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Essay/Term paper: Woody allen

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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"A plethora of people have written about Woody Allen", John Lahr said
"and they either like him or dislike him. But no one has yet managed, I
think, to interpret him." Woody Allen has been revered as one of the
brilliant artists of the twentieth century and at the same time called
a pervert. His works have been called jokes but also masterpieces. Many
critics have tried to explain why Allen writes the things he writes but
not one has had success. The drive and brilliance of Allen has not
been understood yet. Seeing his movies gives us two opposing views. One
is the screwball comedian who is obsessed with death and sex while the
other is the serious artist commenting on and criticizing our society.
The latter view is more difficult to grasp but is nonetheless there.
Through different film techniques Allen mocks our society and film
industry without us even realizing. His most widely used technique to
do this is the film within a film. In movies such as The Purple Rose of
Cairo, Play It Again Sam and Hannah and Her Sisters Allen uses this
technique to show us his opinion on a particular subject, and also uses
it as a driving force behind his movies.The most notable use of film
within a film in Allen?s movies occurs in, The Purple Rose of Cairo.
The time is The Depression and the scene a small town. Cecilia (Mia
Farrow) is the central figure in the movie. She is married to an
abusive gambler and heavy drinker. To cope and escape her problems,
Cecilia constantly goes to a nearby movie theater called The Jewel.
There she spends hours on end watching movies, sometimes the same one
more than three times. When she gets fired one day from her job, she
goes to The Jewel and watches a movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo
"at least five times" (Blake 117). On her fifth time watching the
movie, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) jumps out from the movie and enters
the theater telling Cecilia that he has noted her faithful presence and
is attracted to her. As they leave the theater together, the actors in
the movie aimlessly wonder around bewildered by what had just
transpired. Deeply concerned is the real life actor of Tom Baxter, Gil
Shephard because this misfortune could "wreck his blossoming
career"(Kauffmann 37). To add to the trouble, other cities have
reported that the Baxter character has stepped out of The Purple Rose
of Cairo in various theaters and has disappeared. Why would Woody Allen
create such a unrealistic movie critics called "the most innovative
single film during his period of startling originality"? (Blake 116)
Well, in his own words he wanted to show, "the difference between
fantasy and reality and how seductive fantasy is and how,
unfortunately, we must live with reality, and how painful that can be"
(Girgus 70). In making The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen wanted to show
us the way film influences our opinion of real life experiences. This
is portrayed through one of Allen?s major themes: "the sovereignty of
fantasy even in the humblest". (Kauffmann 38). Cecilia?s desire and
imagination are so strong that they penetrate the boundary of fantasy
and reality to withdraw Tom Baxter from his cinematic world into our
real one. "Like a modern-day Pinocchio, Tom is brought to life by the
loneliness and suffering of another" (Lee 178). Her imagination is so
strong that when Baxter comes out from the screen, he comes out
complete, affecting everyone. He doesn?t come out as some ghost leaving
his shell on the screen. Nor can only Cecilia hear or see him. More,
her fantasy affects the lives of other people including the audience,
the manager, the producer and the original actor of the film role. Even
more than fantasy, Allen focuses on the power of movies to create an
escape from the real world. It is no wonder Allen picked one of the
hardest times to live in American history as a setting to the movie.
The power of movies, Allen is saying, is so powerful that it can
obliterate the pain associated with something as distressing as The
Great Depression, even if only temporarily. As a child, Allen would cut
school and spend hours in the movie house lost in the magical world of
movies. ?I lived in Brooklyn, and on these hot, hazy summer days when
it was humid andy you couldn?t move and nobody had anything to do,
there were thousands of movie houses around, and you could walk in for
25 cents. Suddenly it was cool and air-conditioned and dark, and there
was candy and popcorn. You could sit down and there would be two
features. And you would see pirates and you would be on the sea. And
then you would be in a penthouse in Manhattan with beautiful people.

The next day you?d go to another movie house, and you?d be in a battle
with the Nazis and in the second feature you?d be together with the
Marx Brothers. It was just a total, total joy! The greatest kind of
tranquilizer and embalmment you could think of. (Bjorkman 149) Cecilia
parallels this in The Purple Rose of Cairo. We constantly see her
trying to find an extra minute to sneak into the theater. At work, she
is screamed at by the customers and her boss because she is either
daydreaming or fantasizing about movies with her sister . We get the
sense that work is an impediment to her movie going. "She is an addict
using Hollywood as a substitute for her miserable life" (Girgus 75). At
the theater, Cecilia thoroughly concentrates on the task at hand, the
movie. Mesmerized by the movie, only the motion of her hand from her
popcorn basket to her mouth gives us evidence that she is still alive.
The movie theater is a sanctuary for her not only because it?s an
escape but also because it gives her hope (Bjorkman 51). When Cecilia
sat at the movies, she did not consider what happens to be fictional.
