Cinematic Jazz: Jazz Über Alle Anderen Musik des Kinos

May 13, 2010

Compare the carefully placed and well-timed Jazz of George Gershwin in Woody Allen’s Manhattan to the repeated-to-the-point-of-tiresome use of “California Dreamin’” in Wong Kar Wai’s The Chungking Express. Though the two songs clearly have their differences in genre, both serve similar purposes: to narrate the characters’ feelings, to charm into sympathy, or to try to appeal to the intellect and the emotions of the audience. All films that have employed previously existing music in any way share these common purposes. When a film is scored with original music, the music is completely fitted to the film and subtle; it has not yet had the chance to erode into popular culture. But when a film adopts an existing well-known song, the film can only fit the song so much before its use can be seen as outlandish. What’s left are the question and the spectrum that the answer falls upon: Did the auteur use the existing music effectively?
Different musical genres transmit different emotions and thoughts, which in turn, provide flexibility for all film genres and their specific situations where music is audible. Thus, music in films have become an archetype; recurrent in recurring situations. Yet, a single genre outshines others through its intellectual and pathological versatility. Enter jazz: free-thinking but structured, raw sophistication. An absolutely beautiful, universal language, through which the orators flex their muscles in harmony, prowess and precision. Wynton Marsalis, prodigy trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize winning author describes jazz perfectly, “Jazz is more than the best expression there is of American culture; it is the most democratic of arts” (Fiero, 108). The use of jazz in films is a versatile well-made choice that appeals both to the emotion and to the intellect. Compared to other musical genres employed in films, jazz enhances filmic space and time, yet leaves enough neutrality for mise-en-scene to unfold without being obstructed.


Several different subgenres of Rock & Roll exist, but they are often type-casted into the same usage: the empowering moment. The destruction of large, incorporated buildings signifies Project Mayhem’s goal as accomplished, but simultaneously the defeat of its leader, Tyler Durden. The haunting “Where is my Mind?” by Pixies plays over the triumphant ending of Fight Club, leaving the mood victorious yet with a feeling of loss; bittersweet. The song fits well as it ties into Fight Club’s central theme of insanity. The rhythms and instruments of Rock & Roll differentiate it from other music genres. It is faster, simpler and steadier. A parallel can be drawn to the beating heart, which also can pick up tempo while staying rhythmic. When the heart beats faster, the body gets excited and mental activity increases. Rock & Roll music is used in films to change the pace the heart and to build emotion by engaging the change in heartbeat. In Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Inglourious Basterds, the character Shosanna sits on windowsill and applies her makeup while contemplating for the night ahead. This elaborated moment is accompanied with the entire length of “Theme from Cat People” by David Bowie. The song emphasizes the moment of the quiet before the storm, draws many parallels between its lyrics and the world of the film, and expresses the emotions and intentions of the character so that the actor does not have to, while still conveying the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Though they may be used well, the songs are prominent to pop culture: Pixies’ album Surfer Rosa which featured “Where is My Mind” peaked at number 2 on the UK Indie Chart and “Theme from Cat People” reached #26 in the United Kingdom, #67 in the United States, and #1 in Norway, Sweden and New Zealand. Such popular songs distract from the film by redirecting thought to memories and recognition of the popular song used.
Popular Rock & Roll features very structured songwriting, providing a sense of entrapment and dictatorship. Improvisation defines itself as a criterion of jazz music. “In simple terms, improvisation is extemporaneous musical composition” (King, 6), which provides democracy and importance to the players. Rather than a rehearsed speech, jazz is like speaking a language that imitates the common psychological process of contributing to a conversation, for it is a “common, shared, body of musical ideas and expressions that have evolved throughout the years” (King, 7). While it does create a medium to speak through, the language does not hinder the options and the directions one can take as an improviser. “The basic language and its vocabulary are only the starting point for an improviser’s imagination. Homer and Shakespeare and Dostoevsky weren’t limited by their languages. They took hold of the language they had been taught and created something unique and personal” (King, 11). The possibilities of jazz’s expression remain endless.

Jazz’s spontaneous organization is very flexible to change, bend, or mold – a trait of an ideal democracy. During the conversation (melody, harmony and rhythm) of instruments in jazz, the language of the soul is spoken and without the dilution of words or ideas but with merely the implications and suggestions. This stimulates and provides space for verbal conversation but does not regulate or compete with it, ideal for conversations in films, where dialogue should be audible without being distracted or interrupted by music that calls too much attention to itself, provide understanding of the story, build or break sympathies with characters, or inform the audience.
Imagine any scene in a film where two people converse over nondiegetic music. When the two characters carry the dialogue between each other, the non-speaking character (but not always the actor) is constantly improvising and formulating a responding answer to the speech of the one speaking. Jazz mimics this process, imitating the exchange of words in a conversation, words that are merely branches of the tree of ideas that they form. “The way a typical jazz performance unfolds is a lot like the way a conversation progresses. Someone chooses a subject to discuss and takes the lead in expressing ideas and thoughts about the subject. She is soloing…Her fellow conversationalists comment intermittently with ideas and thoughts that the speaker has inspired, and that will, in turn, inspire her” (King, 12).

