Tag Archives: Woody Allen

In Defence of Obsession


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Two men present at the gates of Heaven.

The first tells God he’s in a relationship; has a stable job; plays sport twice a week; sees friends; does some cultural stuff; quaffs a few beers (max) at the week-ends.

The second says he is obsessed by a woman with whom he can’t have a relationship, spending hours at a time lying on a bed where he once slept with her, usually in an alcoholic fog, rolling a ruler she has touched around his mouth, to the detriment of his business.

Assuming he’s not doing one of his hmm-it’s-not-what-you’d-expect-parable-things, we think we know who God’s going to wave through, don’t we?

It’s going to be the well-balanced, healthy-living chap with the wide social circle and the almost-finished inspirational TED talk on his side table, isn’t it? It’s not going to be the lone wolf weirdo fetish guy.

This is the belief called into question by Orhan Pamuk’s engrossing novel, The Museum of Innocence, which scrutinizes the all-consuming love of guy 2, Kemal Basmaci, 30, for a shopgirl-turned-thwarted-actress, Füsun Keskin. He steals her 18 yr old virginity lightheartedly while engaged to an aristocratic beauty, only to lose himself heavily in her thrall, alone, for the rest of his 32 years.

The neat device of the story is that Kemal creates a museum of  Füsun-infused artefacts- her hair barettes, photographs, coffee cups, 4,213 cigarette stubs- that exists in the real world, at Firuzağa, Dalgıç Sk. No:2, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

Not simply a personal collection, it is also a chronicle of political, economic, and social life in the city in and around the 1970s. (A selection of it visited Somerset House quite recently, too.)

Interwoven in the tale are themes of romantic love, familial love, companionship, recollection, personal narrative, status, suffering, and success.

But it is the value/ affliction of obsession that lingers most powerfully, as Kemal exhorts his ghost writer (Pamuk) to close this 728 page opus with one prevailing message: ‘Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life’, leaving us as readers to decide whether we would agree with him.

Is this the story of a delusional saddo, rendered beautiful by interpretation? Or, does it relate a valid and true-hearted (if unconventional) experience?

Can obsession be worthy?

Obsession is a preoccupation: if you’re in medicinal research, this is a good thing; if you’re chasing Eckhart Tolle’s wild goose of receptive consciousness, it isn’t.

We allow for romantic love as long as there are two people involved, and it is bookmarked within a reasonable time-frame; that’s OK, we think: you focus on me, and I focus on you until we’re both familiar with the view, and can start talking bin-liners.

When one person alone takes the plunge, it feels limiting, or (worse) futile. All that intense channeling, to the exclusion of all else, carries with it the implication that ‘all else’ might offer an opportunity for reciprocation that will, necessarily, be missed.

But, is it such a crisis to be in primary relationship with oneself, or with one’s passions?

Given that we all react to how we feel about things rather than the things themselves, anyway, isn’t there an honesty in indulging wholeheartedly with that communion itself? (Woody Allen’s Annie Hall masturbation quip springs to mind: ‘It’s sex with someone that I love.’)

In collecting items attached to his beloved, Kemal finds a creative expression for his obsession- indeed, the creativity becomes one with it.

He manifests memories, and makes emotions material. He curates his love artfully, processing his urges aesthetically. This means of therapy in coping with his estrangement from Füsun may prevent him from finding a cure; but, if he were to find one, where is the evidence to suggest another ‘illness’ wouldn’t simply take its place?

In fetishizing, anatomizing, projecting, and fantasizing over his amour, he gains more satisfaction, arguably, than he would from interacting with her human imperfection and unpredictability. The sacrifice, certainly, is that he fails to grow from the learning that only input from another can invite. He turns in on himself, becoming as much obsessed with himself obsessing as on his object of desire. But, in another sense, he has conquered the quest to conquer: he ‘owns’ her already.

If it seems tragic Kemal cannot enact his dreams, we might turn to his friends in Turkish society to ask how their ‘real life’ fulfillment compares. In their empty visits to brothels, and false notions of traditionalism and status, their self-realisation holds little by way of contrasting appeal; the novel’s parting snapshot of wronged ex Sibel’s rabidly functioning marriage, replete with two beautiful rugrat daughters, is surely enough to send even the skeptic racing to fondle Füsun’s cheese grater.

