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PostPosted: Sat Sep 13, 2008 11:41 am 

Joined: Thu Sep 15, 2005 6:02 pm
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I have mixed feelings about Celebrity. Although I consider "Husbands and Wives" the last film of the prime-Allen era (due not only to quality, but also to other factors, including cast and content), Celebrity marks, for me, the end of another era, with Sweet & Lowdown being kind of a bridge before the Dreamworks films, all of which I consider terrible (I know many disagree). At the same time, Celebrity is the middle film in what I consider an unofficial "bad man" trilogy, starting with Deconstructing Harry--three films that have unsympathetic characters at the center, and who pay for their mistakes (though Harry finds some kind of salvation). These, for me, are three of Allen's saddest films.

I consider Celebrity the end of an era because it is the last time he worked with any of the 3 great cinematographers (Willis, Di Palma, Nykvist) who defined the prime years (it's also Nykvist's penultimate film, and the first time Allen had worked with him in almost a decade). Not only are those 3 DP's among my favorites, but to my mind, even though he has worked with several great DP's since then, none of them have that symbiotic relationship with Allen. Although Allen is often derided for not being a visually interesting filmmaker, I consider all his films from Annie Hall to Celebrity to be interesting, utilizing a European style that doesn't seem to impress in the States, or exist anywhere anymore. Fei Zhao, who would shoot the next 3 Allen films, did some interesting things with color and light, but no DP, including him, seems as comfortable with the long takes as Willis, Di Palma and Nyvkist. Celebrity is also Allen's last film with editor Susan Morse (I don't think the editing in his films has quite recovered since), and the last appearance of actors (in this case Davis, Mantegna) who comprised Allen's rotating cast of regulars left over from the pre-Husbands and Wives years. Later films have appearances by some bit-part actors who show up in several Allen movies, but from this point on, Allen would use newer, often younger actors. In other words, Celebrity contains the last vestiges (DP, editor, cast) of Allen's prime years. It's also his last B&W film to this point.

The film is episodic, like Deconstructing Harry, and as a result, is rather hit-or-miss. Many scenes and jokes seem recycled from earlier films and fall flat (the fellatio scene is painful to watch, it's so poorly performed), and Allen often seems too out-of-touch to satirize modern celebrity. But I may be the only person in the world who really loves Branagh's performance in this, and thinks that it elevates the film. On a very basic level, it's amusing that he makes his role as an Allen stand-in so plain, whereas people like Cusack struggled to find a balance between being a character and being Allen (only Sean Penn, if his character was ever meant to be an Allen stand-in, would brilliantly make it all his own). But Branagh does something more than just effectively mimic Allen: he turns Allen's whole persona on its head. Although many people are put off by Allen's presence, most fans, like me, always find him a amusing to watch. No matter what, Allen always appears sympathetic in some ways. I'm not sure if this is because he so desperately wants to be liked, or simply because of his comic demeanor. But Allen's characters are often immature and unlikeable, and yet, to Allen's fans, never appear that way. But Branagh drains all the charm and comedy out of the character and what's left is a totally unlikeable, immature heel. It's interesting to compare Deconstructing Harry (Allen apparently tried to find someone else to play the role, but couldn't), in which an even more unlikeable character is made funny and somewhat innocuous through Allen's persona, to Celebrity, where Branagh's Lee comes off as painfully pathetic. As a result Allen's obsessions seem less amusingly neurotic and more disturbing , the film becomes much darker, and ultimately painfully self-critical. The world of Celebrity--and the world Lee has created for himself in it--is much closer to Hell than the Hell scene in Deconstructing Harry. What strikes me most about Celebrity is that Allen's self-criticism (whether intended or not) seems much more damning than his criticism of celebrity--and the two things may ultimately be connected.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 29, 2008 10:35 pm 
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Woody talks about NYC, changes in America in the last 40 years and himself in the 40th Anniversary issue of New York Magazine:

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 10:53 pm 
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montgomery wrote:
I have mixed feelings about Celebrity. Although I consider "Husbands and Wives" the last film of the prime-Allen era (due not only to quality, but also to other factors, including cast and content), Celebrity marks, for me, the end of another era, with Sweet & Lowdown being kind of a bridge before the Dreamworks films, all of which I consider terrible (I know many disagree). At the same time, Celebrity is the middle film in what I consider an unofficial "bad man" trilogy, starting with Deconstructing Harry--three films that have unsympathetic characters at the center, and who pay for their mistakes (though Harry finds some kind of salvation). These, for me, are three of Allen's saddest films.