Though Tarantino and Fincher did well in their choices, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall utilizes “Seems Like Old Times” much more profoundly than Tarantino did with “Theme from Cat People”. Tarantino’s song only fulfills a molecular moment in a subplot, whereas Allen’s song serves as a finish line, one crossed in the first lap of Annie’s character arc and crossed again to conclude the growth. Both sets of lyrics tie into the story well, but “Seems Like Old Times” succeeds in doing so with a new meaning each time around. The song ends with the word “you”, which addresses not only Alvy Singer but the audience as well. The “temporary revelation of genuine love [is then] disclosed, only to be repudiated through art. Thus the song returns Alvy and the audience to the reality principle, to the theater, to the incoherence of life” (Morris, 56).


Along with superfluous rambling about shallow desires, the ascent of the rapper from the ghetto to stardom is a common staple of modern “gangsta” rap music. Their degenerate behaviors are carried over and continued even after their admittance into aristocracy. (Yes, this may be generalization, but it is carefully used here and throughout this paragraph with flawed logic that a true gangsta can appreciate: Stanislavsky said that generalization is “the enemy of art”, and it is a common opinion that “the enemy of art” is hip-hop music. Therefore, if it is believed that hip-hop is the “enemy of art”, it is appropriate to generalize it.) After reaping their fortunes, their trashy desires are fulfilled without struggle due to unlimited resources in checkbook. Snoop Doggy Dogg, a modern influence on “gangsta rap”, boasts his persona as a “pimpsta”- a part-“gangsta” and part-pimp. “Most of [Snoop Dogg’s] lyrics represent nothing but senseless, banal, nihilism. The misogyny is so dense that it sounds more like little kids discovering nasty words for the first time than full-blown male pathos (Perkins, 147). Snoop Dogg also heavily affiliates himself with pornography, which has bolstered his credibility as a “real-pimp” and enhanced his attractiveness to Hollywood (Watkins, 208). The line that once divided pop culture from porn culture continues to be blurred, with porn chic in mainstream television, film, music and advertising (Watkins, 208). Advocacy of pornography fits snugly in with corporate hip-hop’s common misogyny. “The woman hating inclinations in corporate hip-hop have become so common, they appear ordinary” (Watkins, 209). Any progressive claims that the rap movement might make is undermined by hip-hop’s raging misogyny, which is routinely glamorized (Watkins, 219). Despite all, Snoop Dogg’s rap has been featured on 70 TV episodes and films. Such messages are sustained by their continued heavy use in films.
In Todd Philips’ comedy The Hangover, rap by Kanye West accompanies the four protagonists as they enter Las Vegas, commonly known as sin city. T.I.’s rap music accentuates their stay at Caesar’s Palace (to the auto-tune of 4200$ per night). What follows is a night of debauchery and degeneration that nobody remembers. Hip hop music was well employed in this instance, for only shallow, pathetic behavior took place. The characters’ ascent from normal life to the glamour and possible fortunes of Las Vegas mirrored the common journey of the rapper. The rap genre also contains the motif of “homies”, which The Hangover echoes in its central theme of “bromance”.
The group Three 6 Mafia won the most prestigious award for films, the Oscar, for their contribution to the film Hustle and Flow with their song “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”. The film deals with the almost stereotypical ascent of the rapper from the gutter to the Grammys. The song, not unlike most rap music, uses offensive language, pre-elementary level grammar, and encourages highly immoral acts, such as capitalizing off of prostitutes and then complaining about the hardships that the illegal job endows. The song’s composition features no musical excellence, and follows a common recipe in its genre. “Hardcore gangsta rap has become so formulaic that capturing even a modicum of reality no longer seems to be a priority (Perkins, 147). Commending and encouraging such a message with such a prestigious honor only proves that it is recognized and accepted by the Academy that the hip hop world monumentalizes hypercapitalism and consumerism to the point where the woman is merely just another object to be owned, consumed and disposed of (Watkins, 215). The film’s use of the song is mediocre, cliché, nothing extraordinary, and can only be valued by its slight pathological effect. Hustle & Flow uses the song in the same way other films that feature a character writing a song that transcends diegetic boundaries do. Gangsta rap, the type of rap performed by Three 6 Mafia, is described as “pure profanity bereft of the rich storytelling and use of metaphor and simile that have been cornerstones of rap music since its origins (Perkins, 147).