Ostracized from this outwardly respectable crew, Kemal finds a meeting of minds in the rubbish dens and hoardings of his fellow obsessives. Restless, and stripped of his reputation, he has, nevertheless, found a way of ordering and memorializing his proclivities in a way that speaks uniquely to him, and speaks to him uniquely.

Though driven by his desire to be in true relationship with Füsun, Kemal experiences as many blissful moments reflecting on his concept of her as he does moments of acute pain at her flesh-and-blood hands.

I think this is the dark reason obsession deserves a screwy break in the midst of its insularity: it allows for the exercise of control over intent; it gives imagination license to do its best thing: run wild in service to our joy.

It becomes a fiercer, bolder attempt to sustain happiness no more absurd than any others we undertake.

And, if we seek a sign from our beloved that we’re not alone in suffering for our desires (hoping at least to connect in our misery), obsession short-circuits this neediness by declining to reach out in the first place.

Just as a fire results from the intense boring of the sun onto dry matter in the right conditions, so obsession powers an emotional energy to life by brute will. It eschews temperance and abstinence and apathy, knocking aside the faint of heart, to put a stake in the ground.

It’s a cousin of addiction, of ecstasy, of ill-advised box set marathons.

It’s not a Cath Kidston pinnie, or a member of the gang, or a good idea.

It’s an outsider with a strong point of view that doesn’t give a flying fuck for opinion. (Yet, it will eat you up with your own saliva, too.)

Like many habits that thrill and vivify, obsession is wanting in virtue.

But, for as long as we are slaves to our cravings, it may be just another pleasurable road to hell.

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Woody Allen and Art’s exposing risk

The apple of art doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Ideas may be universal but squeeze them through the sausage-making machine of the artist and they take on a unique shape. That’s the whole point.

This doesn’t mean that the writer has to hold the same views as his/her creations but, when all’s said and done, a sensibility shines through their representation.

It may not be obvious to start with but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll pick up a trail.

Like trying to pen a Valentine’s card in a stranger’s handwriting, or forging the numerical receipts of cab drivers as realistically as possible*, the ‘you’ (or that part of ‘you’ being put to that use) is the common denominator: it can be found. (*I never do this)

When beautiful things come from people with un-beautiful histories, we are posed with a problem. From Wagner to Michael Jackson, we get all morally twisty-pants.

Is it right to hum along in your leisure time to the music created by a Nazi sympathizer? Does it endorse him, or encourage his views by complicity?

More, how COULD something so transcendent come from such a character in the first place? (Fine, maybe not Heal the World; Liberian Girl‘s bloody genius.)

I bet a good consideration of that subject could yield interesting insight, alongside the more obvious stuff about the drive to escape from personal demons, or the demons spawning that very escape, maybe in a redemptive bid.

For now, suffice to say we are no one definition. We are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or actually neither. We like ice-cream and playing the guitar and making chutney.

Sometimes we need to be judged. But, for me, it must be in relation to that specific charge- otherwise we’d all be in for the chop.

So, Woody Allen.

Woody roused me 5 years ago, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona: http://wp.me/pfnZ7-iO

I love his films because they are about dialogue, relationships, social interaction, trad jazz, intimate restaurants, frolics, humour, apartments with thin corridors, large beds, large lamps, tall book walls, and literary agents.

They’re also about permissiveness, which is why they often lack high drama and have puffy endings. Everything’s OK if you spill it on your therapist: affairs, divorce, cancer. It’s all part of life’s farce- let’s just talk it out and move on to a new marriage.

It’s probably what happens when comedians write feature films without Owen Wilson and a boisterous dog: even if some pretty heavy life shit’s been going on between the opening and closing credits, all’s well that end’s well.

Woody married his ex-wife’s teenage step-daughter. You don’t have to be Columbo to deduce he’s not a granny grabber. It doesn’t mean he’s a paedophile either, though the allegations are there.