I consider Celebrity the end of an era because it is the last time he worked with any of the 3 great cinematographers (Willis, Di Palma, Nykvist) who defined the prime years (it's also Nykvist's penultimate film, and the first time Allen had worked with him in almost a decade). Not only are those 3 DP's among my favorites, but to my mind, even though he has worked with several great DP's since then, none of them have that symbiotic relationship with Allen. Although Allen is often derided for not being a visually interesting filmmaker, I consider all his films from Annie Hall to Celebrity to be interesting, utilizing a European style that doesn't seem to impress in the States, or exist anywhere anymore. Fei Zhao, who would shoot the next 3 Allen films, did some interesting things with color and light, but no DP, including him, seems as comfortable with the long takes as Willis, Di Palma and Nyvkist. Celebrity is also Allen's last film with editor Susan Morse (I don't think the editing in his films has quite recovered since), and the last appearance of actors (in this case Davis, Mantegna) who comprised Allen's rotating cast of regulars left over from the pre-Husbands and Wives years. Later films have appearances by some bit-part actors who show up in several Allen movies, but from this point on, Allen would use newer, often younger actors. In other words, Celebrity contains the last vestiges (DP, editor, cast) of Allen's prime years. It's also his last B&W film to this point.

The film is episodic, like Deconstructing Harry, and as a result, is rather hit-or-miss. Many scenes and jokes seem recycled from earlier films and fall flat (the fellatio scene is painful to watch, it's so poorly performed), and Allen often seems too out-of-touch to satirize modern celebrity. But I may be the only person in the world who really loves Branagh's performance in this, and thinks that it elevates the film. On a very basic level, it's amusing that he makes his role as an Allen stand-in so plain, whereas people like Cusack struggled to find a balance between being a character and being Allen (only Sean Penn, if his character was ever meant to be an Allen stand-in, would brilliantly make it all his own). But Branagh does something more than just effectively mimic Allen: he turns Allen's whole persona on its head. Although many people are put off by Allen's presence, most fans, like me, always find him a amusing to watch. No matter what, Allen always appears sympathetic in some ways. I'm not sure if this is because he so desperately wants to be liked, or simply because of his comic demeanor. But Allen's characters are often immature and unlikeable, and yet, to Allen's fans, never appear that way. But Branagh drains all the charm and comedy out of the character and what's left is a totally unlikeable, immature heel. It's interesting to compare Deconstructing Harry (Allen apparently tried to find someone else to play the role, but couldn't), in which an even more unlikeable character is made funny and somewhat innocuous through Allen's persona, to Celebrity, where Branagh's Lee comes off as painfully pathetic. As a result Allen's obsessions seem less amusingly neurotic and more disturbing , the film becomes much darker, and ultimately painfully self-critical. The world of Celebrity--and the world Lee has created for himself in it--is much closer to Hell than the Hell scene in Deconstructing Harry. What strikes me most about Celebrity is that Allen's self-criticism (whether intended or not) seems much more damning than his criticism of celebrity--and the two things may ultimately be connected.

I agree with most of your points, and you make some good ones... I think it is true part of the reason for Allen's struggles since 2000 is that much of his usual supporting cast he's worked with has retired, no longer works with him or has died. Allen's personal filmmaking relies heavily on collaboration with like-minded individuals like Willis, Morse - even in terms of producers who fought the financial battles for him like Jean Doumanian... Jean is the (now ex) wife of Woody's closest friend, John Doumanian (who has a Where's Waldo like appearance in almost all of Woody's films since Annie Hall... cocaine guy in that film, the concerned neighbour in Manhattan Murder Mystery, the drunk uncle giving the kids booze in Hannah & Her Sisters, a rich party goer in Small Time Crooks, etc etc etc)... John is as close as you get to a body guard/personal assistant with Woody. Jean and Woody had a major falling out that ended up in the courts over millions of dollars, and, essentially, since that partnership ended, Woody has had to go to Europe to find funding and his sister Letty has taken on the role of producer.