Compare Craig Brewer’s use of Three 6 Mafia’s rap in Hustle & Flow to Woody Allen’s use of Art Tatum in Deconstructing Harry and his use of George Gershwin in Manhattan. Art Tatum’s ragtime jazz is subservient to the narration, yet it serves its moment and the emotions present wonderfully. The music changes in tempo, which progresses the story from one mood to the next and accelerates time from one point to the next. In a classic, humorous, signature fashion, Allen then employs a Tatum number with an eastern melody when the character Helen converts into a Jew. The jazz and classical music that Allen uses in his films takes many tones. “Jazz can be immensely complicated and brooding. As often as it can sound happy or sweet or shy, it can also be abstract, remote, churning and even upsetting” (King, xiii). Allen knows the versatility of jazz, for he employs different forms of it in his films, each with a new, different use. In his earlier career, he coupled the lightheartedness of ragtime piano with his physical, slapstick humor (Bananas and Take the Money and Run), and the essence of Dixieland for social commentary in Sleeper. In his later films such as Deconstructing Harry, Tatum’s jazz underlies diverse scenes of love, emotional anguish and happiness. Most notable in Deconstructing Harry is his coupling of eccentric jazz numbers over jump cuts, a jarring, self-conscious form of film editing, used in the film to suggest Harry’s mental instability. Even “The Girl from Ipanema” is given a unique use, narrating the mood of the character’s visit from a whore and ironically, the grim reaper. The use of the song “Oedipus Wrecks” commonly used by Allen in comical situations is very fitting to its relentless energy, yet it does not overpower the scene, letting the actors and mise-en-scene define the scene rather than the song defining it. In certain films, Allen pays homage by featuring a singular composer: Sergei Prokofiev in Love and Death, George Gershwin in Manhattan, Felix Mendelssohn in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Kurt Weill in Shadows and Fog, Oscar Peterson in Play it Again, Sam, and Django Reinhardt in Sweet and Lowdown (Harvey, 6).
Fitting music to a film can be likened to tailoring a suit to a man. In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, he employs George Gershwin’s music to synchronize the lyrics with the actions within the film and the emotions of the characters. Allen does not just employ the opening song, “Rhapsody in Blue” as a one-trick-pony song to satiate. Many of Gershwin’s songs are called upon for their guidance to the story’s characters and themes. “Love is Sweeping the Country” contrasts the film’s world of lovelessness, lesbianism, divorce and single-parenting, “S’Wonderful” muses mention of “paradise” over a joyride with Isaac and Mary, “Embraceable You” plays over dancing and has the lyrics “irreplaceable you” to give counterpoint to the unsteadiness of the characters’ relationships, “Lady Be Good” fits over discussion of the publishing of Jill’s book revealing embarrassing facts about her marriage to Isaac, “Someone to Watch Over Me” ‘s allusions to a “lonesome babe in the wood…all alone in the big city”, and “Strike Up the Band” and “But Not for Me” connect to the theme of romantic quests as wasted effort and delusions (Morris, 57). The brilliance is sublime, for Allen used The New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s instrumental renditions of the Gershwin songs instead of the original versions with lyrics and singers. Instead of tailoring the suit to the film, the film is given the suit to which the film must grow to fit in. By eliminating the lyrics and leaving the emotional builds of the song as it was written, Allen does not force the emotions but rather lets them subtly manifest through Gershwin’s writing (the suit is elastic). Those who are not familiar with Gershwin’s catalogue experience the soundtrack as just enhancement to the on screen emotions. Yet, those that are see through it see that there is not just one narrator, but two. The emotions of the film and the actions of the film become symbiotic and would not be nearly as strong without the other. To devise such a use for music requires not only a strong intellect, but one that doesn’t lend itself to egoism. In this case, Allen’s acumen displays both attributes, and the usage does not blatantly alert the audience that this is a self-conscious decision and can be mutually enjoyed by those who know Gershwin’s lyrics and those who don’t.
Much of instrumental Jazz’s beauty lies in the fact that it has no lyrics. Without them, the music engages the listener in complex rhythms, harmonies and melodies, but does not force the listener into thinking about the lyricist’s matters. Instead, the listener may form opinions or contemplate freely among the musicians as they assist by constantly providing moods and emotions to think on top of. Rap music cannot provide this, as it is completely opposite to the nature of Jazz. Rappers constantly bombard orally with peer pressure containing ill-mannered behavior and anti-progressive rhythms and beats, which leave only a degenerative influence. There is no virtuousity in the music, opposed to Jazz, which requires that its players are very highly skilled. Jazz also varies greatly in speed, emotion, freedom and texture, unlike the simplicity, emotional bluntness, and formulaic elements of Rock & Roll. Jazz offers infinite intellectual resources by allowing the listener the luxury of neutrality and freedom to enter deep thought.

