Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Interiors (1978)

Then As an alternative to my usually foggy memory as when exactly I watched some of these films, I can confidently tell you that I first view Interiors on the 22nd March 2004 because I noted it down ready for this blog's end of year review in which I listed everything seen on television and in film (and something things listened to) during the preceding twelve months. It was on the same day as a BBC World Service documentary about the world wide web, Two Weeks Notice and Shadows & Fog. I’ve subsequently said some very nasty things about that whole endeavour, but on reflection it’s a fascinating snapshot of my tastes from then. They haven’t changed much at all.

Now In hindsight it’s easy to see that Interiors was the expression of a auteur wanting to communicate his ideas through a different tone, the rest of the decade bringing a stream of relatively sophisticated comedies. But after Annie Hall, audiences and critics might have suspected this was actually an unwelcome change of direction, that Woody had moved on to a completely different phase in his career. If Manhattan had already been mentioned in Variety, reader might have had a clue about the tone. As Allen tells Bjorkman:
“people were so shocked and so disappointed with me that I broke my contract with them […] and particularly with this kind of drama […] they felt there was a solemnity to it, which I like in films. […] And then let’s not forget this was the first time I did a drama, so my lack of experience and skills didn’t help me […] There were people who accused me of bad faith.”
Perhaps if he’d offered them something with a certain amount of levity – to an extent Hannah And Her Sisters is the same thing with more jokes (three sisters, emotional trauma, Sam Waterson) – the audience might have been more forgiving. But from the opening moments in which Waterson’s work is interrupted by his mother-in-law’s interior decorating meltdown – the kind of polite cruelty that was the cornerstone of Ozu’s work is plastered across the walls of every scene.

The editing is stately, Willis’s photography claustrophobic and when characters are granted leave to smile, perhaps after seeing a remarkable card trick, it’s undercut by a disapproving glance from across the room. This late 70s audience was also expected to accept the serious version of Diana Keaton in the Woody Allen universe after Annie Hall had apparently encapsulated and defined her screen presence. From what I can see, only Roger Ebert was willing to accept this short detour for what it was.

The trailer can't have helped either ...

... which is to some extent counter-productive. When we here that Gene Shalit of NBCtv calls it "A masterpiece. It ranks with the finest films ever made. A work of art. You must see it" we're expecting something fairly majestic. Cut to two people in a room wining at each other. To an extent that undoubtedly prepares the audience, explains to them this isn't typical Woody Allen nonsense, but in this and the rest of the quotes there an over extension, an increase in expectation that no film could deliver on.

Despite that the film, both in style and content would go one to influence a range of filmmakers from Whit Stillman to Noah Baumbach, with everything from Barcelona to The Squid and the Whale revisiting the lives of these kinds of pseudo-intellectuals that Woody characterises as “Ozymandia Melancholic”, figures on the cusp of realising that art doesn’t save you. Again in the Bjorkman interview he notes:
“art to me has always been entertainment for intellectuals, Mozart or Rembrandt of Shakespeare are entertainers on a very high level. It’s a level that brings a great sense of excitement, stimulation and fulfilment to people who are sensitive and cultivated but it doesn’t save the artist.”
The key scene occurs when the father presents his new wife to his daughters and their significant others. Their mother, a giant matriarch has been reduced to a confused emotional cripple with suicidal tendencies and been replaced by a woman who to them seems uneducated. She’s already talked about international travel but can’t articulate what she’s seen and says things like “once you’ve seen one church …” and does nothing to measure up to the person their father has cast aside.

Since you’re the kind of pseudo-intellectual who watches serious Woody Allen films inspired by Chekhov and O’Neill and thought yourself clever enough to laugh at all the jokes in Annie Hall, up until this point you’ve identified with these characters and you wince along with them. But then at the dinner table as the conversation turns to matters of state and academia you realise that they’re being hopelessly impolite and you begin to question your own feelings of superiority towards “this woman”.

Then when the youngest sister plants the final blow “She’s a vulgarian” you’re wincing for a completely different reason and you're given an opportunity to look at yourself, and your arrogant superiority, in a different light.

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