Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
Blue Jasmine review makes reader see red
Whom, but my editor, Ernie Grimm, was seated inside Cosmo's in La Mesa, frantically pecking at his laptop, when I dropped in for my morning dose of Joe?
"Did you call the new Woody Allen film 'artless?'" he asked, stopping just long enough to glance up from the screen.
Guilty as charged.
"Someone wrote a letter complaining about your review of his new movie," Ernie said with a grin.
Immediately going on the defensive, I shot back. "How bad is it? Did they make it personal?"
His reply, "Nothing you can't handle," put my mind to rest. Here is what Judy Sarap had to say:
"I appreciate the variety of subjects covered and the fine writing in your publication. The one section that irritates me is the movie reviews. After having read so many of your highly critical movie reviews through the years, it comes across to me that your reviewers feel compelled to find major faults in high-quality movies (to ensure job security, perhaps).
"I just saw Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine tonight, and I wholeheartedly disagree with the reviewer’s comment about Allen’s 'artless' incorporation of a flashback structure. The 'artless' comment is ironic. If there were anything “artless” about Allen’s pictures, why have art house theaters been the primary ones screening Allen’s films through the years?
"Allen’s use of the flashback structure is a highly artistic feature of his films; he employs skillful application that becomes an integral element of the movie, even with flashback moments sort of standing alone as vignettes and reminding us that history repeats itself, not just in the history books but within our own lives.
"Okay, on to the review that has irritated me most: Up, the animated feature reviewed previously by Duncan Shepherd, in which Mr. Shepherd referred to the movie’s music as 'insipid.' His comprehension was shortsighted because the carousel-like quality of the music fit perfectly into the story and punctuated the emotions and experiences of the characters so well."
Judy Sarup via email
I happened upon my first Woody Allen movie, Take the Money and Run, at the tender age of 15. Even then, one of the film's biggest laughs had to be the jarring, 3 Stooges-worthy insert shot of Woody yelling, "Let's get outta' here" during the final bank robbery. The subsequent years have seen a remarkable display of growth as far as Woody the writer and actor goes. When it comes to screen direction and what to do with a camera, I'm reminded of a crack made by Virgil Starkwell's fictional music teacher concerning his student's ability to master the cello: "He had no conception of the instrument. He would blow into it."
I've made it my business to see every Woody Allen film on or before opening day. He's my rabbi, my mentor, and Groucho's heir apparent. What he is not is a great filmmaker.
Remember the famous "Jew eat?" sequence in Annie Hall? This should refresh your memory:
Funny stuff, right? Now watch it again, once without the sound and then with the picture turned off. What is it about the visuals that add to or inform the scene? Nothing. If anything, the static shot distracts from the dialog as we momentarily phase out to scour the frame in search of exactly what it is he wants us to be looking at. Where I come from, we call this dialog-driven, visually bankrupt style of filmmaking "radio."
It's not like Woody's incapable of turning out a masterpiece or three -- Zelig, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Cassandra's Dream come to mind -- nor do I expect him to hit a grand-slam every time he steps up to the plate. Somewhere around A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, the misses began to outweigh the hits. It's been ages since Allen, who, to his credit and many's disbelief, still averages a film a year, has been able to string together back-to-back hits.
Your comment about "flashback moments sort of standing alone as vignettes" in Blue Jasmine only helps to further bolster my assertion that one of the film's major problems is its slapdash structure. We're talking about a Woody Allen picture, not another Lorne Michaels-produced parade of SNL sketches strung together to resemble a feature. Woody inserts flashbacks with the same degree of calculation as a magician's helper returning a card to the deck.
I cannot speak for Duncan, but from what I gather, since his departure from The Reader, there really hasn't been a drastic change in the way things are run here. Every Monday morning Matthew and I receive an email from publisher Jim Holman reminding us that our continued terms of employment hinge solely on our abilities to disparage.