When I watched Manhattan again recently, some elements popped up- the interpretation of some elements popped up, it’s fairer to say.

So we’ve got four characters. Woody is Isaac (although really he’s Woody) and he’s in a jumble because he’s dating a 17 year old ‘kid’, Tracy.

Isaac spends the entire film telling his friend Yale, Yale’s wife, his soon-to-be replacement lover Mary and Tracy herself, that the relationship isn’t right because she’s just a child.

He is reassured by them all that it’s OK; she’s a legitimate date, there-there, don’t worry, you’re not doing anything wrong.

Tracy is played by gentle Mariel Hemingway but a broom might have filled the role satisfactorily.

She has no opinions, apart from to say that she’s old enough to have opinions. She has no wit, no voice, no discernible personality. She’s a stooge for his self-revelatory stand-up. She is talked at by Isaac, who tells her on a loop that she shouldn’t really be sleeping with him.

Meanwhile Yale, his friend, is the handsome man Woody would like to be deep-down (Isaac’s his best shot at being who he is). Yale introduces Isaac to his mistress Mary, Diane Keaton.

Now, Mary is a real woman. She has outspoken views and says funny stuff and, at first, Isaac’s not at all sure about this 3-D female proposition that’s going on.

However, she’s attractive and tells Yale she finds Isaac attractive. Plus she slips past the post because she’s also emotionally screwy so Woody- sorry Isaac- can relate.

Isaac leaves the ‘kid’ Tracy. He breaks up with her like you’d break up with a broom: ‘I’m breaking up with you, Broom. Don’t be sad.’

He says she needs to go to London to Drama School because she’s wasting her time on a 42 year-old man like him and should see life. Tracy is heartbroken and later we learn Isaac ignores her phone-calls. He’s got a new gal; it becomes Tracy Who?

So Isaac and Mary have a crack at a grown-up relationship. They go to galleries and on walks and discuss things, like people born within a quarter of a century of each other might.

Mary talks incessantly about her incredible former husband, Jeremiah, and Isaac is disconcerted until they bump into him and he’s a runt who makes Isaac look like Brad Pitt.

There’s hope for Isaac, it seems. Allure comes in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to be a Yale to hook a Mary.

Only, do you?

Isaac’s happy. Yes, his beautiful ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep, or Meryl Streep’s long blond hair with Meryl attached) has left him for another woman but that’s OK because it suggests that sexuality has a spectrum and is fluid (contentious this, but who knows where else this sort of acceptable fluidity might trickle into?)

He’s got a smart, successful journalist who’s crazy about him and all’s good.

Turns out the smart journalist is still in love with handsome Yale. He’s going to ride the alimony pony and shack up with Mary.

So where does this leave Isaac? Will he be devastated? Will he have a breakdown and take time to recover until one day down the line, mature love finds him again?

Or, will he lie on the sofa thinking about his book and suddenly be caught in the grip of Tracy’s ‘pretty face’?

Will he jump up and run all the way to the girl he hasn’t thought twice about since he sent her back to the broom cupboard in order to have a go at being an adult, and interrupt her on the very day of her departure for London, asking her not to go?

Tracy (now 18, thus MORE than respectable) tells him he’s being unreasonable. She extracts from him an empty declaration of love and reminds him he left her in the lurch and subsequently ignored her, then points out that everything is set up for her new adventure and her parents are awaiting her arrival. And that if their love is true, 6 months is not so long to hold out for her and allow her this freedom.

Isaac’s response?

He wants her. He needs her. He doesn’t want that thing he likes about her to change (her innocence). Don’t go. Mememememememememememememe. Quiet, stompy feet. Puppy face.

Isaac, the child. Woody, the child. Throwing himself at the mercy of the child.

So I’ve built a sort of case but I’m going to stop short of a conclusion; one plus one equals two but it can also make eleven.

Art may expose but what exactly? What exactly?

Manhattan ends with Isaac mid-plea and we don’t know if Tracy will stay or go.

As with most Allen films, the journey- not the destination- is the point. I’ll do the same here.