Works Cited
Ake, David Andrew. Jazz Cultures. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Annie Hall. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. United Artists Corporation, 1977. DVD.
Chungking Express = Chung Hing Sam Lam. Dir. Kar Wai Wong. Buena Vista Home Entertainment Inc., 1994. DVD.
Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
Harvey, Adam. The Soundtracks of Woody Allen: A Complete Guide to the Songs and Music in Every Film, 1969-2005. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2007.
Hustle & Flow. By Craig Brewer. Dir. Craig Brewer. 2005. DVD.
Kernfeld, Barry Dean. What to Listen for in Jazz. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
King, Jonny. What Jazz Is: An Insider’s Guide to Understanding and Listening to Jazz. New York: Walker and Co, 1997.
Manhattan. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. United Artists, 1979. DVD.
Morris, Christopher. “Woody Allen’s Comic Irony.” The Films of Woody Allen: Critical Essays. By Charles L. P. Silet. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2006. 50-57. Print.
Perkins, William Eric. Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture.
Critical perspectives on the past. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
Watkins, S. Craig. Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005.

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Woody Allen Quotes

May 5, 2010

Banned In Hollywood’s list of their favorite Allen quotes:
(Quotes are enhanced if read in Woody Allen’s voice)

I don’t think my parents liked me. They put a live teddy bear in my crib.

I failed to make the chess team because of my height.

I tended to place my wife under a pedestal.

I’m such a good lover because I practice a lot on my own.

If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. But the worst you can say about him is that he is an underachiever.

Most of the time I don’t have much fun. The rest of the time I don’t have any fun at all.

My luck is getting worse and worse. Last night, for instance, I was mugged by a Quaker.

My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.

Who bothers to cook TV dinners? I suck them frozen.

To you I’m an atheist; to God, I’m the loyal opposition.

Organized crime in America takes in over fourty billion dollars a year and spends very little on office supplies.

Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go, it’s pretty damn good.

On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done just as easily lying down.

It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

When we played softball, I’d steal second base, feel guilty, and go back.

Basically, my wife was immature. I’d be at home in the bath and she’d come in and sink my boats.

My education was dismal. I went to a series of schools for mentally disturbed teachers.

What if nothing exists and we’re all in somebody’s dream? Or what’s worse, what if only that fat guy in the third row exists?

You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.

He was so depressed, he tried committing suicide by inhaling next to an Armenian.

Pretty good list, even has a couple quotes from Insanity Defense.

Cinematic Jazz

April 10, 2010

Compare the carefully placed and well-timed Jazz of George Gershwin in Woody Allen’s Manhattan to the repeated-to-the-point-of-tiresome use of “California Dreamin’” in Wong Kar Wai’s The Chungking Express. Though the two songs clearly have their differences in genre, both serve similar purposes: to narrate the characters’ feelings, to charm into sympathy, or to try to appeal to the intellect and the pathos of the audience. In fact, not only do these two films try to accomplish this, but the entire roster of films that have employed previously existing nondiegetic or diegetic music in any way share these common goals. When a film is scored with original music, the music is completely tailored to the film and therefore subtle, since it has not yet had the chance to erode into popular culture. But when a film adopts an existing song, the film can only fit the song so much before its use can be seen as outlandish. What’s left are the question and the spectrum that the answer falls upon: Did the auteur employ the existing music effectively? Different musical genres transmit different emotions and thoughts, which in turn, provides flexibility for all film genres and their specific situations where music is audible. Thus, music in films have become an archetype; recurrent in recurring situations. Yet, a single genre outshines others through its intellectual and pathological versatility. Enter Jazz: free-thinking but structured, raw sophistication. An absolutely beautiful, universal language, through which the orators flex their muscles in harmony, prowess and precision. Compared to other music genres, the use of Jazz in films is a versatile well-made choice that appeals both to the emotion and to the intellect.

