Archive for February, 2010

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.