Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Anything Else (2003)

Then We’ve now reached the films which I’ve already reviewed on this blog. I visited Anything Else at screen 3 of Picturehouse at FACT on Wood Street on Wednesday August 18th 2004 and wrote about it here: “Yet again I find myself rush headlong against general critical opinion. Does it do anything absolutely new? No. Does it at times feel like Woody Allen by numbers? Yes. But it doesn't matter. I would much rather go to the cinema and see something with a script which is half literate with a good 10-15 belly laughs and god forbid actually makes me think than the usual crud which passes itself off as a smart twentysomething comedy. The magic this time is that despite what poster might being telling you, these aren't perfect characters. For once the director lets their mess of neurosis come into conflict and see what happens.”

Now My critical opinion of the film hasn’t changed since I first saw it an I’d urge you to look at my comments from way back when since it saves me regurgitating them here, with the added observation of how similar those four paragraphs are to these reaction pieces. Since then I’ve watched Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park and noticed the similarities, the manic pixie dream girl and the romantic straight arguing in a tiny New York apartment, the matriarchal visitation. Of course, that’s slightly less psychoanalytical (slightly?) and Jane Fonda easier to love and understand than Christina Ricci, but the comparison stands and underscores what I was suggesting, when I was writing about the eighties, that Allen and Simon are working in roughly the same genre.

Similarly since first viewing, my film school sensibilities mean that I pay closer attention to the details of production, most specifically the mis-en-scene; we’re in an interesting period were Woody is changing photographers for each film – after decades collaborating with a particular crew member. Darius Khondji’s an interesting choice. He originated in Paris eventually working with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on the likes of Delicatessen and City of Lost Children before moving to Hollywood and working with Fincher on Seven and Panic Room, and Bertolluci on Stealing Beauty one of my guilty pleasures. But all of these films have a different flavour and unlike Gordon Willis he becomes invisible with each director. I didn’t realise his range until I read his IMDb page.

Anything Else has a particularly theatrical look. Most of the scenes play out in just a few shots, but unlike some of the nineties films were the camera shifted about manically trying to take in all the action, the characters tend sit within shot or the camera pans with them slowly. Steady cam’s are generally from the front, car shots from the side. The general impression is of putting the cinema audience in the position of a theatre audience watching the actors play within the scenery in front of them. That’s especially underscored by the moments in which Biggs breaks out of the scenes (in much the same way as John Cusack in High Fidelity or Ian McShane in Lovejoy) blinks through the forth wall and addresses us. It’s another narrative device to fill in gaps in the time-frame, but also draws us in.

I think it’s these unusual touches which, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, made Anything Else one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films of the past roughly twenty years. Granted he’s also included Friday with Ice Cube but when you consider who he is and everything else he's selected, most of them fairly iconic, it's fairly incredible. Here is the list in video form as Quent auditions for the Film 2010 job:

He's right about Speed though I still think The Matrix holds up even with the bizarre mythology of the other two which improve immeasurably once you've heard the critics commentaries in the dvds. I’m digressing, but if any readers do happen to be interviewing Quentin at some point, I would be interested to know quite what it is that he loves about Anything Else ahead of the vast number of other films in the same genre which have been released in this time period.

I touched on the publicity in the first review, but looking again at the dvd box it is fairly disingenuous. Woody is listed in the cast and in the credits on the back and there is a photo of him on the inlay. But the main image of Ricci in a heart being carried by Biggs does suggest something rather more mainstream than what is there. As Roger Ebert says: “It's as if they have the treasure of a Woody Allen movie and they're trying to package it for the "American Pie" crowd.” It’s a much more complex than that. This playing down of the director’s participation would continue for the rest of the decade but it’s especially sad because in hindsight this is the last film (up until now) which would see Woody the actor philosophising on the streets of Manhattan and at his usual landmarks.

1 comment:

abhay india said...

the fickleness of the female gender. insecurities love brings on it's way.
our urge to change and alter life. anything else.

" I would be interested to know quite what it is that he loves about Anything Else ahead of the vast number of other films in the same genre which have been released in this time period."