Photos: Classiq Journal
It’s refreshing and a joy to read someone say what he thinks without restraint. Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing is hilarious and irreverent, full of amusing quips and snide remarks, like his best scripts. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed an autobiography so thoroughly. A lot has to do with his brilliant writing and self-deprecating humour, of course, but most of all with his honesty and authenticity. Woody Allen has a signature tone, one that it’s at its peak in subdued yet amusing dramas, one that “drew rueful comedy from reality’s refusal to play ball, crafting dramas in which the need for illusion and the urge for disillusion found an immaculate, porpoise-like balance,” as Tom Shone wrote in another book, Woody Allen: A Retrospective.
Woody Allen is a great artist. He has shown us that a good film and art should not preclude laughter. He has taken a unique stand in making movies. He is cool. And the way I mean cool here is that he is cool for making his own kind of films, for making the films he wants, for saying what he thinks. I can not emphasise this thing enough: saying what he thinks. And making the movies he wants, always, having complete artistic control over his movies, always, making movies because he loves making movies for the sheer creative act. To not let yourself being limited by what others might be doing or thinking. To never be a crowd pleaser. Crowd pleasers, just like so many people who love Woody Allen’s films, but are afraid to talk about them publicly anymore. Instead of trusting your own judgement, you allow yourself to be pulled in every direction, by every distraction, and this has robbed the world and everyone sane on this planet of art, art liberated from the conventional and simplistic canons, and of the work of an artist. “The artist is an irreplaceable figure in our society: a man who can speak his own mind, who can reveal and educate, who can stimulate or appease, and in every sense communicate with fellow human beings,” are the words of another American filmmaker who didn’t care if he didn’t fit in and didn’t give up his mind in favour of position, money or fame – John Cassavetes. Such a pitiful, sad and ridiculous world we’ve come to inhabit, filled with the ignorant and stupid.
There are some Woody Allen films that I constantly rewatch: Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Crimes and Misdemeanors. But I have recently rewatched two films I saw a long time ago. Broadway Danny Rose and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. And the feeling remains. I would watch a Woody Allen film anytime. I feel good watching them. Him and Hitchcock. I don’t have a definitive explanation for this and I don’t want to. It’s just how I feel that matters when I watch a film. I always remember things, moments, shots, scenes (like the group of comedians and managers talking and telling in flashback the story of the hapless talent agent Danny Rose over lunch at the Carnegie Deli – it feels like the real thing) from a Woody Allen film, in the way all film lovers (not critics or professionals) always remember their favourite films. It mostly has to do with instinct, and taste, I guess, and when you talk about them with your friends, Woody Allen fans as well (he is Woody to us), you jump from one thing to another because that’s how you talk about a movie you love, impatient to mention one more thing and yet another sometimes without finishing your idea, afraid you will lose track of your thoughts before you pour out your love for the film. What you will always remember are the conversations with friends, not some great review a film got.
That’s the beauty of film. Take what you want from it and fly free. I am pretty sure this applies to life, too.
”It was the real world I was coming in contact with,
and though it’s real for everyone, it’s more real for some than others.”
Woody Allen, Apropos of Nothing
Love Streams (1982)
Watching Love Streams, I kept repeating myself: My God, John Cassavetes made the films he wanted to make, did whatever he wanted to do because that’s what he felt. “Love Streams is a sister coming to visit her brother, then she goes home.” That’s how Cassavetes described the film, “not much of a story”. But family life and relationships are the themes he never changed from going into. Sarah Lawson (Gena Rowlands) and Robert Harmon (John Cassavetes) are brothers who have lived very different lives and are now reunited for a short period of time. Sarah has dedicated herself to family life, to her husband and daughter, but now the marriage is over and her daughter wants to live with her father because she thinks her her mother’s intense love is too much to bear. Robert is a famous writer of bestselling books about lonely women, hookers and night life singers. He is a loner, too, he doesn’t love people and doesn’t know how to deal with his son, whom he has never met until the boy is seven, nor with anybody who loves him. Once again, Cassavetes’ characters are very sincere, he takes them as they are, confronting the silly with the tragic, intensity with audacity, portraying flawed, conflicted, confused people who have feelings but who may not know what they are doing or what to do in certain circumstances – that’s life, and life can become very confused sometimes, but you keep trying. Love Streams is raw, unfiltered, unpredictable, overwhelming, just like real life. And John Cassavetes loved life just as it was – and he made films about it.
