Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Hollywood Ending (2002)

Then Hollywood Ending has notoriously gone unreleased in the UK even on dvd. I eventually found a region one copy at Vinyl Exchange in Manchester. It still has their sales sticker on it. £12. I’m guessing the first time I watched it was in 2003 since I’ve been annoyed about it on my blog a few times since.

Now After the revision of my appreciation of Curse of the Jade Scorpion, my hopes were high for Hollywood Ending – could it be that after the same number of years my appreciation of this film could have changed as well? Was this a hidden classic? Leonard Maltin seemed to think so according to the box were he’s quoted as saying “I laughed out loud … Woody Allen at his best.” The omission denoted by the ellipsis is important. Because as far as I can see all Maltin could possibly have said is “I laughed out loud at the ineptitude. This is not Woody Allen at his best.”

The problems are numerous. Many of them signalled by the trailer.

The self-refentialism, for example, is as horrifying as it is breathtaking. Woody plays a New York film director who apparently made a previous picture called Manhattan Magic who’s seen as being past his prime and trying to find his come back project. He likes to be left to his own devices and won’t let anyone see his work until it’s finished. Effectively, having built up the mystique of his films displaying a kind of mythic version of his biography, he’s trying to turn it to his advantage which somehow makes him look like a tired filmmaker running out of ideas.

The blindness. The idea of a director becoming blind on the edge of making a film isn’t horrible – it sounds like the stuff of a Bergman film in fact. Except that the audience has a suspension of disbelief disconnect because no one on the crew other than a few select people who are “in on the secret” seem to notice even though the man is looking in the wrong direction all of the time and is often confused. Anyone tuning into the film half way through would be asking themselves why the director is blind and no one is mentioning it.

But the nature of the blindness is incoherent also; Woody’s character also doesn’t appear to have any audio acuity, he can’t also seem to tell from which direction someone is talking often conducting conversations with blank air even if the someone is sitting right next to him. Early on, during a pitch meeting, he mentions that he’s going deaf in his left ear but to no degree does that explain why he would need someone to turn him in the right direction to face someone speaking to him in a clear voice.

Even though much of the film takes place on what purports to be a film set, none of it looks like a proper film set and even if Woody’s character wasn’t afflicted there’s not much chance that the final film wouldn’t come out looking cheap and incoherent. In other words, this doesn’t look like the $60 million project this film within a film purports to be. This isn’t often a problem – and indeed in Bullets Over Broadway, the play hardly looked realistic. But even if Woody is trying to make a Hollywood satire, the fakeness is distracting.

When characters watch the dailies, they all comment on the fact that none of them make any sense that there are weird angles as though this was caused by the director’s blindness. Except that a decent cinematographer, albeit a Chinese cinematographer working through a translator, would surely, at the very least, be able to point the camera in such a way as to make the shots match up and make sure that was the case. Again, admittedly, this is supposed to be a farce, but if the viewer is stressing about this kind of detail, something major has happened at large.

But perhaps most damning, Woody seems have lost the capacity to see what his film is about, what’s working. Because outside of the strange blindness scenes and weird film satire ("I want to congratulate Haley Joel Osment on his life achievement award") the relationship scenes, the moments between the director and his ex-wife and later his son are as beautifully played as anything in his previous work. Téa Leoni is just wonderful in those moments when she’s recalling her marriage and at best her interaction with Woody recalls Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. But none of that can hide the unfortunate fact that this is Woody's first self-directed stinker.

The film is way too long and I’m wondering what might have happened if in trimming the twenty minutes that should have gone (back to his usual 90 minute running time), he couldn’t have lost the bulk of the blindness scenes in order to drag the film back to what it really wants to be which is a relationship drama with moments of slapstick along the lines of Manhattan Murder Mystery. Then, when the film opened the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, he wouldn’t have necessarily been relying on the final joke about his films being better appreciated in Europe to get the audience on side.


Clair said...

Ah yes, blindness. As featured as a plotline in Crimes and Misdemeanors. Allen is very into recycling, isn't he?

Stuart Ian Burns said...

Of course it did. But then it was being used as a thematic device here it's pure slapstick. That's the arc of his career demonstrated perfectly.