[Marxism] Syriana

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 24 09:16:25 MST 2005

>Good review.   But, why do you call Allen "relentlessly 
>non-political".   He refused to allow his films to be shown in apartheid 
>South Africa.   He threatened to do likewise in Israel (even writing an 
>op-ed piece in the NYT deploring the brutality of the Occupation), and, 
>more recently, he told the Financial Times' Nigel Andrews that "[t]he 
>current political climate is...one of the worst I can remember in my 
>lifetime, if not the worst and maybe one of the worst of all time" (March 
>12/13).   Of course, I'm not aware of any overt political involvement on 
>Allen's part in the anti-war or anti-apartheid movements, so perhaps that 
>was what you were referring to?
>Louis Godena

For the last word on Woody Allen, I refer you to wsws.org's David Walsh who 
is the finest Marxist film critic in the USA as far as I am concerned.

Ghost town
By David Walsh
6 April 2005

Melinda and Melinda, written and directed by Woody Allen

Melinda and Melinda is the latest in a recent series of very poor films 
written and directed by Woody Allen. Indeed it has been 13 years since 
Allen produced a work, Husbands and Wives, that was worth something as a 
whole. The presence of certain performances or personalities—John Cusack 
and Jennifer Tilly in Bullets Over Broadway, Mira Sorvino in Mighty 
Aphrodite, Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlize Theron in Celebrity, Sean Penn 
and Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown—partially obscured the fact that 
the director-writer had run out of things to say, but the fact has become 
too obvious to conceal by this point.

The new film’s premise is that life is either tragic or comic, depending on 
the way one looks at it, or both. A group of four New Yorkers is sitting 
around a restaurant table. One writes comedies, another tragedies. They 
argue about the respective merits of their efforts. A third man at the 
table tells a story about a woman barging in on a dinner party. Two 
intercut versions of the ensuing story then unfold, one ostensibly 
‘tragic,’ one ‘comic.’

In the tragic version, Melinda (Radha Mitchell)—it is she who comes 
uninvited to the dinner party hosted by Laurel (Chloë Sevigny) and Lee 
(Jonny Lee Miller)—is fleeing a desperate situation. Finding herself in a 
staid and unsatisfying marriage, she entered into a love affair. She has 
lost custody of her children and attempted suicide. ‘Tragic’ Melinda gets 
involved in another doomed relationship in her new life too.

‘Comic’ Melinda (also played by Mitchell) lives downstairs from Hobie (Will 
Ferrell) and his wife Susan (Amanda Peet), the hosts of the interrupted 
dinner party. Hobie falls for her, complicating and disrupting his 
marriage. She, meanwhile, has started a relationship with a new boyfriend. 
He longs for her. One thing leads to another. This version has a happy ending.

The tragic strand is not particularly tragic, the comic not especially 
comic. At times one has a difficult time remembering which is which, and 
not because some insightful comment about the ‘tragi-comic’ character of 
the human condition is being offered, but because both segments lack 
sharpness and purposefulness.

Nothing is worked through to the end. There are countless, unintentional 
red herrings. Characters appear, seem to carry a certain dramatic weight, 
and disappear, without anything having been established about their 
presence. Nearly everything in the film simply happens, blandly, rather 
pointlessly. The actors, some of them quite talented, stand there in front 
of the camera, with lines and arguments that hardly go anywhere, 
floundering. Melinda and Melinda simply sits there on screen, inert, flat, 
unmoving (in both senses of the word).

Mitchell is pleasant enough, but, like many contemporary performers, lacks 
depth and texture. She is not the remotest bit convincing as a potential 
suicide and, we learn, worse. Ferrell is the most appealing presence in the 
film, but he’s given little to work with. Sevigny, a remarkable performer, 
as the hostess of the ‘tragic’ dinner party, is almost entirely wasted. The 
discussion of the ‘tragic’ and ‘comic’ never rises above the banal.