Several different subgenres of Rock n’ Roll exist, but they are often type-casted into the same usage: the empowering triumphant moment. At the end of David Fincher’s Fight Club, The destruction of large, incorporated buildings, Project Mayhem’s goal accomplished, and the defeat of Tyler Durden. The haunting “Where is my Mind?” by the Pixies plays over the triumphant ending, leaving the mood victorious. The song fits well as it ties into Fight Club’s central theme of insanity. The rhythms and instruments of Rock n’ Roll differentiate it from other music genres. It is faster, simpler and steadier. A parallel can be drawn to the beating heart, which also can pick up tempo but stays rhythmic. When the heart beats faster, the body gets excited and mental activity increases. Rock n’ Roll music is used in films to change the pace the heart and to build emotion by engaging the change in heartbeat. Jimi Hendrix’s “If Six Was Nine” plays as Wyatt, Billy and George ride through the southern United States in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider. The song’s lyrics empower with Hendrix’s confidence in his nonconformity, individualism and refusal of pressure to be fit into the mold of the standard bourgeois businessman. It fits Easy Rider well because the two characters only are alike each other and are ultimately killed by stereotypical rednecks. The film echoes the song, “I’m gonna be the one that’s gonna die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to”. The nonconforming characters’ attitudes are expressed well by the song. Its use is not questioned as alienated or misused. In Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds, the character Shosanna sits on windowsill and applies her makeup while contemplating for the night ahead. This elaborated moment is accompanied with the entire length of “Theme from Cat People” by David Bowie. The song emphasizes the moment of the quiet before the storm, draws many parallels between its lyrics and the world of the film, and expresses the emotions and intentions of the character so that the actor does not have to, while still conveying the characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Though Fincher, Hopper and Tarantino did well in their choices, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall utilizes “Seems Like Old Times” much more profoundly than how Tarantino used with Bowie’s “Theme from Cat People”, how Fincher used “Where is my Mind?” and how Hopper used Hendrix’s “If Six was Nine”. Fincher, Hopper and Tarantino’s featuring of the songs only fulfill molecular moments in their stories, whereas Allen’s use of a jazzy rendition of “Seems Like Old Times” serves as a finish line, one crossed in the first lap of Annie’s character arc and crossed again to conclude the growth. Both sets of lyrics tie into the story well, but “Seems Like Old Times” succeeds in doing so with a new meaning each time around. The song ends with the word “you”, which addresses not only Alvy Singer but the audience as well. The “temporary revelation of genuine love [is then] disclosed, only to be repudiated through art. Thus the song returns Alvy and the audience to the reality principle, to the theater, to the incoherence of life” (Morris, 56).

Next to superfluous rambling about shallow desires, the ascent of the rapper from the ghetto to stardom is a key characteristic of modern rap music. Their degenerate behaviors are carried over and continued even after their admittance into aristocracy. After reaping their fortunes, their trashy desires are fulfilled without struggle due to unlimited resources in checkbook. In Todd Philips’ comedy The Hangover, music by Kanye West accompanies the four protagonists as they enter Las Vegas, commonly known as sin city. T.I.’s rap music accentuates their stay at Caesar’s Palace (to the auto-tune of 4200$ per night). What follows is a night of debauchery and degeneration that nobody remembers. Hip hop music was well employed in this instance, for only shallow, pathetic behavior took place. The characters’ ascent from normal life to the glamour and possible fortunes of Las Vegas mirrored the common journey of the rapper. The rap genre also contains the motif of “homies”, which The Hangover echoes in its central theme of “bromance”. The group Three 6 Mafia won the most prestigious award for films, the Oscar, for their contribution to the film Hustle and Flow with their song “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”. The film deals with the almost stereotypical ascent of the rapper from the gutter to the Grammys. The song, not unlike most rap music, uses offensive language, pre-elementary level grammar, and encourages highly immoral acts, such as capitalizing off of prostitutes and complaining about the hardships that the illegal job endows. The film’s use of the song is mediocre, cliché, and nothing extraordinary, and can only be valued by its slight pathological effect.
Fitting music to a film can be likened to tailoring a suit to a man. In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, he employs George Gershwin’s music to synchronize the lyrics with the ongoings in the film and the emotions of the characters. Allen does not just employ the opening song, “Rhapsody in Blue” as a one-trick-pony song to satiate. Many of Gershwin’s songs are called upon for their guidance to the story’s characters and themes. “Love is Sweeping the Country” contrasts the film’s world of lovelessness, lesbianism, divorce and single-parenting, “S’Wonderful” muses mention of “paradise” over a joyride with Isaac and Mary, “Embraceable You” plays over dancing and contains the lyrics “irreplaceable you” to provide counterpoint to the unsteadiness of the characters’ relationships, “Lady Be Good” fits over discussion of the publishing of Jill’s book revealing embarrassing facts about her marriage to Isaac, “Someone to Watch Over Me” ‘s allusions to a “lonesome babe in the wood…all alone in the big city”, and “Strike Up the Band” and “But Not for Me” connect to the theme of romantic quests as wasted effort and delusions (Morris, 57). The brilliance is sublime, for Allen used The New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s instrumental renditions of the Gershwin songs instead of the original versions with lyrics and singers. Instead of tailoring the suit to the film, the film is given the suit to which the film must grow to fit in. By eliminating the lyrics and leaving the emotional builds of the song as it was written, Allen does not force the emotions but rather lets them subtly manifest through Gershwin’s writing (the suit is elastic). Those who are not familiar with Gershwin’s catalogue experience the soundtrack as just enhancement to the on screen emotions. Yet, those that are familiar see through it see that there is not just one narrator, but two. The emotions of the film and the actions of the film become symbiotic and would not be nearly as strong without the other. To devise such a use for music requires not only a strong intellect, but one that doesn’t lend itself to egoism. In this case, Allen’s acumen displays both attributes, and therefore the usage does not blatantly alert the audience that this is a self-conscious decision and can be mutually enjoyed by those who know Gershwin’s lyrics and those who don’t.
Much of instrumental Jazz’s beauty lies in the fact that it has no lyrics. Without them, the music engages the listener in complex rhythms and melodies, but is not forced to think about the lyricist’s matters. Instead, the listener may form opinions or contemplate freely among the musicians as they assist by constantly providing moods and emotions to think on top of. Rap music cannot provide this, as it is completely opposite to the nature of Jazz. Rappers constantly bombard orally with peer pressure containing ill-mannered behavior and anti-progressive rhythms and beats, which leave only a degenerate influence. There is no virtuousity in the music, opposed to Jazz, which requires that its players are very highly skilled. Jazz also varies greatly in speed, emotion, freedom and texture, unlike the simplicity, emotional bluntness, and formulaic elements of Rock n’ Roll. Both genres seem to have much more complex lyrics than Jazz, which offers infinite intellectual resources by allowing the listener the luxury of neutrality and freedom of deep thought.