Veronika Voss (1982)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
A sportswriter, Robert Krohn (Hilmar Thate), becomes fascinated and then consumed with the life of Veronika Voss (Rosel Zech). She is a once beloved Nazi-era star, but Robert has no idea of her reputation. She lives in obscurity in postwar Munich, in the care of a physician, and Robert gradually discovers the dark secrets surrounding her. Veronika Voss was Fassbinder’s version of Sunset Boulevard (1950). “The one theme is the destruction, the downfall of a person – superficially a single, almost private occurrence; the other theme is the criminal exploitation of the very different kinds of despair of overly sensitive individuals.” The film is all that and it was also a cinematic accomplishment, a rediscovery of form in black and white, “the most beautiful colours in cinema,” as Fassbinder said at a press conference.
The Red Turtle (2016)
Michael Dudok de Wit
This film, about a man who is shipwrecked on a desert island and encounters a red turtle that changes his life, runs for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Only near the very end, my six year old son observed very casually: “This film is silent.” The idea is that the beautiful animation carries this fantasy story flawlessly. Produced by Toshio Suzuki, the Studio Ghibli producer, The Red Turtle is the studio’s first film made by a non-Japanese director. What is special about this film is that it makes great use of the medium, cinema, and it demands that you pay attention to what is happening, to the surroundings, to the island’s personality, without the need to know much about the characters or the world outside the island. It has mystery and humour – it’s the little crabs that provide the funny element, which nicely balance the fantastical side of the story. I just love films that know how to grab children’s attention gently.
Down by Law (1986)
How I loved this film! Zack, a disk jockey (Tom Waits), Jack, a pimp (John Lurie), and Roberto, an Italian immigrant (Roberto Benigni), find themselves in the same prison cell. Roberto has the idea to escape. Downbeat and understated, shot in black and white, luminous and striking (not all black and white is the same), Down by Law resides in a world of its own, one that is dictated by characters (as so many of Jarmusch’s films are), you don’t have to know much about them, just watch them unfold on screen. I love how Zack is this cool and self-conscious character and Roberto is the opposite of that, very innocent and straightforward, and Jack is somewhere in between. The film has such subtle humour that never lets you up and fantastic music, featuring one of the best and most recognisable opening scene songs – Tom Waits’ unforgettable Jockey Full of Bourbon. Music is so much part of Jim Jarmusch’s films, it is woven into the celluloid. It is, reportedly, what kickstarts his ideas and imagination when he is writing a script. His soundtracks give voice to his drifters and dreamers, and, in turn, the characters come alive through the music and enter our own imagination.
Silent Running (1972)
Three years after working with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, special effects artist Douglas Trumbull made his directorial debut with this environmentally themed science fiction. In the distant future, plant life on Earth is extinct. Remaining specimens are cultivated in vast greenhouse-like domes orbiting in space. Bruce Dern is botanist Freeman Lowell, working on the giant freighter Valley Forge, awaiting to refoliate Earth and resuming to extreme measures when he is ordered to destroy the project. The film is more prescient than ever. It’s haunting to see so many issues the world faces today unfold on screen, in the outer space: isolation, alienation, ignorance, fighting lost causes and the inevitable future. Its simplicity, credible special effects and gentle radicalism are the reasons why I believe it can still resonate to many, especially younger generations.
Children’s books! Of course we read children’s books all the time in our home, but now I am on a double mission. As part of my new project, of interviewing and featuring children’s books writers and illustrators, I have made many trips to my favourite bookshop (it’s the only place on Earth where I have no control over me for spending money) or have re-read some of the favourites in our home, from Robert Ingpen’s Wonderlands (one of the most wonderful books about an artist’s work that I own) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlands that he illustrated (there are new meanings everywhere in his drawings), to the books of Marianne Dubuc, Shaun Tan and William Grill’s latest release, Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue. I love my current state of mind.
”There is a beginning and ending for everything that is alive.
In between is living.”
Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen
Beginning and Endings with Lifetime in Between
Rain Dogs, Tom Waits. Again. Because I have just watched Down By Law, so how could I not?
Folklore and Evermore, Taylor Swift. I love the new indie sound she has produced with her latest albums.
Clay court season starts today and I love hearing stories about the tennis courts of the world, like this one: it “favours court craft instead of pure pace or topspin, so you see a lot more touch and finesse”.
The indie magazine for authentic travelling that I have recently discovered because of its beautiful relaunch cover. Avdanture, a magazine about van culture. A timeless, journal-like, long-form-story publication that people can actually be inspired by to really get out there.
The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good. Craig Mod’s all three newsletters: Roden, Ridgeline, and Huh. Wes Del Val’s book-ish interviews. Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman. Team Deakins, with Roger and James Deakins. Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. The Racquet magazine newsletter. The Adventure Podcast: Terra Incognita. The print magazines Monocle and Sirene.