Allen, a genuine comic talent, never had a great deal to say about the 
world. In his films from 1977 to 1992, Annie Hall to Husbands and Wives 
(Crimes and Misdemeanors [1989] was one of the better Reagan-era films), he 
stood out against the general decline of American filmmaking by defending 
some principle of old-fashioned, contrarian, self-deprecating, 
quasi-cultured New York liberalism. A good deal of the comic business 
stemmed not so much from his embodying anything important, but from what he 
hadn’t succumbed to. He wasn’t going Hollywood, wasn’t making blockbusters, 
wasn’t getting fabulously wealthy and indulging himself, wasn’t abandoning 
music and literature, wasn’t giving up on Bergman and Freud and Fellini, 
etc. He also had the talents of the very gifted Mia Farrow at his disposal 
for a number of those years.

The Allen persona wore thin a good many pictures ago, but it carried him 
through until the early 1990s. Various factors, including personal ones, 
may have caused him to lose his way so dramatically, but no doubt social 
changes played a decisive role. The milieu that he lovingly, if 
sardonically, chronicled has disintegrated. At its upper, wealthiest end it 
has become a source of support for law-and-order, free-market Republicans. 
Many of New York City’s so-called cultural intelligentsia signaled their 
shift by supporting Rudolph Giuliani in 1993.

New York City’s official web site explains: “His [Giuliani’s] message of 
fiscal responsibility and attention to quality of life concerns [i.e., 
shunting the homeless off the streets and subways] resonated with New 
Yorkers, who elected him over incumbent David Dinkins. ... To reduce crime, 
he implemented a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, placing an emphasis on 
enforcing laws against nuisance crimes as well as serious offenses. ... To 
stimulate the city’s stagnated economy, Giuliani reduced the tax burden by 
eliminating the Commercial Rent Tax in most areas of the city, reducing the 
Hotel Occupancy Tax, and eliminating the Unincorporated Business Tax. ... 
[A] national financial magazine named New York City the most improved 
American city in which to do business. ...

“Faced with a $2.2 billion budget gap upon taking office, Giuliani lowered 
projected spending by $7.8 billion through a series of cost cutting 
measures and productivity improvements. He reduced the city’s payroll by 
over 20,000 jobs without layoffs. ... In 1993, 1.1 million New Yorkers were 
receiving welfare. To bring an end to a philosophy that encouraged 
dependency on public assistance, Giuliani implemented the largest workfare 
program in the nation. Since his welfare reforms were enacted in March of 
1995, 340,000 people have been moved off the rolls, saving $650 million 
annually in city, state and federal funds.”

It would be hard to improve on this as a guide to the general evolution of 
certain upper middle class layers in Manhattan. One would perhaps only need 
to add a graph showing the meteoric rise in the stock market in the 1990s. 
Allen’s milieu largely threw its lot in with the barbarians some time ago. 
And he goes on pretending as if nothing has happened. But these 
developments have had consequences for his art, hollowing it out, rendering 
it lifeless.

One scene stands out: the party at which the ‘tragic’ Melinda (at least I 
think it’s the tragic one) meets her new love. First of all, the vast, 
sumptuously decorated Upper East Side apartment would be out of reach for 
nearly anyone but a millionaire these days. A leisurely medium shot takes 
in the guests standing around, in their blazers and ties and tasteful 
evening dresses, sipping drinks, listening to classical music skillfully 
played on the piano, presumably discussing love and psychoanalysis and 
literature and who knows what else, and one suddenly realizes why it all 
looks so terribly, terribly unreal, almost touchingly unreal—this is a 
gathering of phantoms. One can see why the camera remains at a certain 
distance; if it were to move in too close one would surely be able to see 
right through what must be paper-thin, two-dimensional figures.

This is light from a dead star. The party only exists in Allen’s brain, as 
a memory or perhaps a fantasy, a crowd of cultured, moneyed, sophisticated, 
liberal-minded New Yorkers.

It is impossible to accomplish much of anything, comic, tragic or 
otherwise, on such a basis. It may be painful at times to look life and 
reality in the face, but they remain the only basis for art. 

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