Post Number: 134
|Posted on Monday, September 26, 2011 - 01:23 pm: ||
SOME REASONS WHY I HATED THE NEW WOODY ALLEN FILM
I told a friend that I hated the new Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. She asked me why…
First: Owen Wilson. For me, the problem with Owen Wilson is that he was caught between two demands of the film: he had to be a Woody Allen clone and deliver lines like Woody Allen. But he also had to be a leading man--good looks, etc. Woody looks funny, and you're prepared to laugh at his lines. I think some of the lines which fell rather flat when Wilson delivered them might have been funnier had Woody delivered them
I thought the film was vastly sentimental about Paris--walking in Paris in the rain, etc.--with its picture postcard opening. What does it really mean to live in a city--any city? But that wasn't my main complaint. I "hated" the film because of its totally phony nostalgia--nostalgia dished up for people who don't know anything about what the film was pretending to be nostalgic about. The guy who played Cole Porter, for instance, didn't look anything like Cole Porter and, worse, didn't sound like him. Porter recorded his songs to teach them to his actors so there are lots of examples of his singing. He had an interesting, raspy, slightly patrician voice. Allen used the Porter character singing Porter songs throughout the film--but, though he could have, he didn't use Porter's actual voice or even a good imitation. Porter's actual singing voice would have been a little too edgy for this sentimental film. Further: Owen Wilson says he recognizes Porter because he saw his photo on some sheet music. But Porter's photo was never on the sheet music of his songs. Sheet music carried photos of singers, not of composers--the only exception to this being Irving Berlin, who liked to emphasize the fact of his composition. Allen needed some way to explain why Wilson would recognize Porter. He could have said he saw his photo in the newspaper--but he didn't. Gertrude Stein is in the movie--one of the film's strongest elements. The woman who plays her is quite good, but if Woody Allen had included some of Stein's more outré lines--
Like and like likely and likely likely and likely like and like,
for instance--the film would have ground to a halt. Similarly, his Hemingway character keeps talking about "honesty," about a writer being "honest." Maybe that's what Woody Allen thinks Hemingway meant, but Hemingway never talked about being "honest." He used the word "true," but not "honest"--and there is a difference. (The notion of honesty affirms the individual: “At least he’s being honest.” The notion of the truth-teller, the soothsayer, does not. Telling the truth may in fact annihilate the person as individual.)
There were other things as well, but you get the idea. Like you, I love the period, but I hated the film because I felt it misrepresented the period, trivialized it, got it wrong in the interests of --what? Of making money, of course. The real Cole Porter, the real Gertrude Stein, the real Ernest Hemingway were far more interesting but far more edgy than the "celebrity versions" Allen includes here--presences Allen uses to make his film seem "hip," to help make it be a hit. Ok, the film is a hit--rather a big one by Woody Allen's standards. But it's also a lie.
POSTSCRIPT ON “HONESTY”—from my book, The Dancer & the Dance
I think the concept of “honesty” arises out of various Puritanical impulses. Puritans want people to choose one thing or another—indeed, at the expense of another. The great Puritan epic, Paradise Lost, is all about a wrong choice. I think this is tied to “honesty”: “What I really feel is this...”—and you leave out all the things that glimmer around a subject and perhaps contradict it. It is of course good form in our society to be on the side of “honesty”—emotional and intellectual. No one would tell you that honesty isn’t a wonderful thing. And yet: is it? Does it hide something which might call it into question? Is there a sense in which it is a denial and not an affirmation? Nietzsche is one of the very few who would attack honesty in the name of healthy lying. I’m afraid—to be as honest as I can possibly be—I agree with him. “Honesty” demolishes fictions: fictions, I think, are life. Puritans like nothing more than to demolish fictions, to destroy myths. But I think that myth is the only adequate way to understand the world—and that the Puritan position is itself in fact (what else?) a fiction, though it is a fiction claiming a moral superiority which it does not actually possess. It is the supreme arrogance of Puritanism that it believes its one fiction takes utter precedence over all other fictions: Puritan “honesty” is thus a kind of monotheism. The question is not whether one supports lies (“evasiveness”) or truth (“honesty”): the question is what kinds of fictions give life, what kinds give death?...
To a friend who asked questions: People tend to believe in “honesty” as an absolute: it’s always a good thing. And people get praised for their “honesty”—not necessarily for any particular kind of honesty, simply for being “honest.” But, if there are no absolutes, it’s possible that the virtue of honesty has its limitations, even its negations—especially when it becomes anti-mythology. I’m afraid I have a deep distrust of things Puritan—not to mention things everybody praises. In at least some senses, “honesty” is anti imagination: Tell the truth, be honest, don’t lie. To praise “honesty” is to praise not making fictions. Is that what we wish to tell our poets? Is that any way to arrive at new myths? Isn’t “honesty” an aspect of the Puritan distrust of the imagination—the impulse that made them close down the theaters in Shakespeare's time?