If you believe one’s duty is to take a moral stance, it’s a cop-out.

If you’re happy to muse, you’ll accept the open ending.

 

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona: A review

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Filtered through city landscapes or the imaginative trips of time travel, Woody Allen’s pitch has been consistent:

Nerdy Jewish New Yorker talks beautiful women into bed with angst-ridden intellectual humour.

This is a film-maker for whom the word ‘schtick’ was invented. Woody owns naive narration, conspicuous cultural consumption, urbane conversation, serial infidelity- hell, even a whole musical genre.

No surprise then that looming over him has been a question worthy of a brace of sessions on his own therapist’s couch:

‘I keep having these dreams that I get old and I can’t star in my movies. How will they work? What about the women? Will I have to hand them over like sacrificial lambs? I’m feeling very anxious.’

Of course it’s been a nightmare realized and Allen movies have since struggled to retain charm in their creator’s absence.

VCB is no exception and though it might seem as though he’s handing his conquests to Javier Bardem, in fact, he keeps a firm grip on them from behind the camera, giving new meaning to the phrase ‘remote control’.

Occasionally the characters show signs of independent life but generally they are little more than ventriloquist dummies, such is the permeating stench of Allen.

(Although, thank the Lord, he’s stopped mutilating actors into doing impersonations of himself: is it possible to recall Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity without feeling somehow damaged?)

It makes him voyeur of his own movies and his audience voyeurs of him. He thinks he’s making emotional porn with clothes on. Instead we’re getting him as naked as the day he was born.

In VCB Vicky is his intellect and the distillation of societal mores.

The object of his desire, Cristina, is his heart: searching, experimental and ultimately dissatisfied.

Juan Antonio is the handsome artist he never was, Juan’s relationship with Maria-Elena a fantasy realized: the apotheosis of romantic love made possible by the introduction of a.n.other.

Woody knows that if combustible passion were sustained it would contradict itself and yet he is unwilling to settle for anything less.

In Juan Antonio and Maria-Elena’s relationship with Cristina he creates an attractive solution, the ‘missing ingredient’ through which to channel overwhelming emotional and physical desire.

But even this construct has a shelf-life, Woody now too jaded or too wise to yield completely to his ideal.

No love will ever be enough for him probably because he fears he will never be enough for love.

Unsurprisingly for a man who craves the stimulation of cities- a man given to explication and humour and analysis- his greatest fear is to be bored, his greatest desire to be satisfied.

But therein lies his problem, for he suspects that to be satisfied is to be bored or, worse, boring- the lowest of all life-forms.

The result is a restless soul and a film without a satisfactory ending: a compelling relationship that can’t survive, a dull one that does and a lost soul masquerading as a free spirit.

The performances are solid: Javier Bardem grounds his character in earthy magnetism.

Rebecca Hall has the brainy credentials to nail Vicky but remains too gangly schoolgirl to believably inspire flames of desire.

Scarlett Johansson, meanwhile, has a contemplative dreaminess that sells her convincingly as a wannabe bohemian artist and is, for my money, bar none the most sexually attractive starlet of her generation; there are scenes when she and the lense need to get a room.

Penelope Cruz is justly lauded as a rabid nutter although one suspects it’s not that much of a stretch. In this movie she accomplishes the unlikely feat of contextualizing her ex, Tom Cruise: Katie Holmes flosses every night, Scientology has structure; suddenly he makes sense!

Her unfeasible glamour renders her almost cartoonish. You want to see her photographed. You enjoy her flipping out. You even like her smoking. Most of all you fancy her for breakfast- over easy with Scarlett on top.

And this is why Woody Allen is so successful. He makes movies you want to watch about people you want or want to be. They are vivid, engaging, and tap into the emotional dilemmas that drive us all.

But with this one he resembles a man who is retreating to his artistic death bed, a smile playing on his lips at the delights of life, outlasted by a frown on his forehead at its disappointments.

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Westfield

westfield

In an area the size of Kazakhstan, in a faraway land called White City, a mystical dome has sprung.

