Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Don't Turn the Projector Off!"

Classic Movie of the Week
Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo

Yesterday, I was contemplating what a middling movie year it's been up to this point. Thinking about how many outright awful films I've sat through recently (see sidebar) in my attempt to get my celluloid communion on, I decided on a surefire cure for my movie blues. I went and saw The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) again. It was playing at the Museum of Modern Art and their timing couldn't have been better. They cured my summer movie blues.

For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a delightful comedy about a fictional character who steps right off the screen to woo a lonely woman in the audience. He can't resist meeting her after he notices her sitting, day after day, watching the movie in which he appears. Naturally comedic chaos ensues once he makes this spontaneous transition. The other characters in the movie don't know what to do (he's a plot engine) audiences don't know what to make of (they talk back) and Hollywood starts sweating. What if more characters start leaving their movies?

The lonely moviegoer, Cecilia, is played by the perpetually underappreciated Mia Farrow. Her screen suitor is "Tom Baxter" from the film within this film (also called "The Purple Rose of Cairo"). He's played by an actor named Gil Shepherd who also appears later in the film. Both of them are played by Jeff Daniels --are you still with me?

Cairo is a silly and brilliantly concise Allen confection. It runs less than an hour and a half yet it holds more ideas and laughs than this whole summer's worth of comedies put together, including Woody's latest, Scoop. Cairo arrived during that genius stretch from Annie Hall (1977) to Crimes and Misdemeanors(1989) when Woody mastered his unique collision of dramatic concerns and inspired funny business. Oscar voters didn't notice it aside from the witty screenplay but the film was a hit with the Golden Globes, scoring Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels richly deserved nominations for their touching duet.

There are several classic films about the movies but what makes The Purple Rose of Cairo so endearing is that it's really about moviegoing. It addresses what it means to sit in the dark and fall in love and what the movies do for their audiences. And in a bittersweet way, especially for cinephiles, it's also about what the movies can't do for us; the great chasm between fiction and reality. I love this movie. It was the first movie I ever saw which made me realize I was more connected to the cinema than anyone I knew (at that point in my life at least). Cecilia, that avid moviegoer, felt like a soulmate. I recognized myself in her so clearly, daydreaming about the movies to the point where I'd completely forget whatever it was I was doing, slowing down when walking past movie theaters eyes wide to take in new movie posters (what would this one be like?), and finding myself jabbering away about film stars whenever anyone asked me a movie question.

I also love the semi-divisive ending so much more as an adult than I did as a teen. I love that it means different things to different people (so do the movies). I love the song choice from the Fred & Ginger film "Heaven... I'm in Heaven" I love watching Cecilia settling into her seat and seeing her go into that new movie trance, again leaving her reality behind. You know that she will always be returning to the movie theater. It's her church.

If you ever have a run of movies so bad that you are considering swearing them off forever, all you need to do to is catch a great one. The brilliant Purple Rose of Cairo is just such a movie for me. It's a healing elixir. Whenever I watch it I fall madly in love with the movies all over again.


adam k. said...

I rented this recently, mostly due to its great showing in your 1985 awards. I loved it too, though I was somewhat put off by the length (or lack thereof). Great ending. Great song. And Jeff Daniels is so cute in it. Hard to believe he's the same person who lit up Squid and the Whale 20 years later.

Derek said...

I thought this was fine when I saw it, but didn't think too much of it. Maybe I need to give it another look. How long is it playing, or was it a one-time thing?

And totally agree with Marcelo about this post... absolutely wonderful.

adam k. said...

Also just for the record, Nathaniel, I think there are lots of awful movies every year. This year, you just chose to see the ones than happened to be terrible.


it's true. I've been making some bad choices lately. some of them were for reasons i couldn't really avoid like my friends wanted to see _____ other times it was my damn actressuality that did me in --like with mysuperexgirlfriend .

Oh, Uma. You hurt me.

Yaseen Ali said...

I just saw this a few months ago, and couldn't agree more. Excellent review.

adam k. said...

I also contemplated seeing My Super Ex-Girlfriend in the theater since it'd be much better there than on DVD, but then the reviews hit and I was like "no, I think I'll be keeping my $9, thank you". Even if Uma DOES have superpowers, that alone doesn't mean it's worth it.

I also thought John Tucker Must Die might actually be good in that campy Bring It On kind of way. But then the reviews came and I thought "no, absolutely not."

Don't know what to tell you about Another Gay Movie though. You dug your own grave with that one.

And Date Movie!!?? I assume you had to go to that one with friends.

Were none of those D- films actually worthy of an F? Do it, Nathaniel, don't be afraid. Don't wait for another Daredevil.

Glenn Dunks said...

Damn, I really wanna see this now (I don't think it's on DVD out here).

DL said...

Regrettably, I've never seen this film.

But I must comment on the banner. I adore it. I Heart Huckabees was probably the best comedy of the decade so far, in terms of originality and the actual laugh-out-loud factor. Mark Wahlberg was the stand-out for me, but Naomi Watts, Lily Tomlin and Jude Law weren't far behind him. Hell, Jason Schwartzmann and Dustin Hoffman weren't either.

That cast is just so perfect.

Glenn Dunks said...

I Heart Huckabees is one of the only comedies of this decade so far that I laugh at every time I watch it. So, it's instantly better than even I originally thought (and I ranked it pretty damn highly)

Anonymous said...

Couldn´t agree more; Purple Rose of Cairo is one of the best screenplays ever to filmed, and a movie in its own league, not be be compared with any other drama or comedy.
I remember watching this for the first time when I was 16 or so, late at night on tv. The feeling I had afterwards has never been again matched by any other movie. I was completely fascinated by it: the movie is magical; funny and yet depressing in an unique way.
Mia Farrows delivers an incredible performance. The last scene, with her sitting in the dark changing her face expression from pain to slight hope is just poetry!


aw thanks. i wasn't even going to post about it but it just made me so happy i figured i oughta give it some props.

Anonymous said...

One of the best ending of a movie, and the best movie about why we love going to the movies

Anonymous said...

I watched this movie for the first time this summer in the basement of the Syracuse University Library on an ancient VHS tape. Son of a bitch if it still wasn't one of the best films I've seen in ages.