Unfortunately, Woody has not yet been able to work with too many people in collaboration since then (aside from current editor Alisa Lepselter, who seems to get better with each film with him and has worked exclusively with Woody for the past 10 years)... Susan Morse still works as an editor, but not with Woody... anyone know why? Fei Zhao left Woody rather unexpectedly for no other reason than having felt he made enough money working on the films with Allen, he wanted to return to China (where he has stayed since). Zhao and Woody seemed to work quite well together as well and there was definite potential there... but, alas Woody has worked with 4 different cinematographers since (only Zsigmond and Adefarasin working on more than one film)... 5 if you want to count the fact that he fired one half way through making Hollywood Ending. Some good news on that front is that Santo Loquasto has apparently come out of retirement to work with Woody again, doing production design on Woody's opera in LA and in the upcoming "Whatever Works", his first film since "Melinda & Melinda".

I also think that John Cusack is by far the most successful "Woody imitator" to date, in that he was clearly doing an imitation but Cusack's personality and speech inflections felt far more natural than they did for anyone since (and Will Ferrell didn't do that bad of a job considering either, believe it or not). I do agree that part of Kenneth's interpretation is that it is played more purposefully as pathetic rather than a redeeming loser like Woody plays it. But still, some of the overt Woody-isms at times ruined it... had he toned it down in some scenes, it would have worked much better.

I also agree that Celebrity was the end of the line for an era of Woody films and that Sweet & Lowdown was a bridge to the Dreamworks era - although Nykvist practically did the whole thing blind (which morphed into part of the joke in Hollywood Ending when combined with working with Fei Zhao who spoke no English).


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2008 2:49 am 
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Also another minor note to add here about Celebrity, which I watched tonight - I believe this is the last time to date he has used something of a small signature shot of his, where a scene / shot begins with the camera as the character and a group of people talking to the camera as though it were the character (used a couple of times in Stardust Memories to great effect). He has not used that shot since in any of the 9 films since... something certainly to be said about removing the personal from the subsequent films can be addressed in that cinematography choice ( or lack thereof).


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2008 12:55 am 
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Continuing this on-going conversation with myself, here is documented proof of the changes that happened with Woody around the time of making Celebrity, as reported in the New York Times.

Hard to believe the New York Times writing that long of an article about rumors surrounding Woody's film crews these days.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2008 7:55 am 
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I'll chime in to say thanks for the links. Great stuff.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2008 7:16 pm 
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AWA wrote:
Continuing this on-going conversation with myself, here is documented proof of the changes that happened with Woody around the time of making Celebrity, as reported in the New York Times.

Hard to believe the New York Times writing that long of an article about rumors surrounding Woody's film crews these days.

Interesting stuff. So with Match Point and Vicky making money, does this give Allen bigger budgets and more security? Or is the effect neutralized by Scoop and Casandra's Dream?


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 1:54 am 
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I believe he just signed a three picture, $25 million deal with someone. His biggest budgets yet. (Maybe I just made that up?)


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 2:00 am 
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I don't think the success (or failure) of any recent films will effect anything that takes place in the future of Woodyland. He always finishes production on time and under budget, and his films have almost universally turned a profit, even when they completely sucked. Since he left MGM in the early nineties, he has been able to find the money to basically make whatever film he feels like every single year.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 2:46 am 
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chaddoli wrote:
I believe he just signed a three picture, $25 million deal with someone. His biggest budgets yet. (Maybe I just made that up?)

$23 million, actually - not his all time biggest budget(s), but definitely the biggest he has had in something pushing a decade.

His financial woes should only be understood as US / North American based ones, as in Europe he's been consistently rock solid at the box office - he's as dependable now as he was back in 1986 over there.

The combination of European sources of money (all of which are new to Woody and all of which are eager to work with him for the reasons stated above) and Match Point's success have landed him a three year $23mill/per film deal with MediaPro that will ensure him some artistic, financial (and crew?) security and stability that he hasn't had in 10 years. "Whatever Works" (due out next year) is the first film in that deal, which stemmed from a one-off contract with Vicky Cristina Barcelona... it appears as though it is not attempting to aspire to appeal to any younger audience like some of his more recent films have (though he'll deny it... but he hasn't made a film about and centering on older people in any way since Small Time Crooks in 2000), so it appears he's taking the opportunity to appeal less / appease to the financial backers about who might be in the movie (which is one of the few pieces of information he lets producers know in advance) and more about making something that might relate to his personal insight into his own age group at this stage (Larry David).