Works Cited
Annie Hall. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. United Artists Corporation, 1977. DVD.
Chungking Express = Chung Hing Sam Lam. Dir. Kar Wai Wong. Buena Vista Home Entertainment Inc., 1994. DVD.
Hustle & Flow. By Craig Brewer. Dir. Craig Brewer. 2005. DVD.
Manhattan. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. United Artists, 1979. DVD.
Morris, Christopher. “Woody Allen’s Comic Irony.” The Films of Woody Allen: Critical Essays. By Charles L. P. Silet. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2006. 50-57. Print.

Visual Contemporaries: Woody Allen & Jean-Luc Godard II

March 5, 2010

In 1986, Godard interviewed Woody Allen. The editing makes the film hard to watch, as most of Godard’s films are after 1970.

In this segment, Godard smokes a cigar through the entire interview. The two great directors contrast their cinematic styles: Godard uses titles for cinematic purposes and Allen uses his titles as a literary device. Though, this is not always true, as Allen used sub-textual subtitles for a cinematic effect in Annie Hall. Either way, the fact that Allen brought up that fact shows that he is knowledgeable of Godard’s films. Godard intercuts his documentary with these titles accompanied with music before Allen’s answers. At one point, Godard pokes fun at Stanislavsky, the first teacher of method acting, “STALIN LOVES SKI”,  Allen also seems to be looking at the translator mostly rather than making eye contact with Godard.

At 2:40, Godard comically edits the footage of Woody Allen to make him look very comical. I could not help but to laugh at the frames that he chose to freeze on.

Immediately following, Godard smokes a cigar and sits on the floor, slamming video cassettes on a table. He looks angry as he opens a book with Woody Allen on the cover.

Godard always cuts off Allen through editing before Allen can make a point, to make Allen look less bright. Godard only lets Allen speak when he talks about his vulnerabilities and the desperation behind his wonderful creations.

Godard ends the session with a shot of himself gathering together pictures of Woody Allen and then closing the Woody Allen books with a slam. His editing makes it look like he does not respect Allen much. However,  not only is Godard knowledgeable of Allen’s films but also praises his choices in Hannah and Her Sisters.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this interview, but I’m glad it happened and I wonder how Woody Allen felt about his portrayal in it.

Visual Contemporaries: Woody Allen & Jean-Luc Godard

February 27, 2010

 

The other night I stumbled across a list of The Fifty Best Living Directors, which I apprehensively opened. However, I found myself agreeing with most of the list and was very surprised at some of the obscure directors they included (Agnes Varda and Wong Kar Wai being particular ones that they elaborated on). Woody Allen came in at #7, and Jean-Luc Godard came in at #2.

Though noticeably different, Allen and Godard share many similar tendencies. Godard is 5 years older than Allen, and Godard’s career took off almost 10 years before Allen’s, so it is safe to assume that Godard was an influence on Allen.

In this clip from 1965’s Pierrot Le Fou, Godard breaks the 4th wall, in the same way Allen does in 1977’s Annie Hall.

Godard casted his absolutely beautiful wife, the lovely Anna Karina, in his  films from 1961-1967, the years in which they were married. Her character most of the time is very flighty and lively compared to the protagonist, who usually is apprehensive, pensive and/or weighed down with a burden on the conscience. Godard recycled Karina in the same way Allen recast Diane Keaton.

In Godard’s 1962 film Une Femme est Une Femme, Karina and Jean Claude Brialy’s character use books as arguments to assault each other intellectually, not unlike Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

In Godard’s 1964 film, Bande a part, he has his characters (including Karina as Odile) see how fast they can sprint through the Louvre. Allen’s characters frequently attend the museum, at a much slower pace. Though a corollary cannot be clearly drawn here, it is important that both auteurs extract conversation from a place not frequently used in films: the museum.

Also note the narrator in Bande a Part, a technique similar to Allen’s overbearing use in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Even when Allen is not  acting in his film, he emulates himself clearly in the characters, as he is most evidently “Vicky” in that movie. I enjoyed the film, nevertheless. Though it could be because Penelope Cruz is one of my favorite actors.