On the contrary, she considered movies as the life of other people,
luckier people, people that live far from her poor hometown in New
Jersey. This nativity explains her decision at the end by choosing Gil
Sheperd over Tom Baxter. By picking reality over fiction, she expected
to live with a man in reality, though a fictional life. This new choice
brings up another theme in The Purple Rose of Cairo, fiction versus
reality. Not only does this theme require that the two mediums coexist
but also that they oppose and contest each other. Cecilia wants to live
in the fantasy world while Tom wants to come to the real world. When
Tom Baxter comes off the screen, he acts with the same personality as
he does in the movie. This makes Tom a nave, childlike character. In a
scene when Gil Shepard confronts Tom, Tom expresses his opinion about
realism. "I don?t want to be in film anymore, I love Cecilia". When
Cecilia reciprocates Tom?s feelings, Gil responds to Cecilia, "How can
you love him, he?s not real." "I can learn to be real", Tom says,
defending himself. "You can?t learn to be real", Gil Shepard says,
"like you can?t learn to be a midget. Some of us are real, some are
not." Like Tom, Cecilia dreams of being on the other side of the
screen. At one point, Tom decides to take her on a date into the movie
with him. "The first words that come out of her mouth as she enters the
screen are, "I feel like I?m walking on fluffy air." The plot of the
inner movie resumes, temporarily, with Cecilia now a part of it. But
shortly after Cecilia enters, Tom decides to forget about the plot and
take her for a night on the town. At the end of the night, while
they?re at Tom?s apartment, Gil shows up at The Jewel. Cecilia exits
the movie world to join Gil while Tom follows her. Gil proclaims
something new to Cecilia: he has fallen in love with her. Now Cecilia
is confused. A week ago, she led a loveless life but now, two men love
her, "and they?re both the same person" (Cecilia, The Purple Rose of
Cairo). Everyone, including the movie cast, agree that Cecilia must
choose either Gil or Tom. Tom says, "I?m honest, dependable,
courageous, romantic and a great kisser." Gil simply responds, "Yeah,
but I?m real." Cecilia sides with the latter. She now understands that
she does not belong in the movie world just as Tom does not belong in
the real one. She comforts Tom by saying, "In your world, things have a
way of working out right." At those words, Tom sadly stumbles into the
movie while Cecilia goes packing for Hollywood. On her return, she
finds that Gil left without her. Betrayed, she goes back to her abusive
life and relationship. The final betrayal is Woody?s comment on his
view of reality. I think what it boils down to, really, is that I hate
reality. And, you know, unfortunately it?s the only place where we can
get a good steak dinner. It?s very seductive, fantasy, but we can?t
live there permanently. (Bjorkman 50) The last and most intriguing
point that Allen wants us to grasp is hard to detect and yet the whole
movie is based on it. It is the mystical fact that an actor?s
performance in a film, with his personality and voice, has a life
completely independent of the actor?s own personality and voice that
gave it being (Kauffmann 38). This is true with no other art except TV,
which is basically film itself. The idea of a character rebelling
against and threatening his creator, who is himself identical in every
physical way, is more appalling than any other science fiction story of
look alike humanoids because the mystery is part of our lives and
around us everyday. The first sign of an actor having a distinct
personality is when Tom Baxter talks to Cecilia. Seeing the movie five
times, Cecilia know what the order of events should be. That is why she
is completely surprised when Tom looks up from the screen and looks at
her. "My god, you must really like this picture. You?ve been here all
day and I?ve seen you here at least twice before. This is the fifth
time you?re seeing this movie." At this moment, we realize that Tom has
watched Cecilia throughout his performances and this fact is later
reassured to us when Tom tells Cecilia he has observed her from the
corner of his eye. During the next scene, Tom complains to Cecilia that
he is hungry and in response, Cecilia give him a bag of popcorn. "So
that?s what popcorn tastes like", says Tom. "I?ve been watching people
eat it for all those performances. They rattle those bags. That really
annoys me." This is a very important quote for it tells us that not
only can Tom see the audience, he can also hear them. Even though Tom
is the first one to show his personality, he?s not the only one. The
other characters in the movie also come to life although they can?t
escape their world. When Tom leaves the screen, the characters are left
to bicker and fight. They develop individual personalities and carry on
conversation with the audience. More, when Cecilia enters the movie and
goes to dinner with Tom and his friends, the Maitre De and the woman
Tom is supposed to marry recognize that Cecilia is not in the plot.
When Tom takes Cecilia out on the town and announces to the other
characters that they don?t have to follow the plot anymore, the Maitre
De yells for the band to "hit it" and starts tap dancing across the
floor. He explains that it has always been his ambition to dance and
not to wait on people. This ambition certainly demonstrates that the
Maitre De has a very unique personality that is different from the
character he portrays. The greatest testament to this final theme
occurs in a scene where the movie manager is talking to the characters
onscreen. As the characters on the screen start fighting about who has
a more important role, someone in the audience suggest to the manager
that he just turn the projector off. A wild look crosses the
character?s faces. One remarks, "No, don?t turn the projector off. It
gets black and we disappear? You don?t understand what it?s like to
disappear, to be nothing, to be annihilated. Don?t turn the projector
off." Here, Woody is equating fictional figures with one of life?s
ultimate events, death. Of course if the characters were totally
fictional, as we first thought of them to be, they would be in a sense
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