I don't think he'll ever have to worry - he's going to be 73 this year and has standing offers in Italy and France waiting for him after this 3 year deal with MediaPro is over, and that's only assuming MediaPro doesn't want him back. He basically is secure in financial backing until he's 80. I do think this is one last opportunity for him to dig into his filmmaking again now that he isn't juggling financial restrictions like he has been for the most part of this decade.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 11:46 am 
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For anyone who watches Woody films for "apartment porn" or is just generally interested to see where all of his films stem from, Architectural Digest did an 8 photo series on Woody's own apartment (believe it or not), and here is the famous desk where his scripts are typed (across from the bed where most of them are actually written on notepad):

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:14 pm 
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I love Woody, but that apartment feels like a bed and breakfast (and not in a good way). I would love to see what his screening room looks like.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:27 pm 

Joined: Thu Sep 15, 2005 6:02 pm
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I agree--this is about the WASPiest looking apartment I've ever seen. I'm trying to decide whether I'm surprised or not.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:51 pm 
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Looks like it should be Mia's apartment.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:59 pm 
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why are any of you surprised?

It looks exactly what i suspected Allen's apartment would looks like.

What were you expecting, something from IKEA? :wink:


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 1:02 pm 
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Well, I must admit, I was expecting at least one giant poster of Penelope Cruz and ScarJo kissing.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 1:11 pm 
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montgomery wrote:
WASPiest

cute


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 1:39 pm 
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Antoine Doinel wrote:
I would love to see what his screening room looks like.


If you can find a copy of the December 2005 issue of Vanity Fair, there are two full two page Annie Leibovitz photo spreads of him sitting on his couch in his screening room, plus a detailed view of his desk at the screening room ... which, unlike the desk above, is quite a cluttered mess - a bulletin board beside his desk is filled with photos, many of which are of himself with friends, several polaroids he took of family and firiends, newspaper clippings from around the world and this famous photo of himself:
Image

In the photo collection in the article itself, there is a photo of Woody at his Steinbeck circa 1983. Which has apparently been replaced by a Mac, btw.

I don't have my scanner working otherwise I'd upload the photos myself as I can't find them online.

Anyways, the Time Magazine feature from last year was also done in his screening room - you can see one of the foot stools here, which matches all the rest of the (scruffy) 70's furniture:

Image
You can see some glimpses of it in the video version of Time Magazine's interview here.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 1:59 pm 
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His interior designer is patently gay.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 2:02 pm 
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Aren't they all?


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 23, 2008 2:28 pm 
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Some try to hide it.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 24, 2008 9:24 am 

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AWA wrote:
"Whatever Works" (due out next year) is the first film in that deal, which stemmed from a one-off contract with Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Actually, his new 3 picture deal with Mediapro starts next year - after Whatever Works - with a project that will probably be Paris-based. So as things stand now, we're guaranteed at least 4 more films from Woody.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 24, 2008 11:58 am 
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Fielding wrote:
AWA wrote:
"Whatever Works" (due out next year) is the first film in that deal, which stemmed from a one-off contract with Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Actually, his new 3 picture deal with Mediapro starts next year - after Whatever Works - with a project that will probably be Paris-based. So as things stand now, we're guaranteed at least 4 more films from Woody.

You're right - my mistake.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2008 6:26 pm 

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Many of your comments have been helpful to a couple recent posts at Good Small Films. Thanks for the unwitting contribution.

If you're interested, www.goodsmallfilms.blogspot.com .


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2008 6:40 pm 

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AWA wrote:
Fielding wrote:
AWA wrote:
"Whatever Works" (due out next year) is the first film in that deal, which stemmed from a one-off contract with Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Actually, his new 3 picture deal with Mediapro starts next year - after Whatever Works - with a project that will probably be Paris-based. So as things stand now, we're guaranteed at least 4 more films from Woody.

You're right - my mistake.

Something I've thought about is what Allen has done with his time between WW final cut and now. His Mediapro shoot will probably not begin until next summer....

Even when you figure in the time devoted to the opera, you're still looking at a long layoff because of WW unusually early production. He likes to stay busy, as everyone here knows. I was reminded earlier that after Match Point was released he wrote 3 screenplays in 12 weeks, Scoop being the last of the three and the only one of which we know for sure has made its way to the screen. Cassandra's Dream and VCB were not those films. I haven't seen any New Yorker shorts recently, rumors of one-acts in the offing, etc...what's Allen up to these days?


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