Allen’s The Insanity Defense and Dylan’s Tarantula

February 19, 2010

Upon reading The Insanity Defense by Woody Allen, I could not help but to wonder if Bob Dylan’s Tarantula had any influence on it at all. Both books employ absurdity to “contextualize the fantastic within quotidian drudgery”. Tarantula’s absurdity at times is so thick that one cannot pierce the logic driving it nor determine a possible association. A quick example of a hefty many, “an old wrinkled prospector will appear & he will NOT say to you ‘don’t be possessive! don’t wish to be remembered!’ he will just be looking for his geiger counter & his name wont be Moses & dont count yourself lucky for not interfering – it is petty . . . do not count yourself lucky”. Whereas Dylan’s material seems like a formless, free-flowing, completely unpredictable torrent of absurdity, Allen’s material seems like a parking structure for textbooks driving clown cars. Allen capitalizes on things you would never think twice about (Laundry lists in The Metterling Lists), and offers extremely different (to the point of hilarious) perspectives (A Look At Organized Crime). In Organized Crime, Allen offers the perspective from a corporate video, the kind of video a company would show to its new employees. Example of Corporate Video (Parody)

In Allen’s Annie Hall, there is a digression to Alvy Singer’s (played by W. Allen) relationship with a journalist who talks much of a recent Bob Dylan concert. He ends up sleeping with the girl. From the text, one can only assume Allen holds Dylan in respect.

Jackson Pollock’s No. 5 1948

February 14, 2010

 

Harold Rosenberg seems to describe perfectly the spirit of Jackson Pollack’s artworks in his essay, “The American Action Painters” from Tradition of the New.

Rosenberg declared, “What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter.” Pollock’s painting style was very spontaneous and his work clearly reflects that. There is no focus nor subject in No. 5 1948 except for the colors and texture. The result of its spontaneity is complete nonconformity; no brush stroke mimics the other. No. 5 1948 is comparable to the visual equivalent of white noise. When examined, the strokes and methods of Pollock become very apparent and conscious to the viewer with the critical eye.

In his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch, Clement Greenberg describes Pollock’s work well. “Hence it developed that the true and most important function of the avant-garde was not to "experiment," but to find a path along which it would be possible to keep culture moving in the midst of ideological confusion and violence.” What more is No. 5 1948 than ideological confusion and violence? Complete freedom and liberty ring in the key of anarchy. A certain purity exists in Pollock’s No. 5, as its style is not confined to a subject matter and is clearly avoided, an ostensible fact given by the very objective title.

Freudian and Rothian Interpretation of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½

February 10, 2010

Many parallels can be drawn between Federico Fellini’s 1963 drama/comedy 8 ½, the theories of Sigmund Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.

Freud explains the reasoning in dreaming of suffocation in The Interpretation of Dreams. The opening scene in which the protagonist Guido suffocates in his car represents a condition of lung disease, according to Freud (Interpretation, 31). This problem does not pose itself as a dilemma in the story, nor does it even conflict Guido’s character arc. However, clues surrounding the dream strongly support the matter of Guido being afflicted with a lung-related disease. When he wakes in terror, he coughs violently. The doctor that immediately tends to him listens to the quality of his breathing and instructs Guido to cough. The doctor then diagnoses “the organism [as] sluggish” and leaves. There is no further mention of Guido’s illness in the remainder of the film.

In the same dream, after he bursts free of the car in which he suffocates, he soars into the sky. Freud explains that dreams of flying are recreations of the giddy moments during a child’s life when he is lifted playfully by an adult (Interpretation, 208). For a moment, Guido is free to enjoy the bliss and giddiness of the fresh air, until his producers below pull him down like a kite, sending him into rude awakening.

Guido’s harem dream sequence has the same setting as his fondest childhood memory. In both dream and memory, women affectionately carry him in cloth after they bathe him. Freud suggests that “sexual wishes in the child…develop very early” (Interpretation, 198). Guido’s greatest sexual fantasy includes the surroundings and elements of his sexual arousal as a child.

During the screen test, Luisa’s caricature is unmasked when the actress dons identical glasses to Luisa’s, which Freud would consider a degrading exaggeration of her traits (Jokes, 258). In mimicry, we laugh at the faithfulness of the imitator to the imitated, yet Luisa does not find it funny for the joke is on her, and her close friends are the spectators (Jokes, 258).