Filled with the promise of a fragrant bathroom, a smaller rear, a set of peepers without shadows underneath, it sends out an echoey whisper to every sentient being in Europe with a wallet:

‘Cooooooooooeeeeeeee… Come to paradise… Credit cards are not real money…Yes, you can buy love…’

For only wretches devoid of hope or filled with fear can be immune to its charms.

Those are not eyes in the heads of the warm bodies being sucked into its vacuum, like extras from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

They are swirling pools of bar-codes and gift-wrapped boxes and Wagamama lunch specials.

More than that, they are the torches of dreamers, of believers, of women who know they can drop a dress-size traveling up and down giant escalators.

On its marketing website this capitalist behemoth spews statistics at you like a fat man who has gorged on one too many cheeseburgers: 265 retailers! 13 million man-hours to build! 50 exciting eating concepts!

Still not convinced?

Construction used enough concrete to fill 117 Olympic swimming pools!

Well, in that case…

Squeeking cleanly only months into this world it rises Phoenix-like out of the ashes of a dazed and confused Shepherds Bush, where a hoodie who has lost his way would be forgiven for thinking he has died and gone to Dubai Heaven.

Housing futuristic runways of glistening tiled flooring and pod-shaped roof-panels it is Woody Allen’s orgasmatron, Huxley’s missing novel and SJP on steroids all rolled into one.

On a par with thinking too hard about the solar system its offering should not be contemplated in one sitting.

In fact, it is possible to walk 23 miles in a circle and never see the same outlet twice: at one point I ended up in Norway.

Holding up two fingers in the shape of a crucifix to the likes of Brent Cross, this mall is Different From All The Others.

It’s got no McDonalds and curvy minimalist touch-screen map computers so stylish they sneer at giving directions, forcing you to grab one of the mall slaves polishing glass panels and make toilet gestures at them instead.

Around the artfully scattered central sofa systems satellite the Enablers- shopping assistants who represent a greater density than the population of Tokyo and talk on average x 3.8 more bollocks, through sheer mind-warping boredom.

As Lionel Richie croons encouragingly each neon sign propels you forth along the yellow-brick road, eyes wide in wonderment, torn between a stop at the karaoke bar, a gawp at an electric vehicle or a scoop from the overflowing baskets at The Nut Hut.

Shall I sample a golden dog’s trotter at the juice bar emporium? Do I need to stock up on a wardrobe of coloured false eyelashes? Or shall I cut the crap and admit that I have come to roll in an orgy of fashion so promiscuous and deviant it makes Jordan look chaste?

Because if there is one thing Westfield does NOT do it is birthday suits.

Whether your look is faux peasant, retro goth or pixie whore you cannot fail to find something comely to drape on your frame: H & M even has a travel desk, where you can book a week-end mini-break to its Accessories department.

Or if it’s lingerie you’re after why not skip along to M & S, where the briefs alone could clothe the population of Spain in Winter. With material to spare.

Cut-outs of an ecstatic Myleene Klaas with an enormous head lure you towards banks and banks of bras for every occasion: Floozie by Frostfrench for that kitsch forty-something revivalist feeling; Star by Julien McDonald for the West London prostitute vibe; Fuller Bust, Magic Body… what, are these requests or promises?

Several hours later you emerge from a time bubble, glugging furiously at a caffeine concept with bagfuls of a sexier you draped around your feet.

And suddenly there’s a bitter taste in your mouth not altogether linked to stale coffee beans.

It’s one that argues strongly for the students of Central Saint Martins to re-train in the art of making wicker baskets.

A feeling that your happy buzz may not last as long as the hours spent earning the lucre to pay for it.

Because Westfield is unavoidably a Truman Show of consumerism of the sort that makes you want to invite Walt Whitman and Hugh Fernley Whittingstall to meditate on its rank motivations, their faces contorted in paroxyms of misery as they clutch at each other gasping, ‘Why?’

What’s that noise?

It’s me tumbling into the dark abyss- arms flailing with glossy carrier bags- the peroxide blonde Alfred Hitchcock heroine of Blind Consumerism.

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