of great inhumanity, the poem may awaken a memory of circumstances more worthy of human beings.” This is clarified in last November’s edition of New Republic, where William Giraldi wrote: ”Brecht believed that art should function as the instigation for revolt. Art must be useful, must serve the gritty aims of practicality. No self-important prettiness, no ”willing suspension of disbelief,” no Aristotelian catharsis. Brecht would rather you not be so bourgeois as to feel anything; instead, think about what you’re seeing and then go depose your tranquillized leaders.”

The German playwright and poet, apparatchik of the polemic and devout communist, left a legacy of over 2,000 poems at the time of his death in 1956 – of which Love Poems is a tiny, tiny, tip of both the passionate and the profound.

David Marx