Guido and Alexander Portnoy share common relationships with the worlds that surround them. Alexander Portnoy remarks on Heshie’s “long dark Hollywood lashes. We are not a family that takes defection lightly” (Roth, 317). Guido also has a similar intention when he tells an annoying actress with pins in her bun that she looks like a snail (8 ½). The many times when Guido visualizes his mother, she is always crying. When adolescent Portnoy is in the bathroom masturbating, his mother sits in the kitchen chair crying, thinking that he has diarrhea from eating hamburgers and French fries (Roth, 299). In one of Guido’s dreams, his dead father tells him “it’s sad for a man to realize how miserably he’s failed” (8 ½). Portnoy’s father becomes disappointed to the point of tears when Alexander refuses the Jewish religion and refuses to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Roth, 319). Guido seems like an Alexander Portnoy who regrets his past with his father, since both relationships are estranged, but Guido pleads to the vision of his dead father not to leave, and to spend more time with him. Guido’s religious stance is not as staunch and militant as Portnoy’s, yet they both approach religion unconventionally. Guido wants to include the Pope in his film in a mud bath scene, a minor sign of disrespect, and Portnoy refuses God completely (Roth, 319).

So many similarities exist between Guido and Alexander Portnoy. 8 ½, Portnoy’s Complaint and Freud’s theories delight very humorously, present the Oedipus Complex and involve the audience’s emotions dramatically.

Works Cited

8 1/2. Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf. Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale, Marcello Mastroianni. Image Entertainment, 1963. DVD.

Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Trans. James Stratchey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1960. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Roth, Philip. Novels 1967-1972. New York: Library of America, 2005. Print.

The Oedipal Complex in Portnoy’s Complaint

February 1, 2010

Alexander Portnoy’s case is a product of a textbook definition of the Oedipal Complex. Alexander is very receptive to his father’s teachings but loathes him secretly and possibly subconsciously. He recalls his father, an insurance salesman, complaining about how he saw an African American family leaving their children out in the rain at the mercy of the elements, “Please, what kind of man is it, who can think to leave children out in the rain without even a decent umbrella for protection!” (Roth, 284).

Immediately afterward, Alexander recalls when he defeated and figuratively killed his father in a game of baseball when challenged by him. Alexander mockingly refers to his father’s complaint, “Some umbrella” (Roth, 284).

Perhaps Alexander loathed his father so much because his father never took his side during traumatic instances inflicted by his mother. His mother once pointed a bread knife at his heart when he refused to eat, which he reflects on with much grief. “And why didn’t my father stop her?”, he ends his mourning tirade with (Roth, 289).

As the narrative progresses, the weight of his mother’s torture on his conscious fuels the further antagonizing of his father. Alexander develops a paranoia of his father, “for as time went on,  the enemy was more and more his own beloved son”. This paranoia leads to Alexander fantasizing about slaying his father, “What terrified me most about my father was not the violence I expected him momentarily to unleash upon me, but the violence I wished every night at the dinner table to commit upon his ignorant, barbaric carcass”.

As much as he apparently loathed his father, Alexander is envious of his father’s genitals, which he witnesses when they go to the schvitz bathhouse and when his father urinates with the door open. Although  Alexander at times speaks of his father as he would an enemy, he regards his father’s genitals as if they were those of a marvelous king’s (Roth, 305, 311). Simultaneously, he develops castration anxiety over his testicle rising into his body (Roth, 304) and the belittlement of his genitalia by his mother and his family’s condescending treatment when he decides to switch to buying the pair of swimming trunks with a jock rather than the one without (Roth, 312).

At other times, Alexander blatantly expresses sexual desire towards his mother. He recalls in specific detail sitting and watching his mother get dressed as she praised him, and allowed him to feel her body (Roth, 309).  He then fantasized about what his father would do if he found Alexander and his mother engaging in intercourse (Roth, 309).

To think about the severity of the character Alexander Portnoy’s Oedipal complex is at times very overwhelming and almost sickening.

Introduction – Edited 1/31/10

January 31, 2010

I’ve moved to using the program Windows Live Writer instead of in browser, for I cannot publish videos through the web browser due to technical difficulties.

Greetings. This blog shall be updated regularly and devotes itself to Woody Allen and the works that figure into Allen’s major works." I will try my best to post more of the latter than the former for I find that much more interesting than just a straight biography blog about Woody Allen. I tend to look at my influences’ influences, from my friends to musical artists to cinematic artists. During the life of this blog, I shall delve into some novels that purportedly  influenced Allen, such as Fahrenheit 451, The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose, Crime and Punishment, This Side of Paradise, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, and Portnoy’s Complaint, as well as some film-making styles that have influenced Allen, most obviously by Jean-Luc Godard. I hope you enjoy my postings and please don’t feel shy to post a comment, for such a magical feeling comes about when done so.

The above clip is one of my favorite Woody Allen clips. Allen’s blunder in a pseudo-dire situation as a result of his neurosis describes and summarizes his personality perfectly; any audience could grasp an understanding of him clearly  just by watching this scene (The situation is pseudo-dire because the friend characters don’t care about anything other than the preparation of the cocaine in front of them. When Diane Keaton’s character prompts them about the trip to California, the abuser even absorbedly requests a cocaine favor). I very much enjoyed Annie Hall and admire Allen’s cinematic style, drawing from highly self-conscious (self as cinematic and personal) energies.