I promised myself I would not write on matters cinematic on this blog (mostly because film reviews are not difficult to find on the internet, as the entire genre functions, both high and low, as a sort of cultural Esperanto) but I cannot resist a few quibbles with Woody Allen's latest, Match Point. It's getting raves, and yet when I saw it I was stunned for a number of reasons. To say nothing of the woodenness of the characters--(warning: spoiler to follow) the ambition of the lead character is tough to follow, a la An American Tragedy, whose plot it apes practically turn for turn save a surprise twist at the end--it is shot through with opera, the most baseless, stereotypical, cheap approach to it I've heard in years. One character gives another a CD of a particular tenor (Caruso, one suspects; why stray from the obvious) explaining that you can hear the "great tragedy" in his voice. Cue the timpani--except, when they go to Covent Garden to actually see an opera, there is no orchestra, only a piano. And not like they are seeing some experimental piece, some chamber opera, some reading or other...it's La Traviata of all things! So the question I have: was this conceit to create a more intimate, lieder-like atmosphere? Or was it strictly budgetary?
Now you have to walk many miles to find a bigger fan of Woody Allen than myself. I think he's made twenty or so of the greatest movies ever: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and MIsdemeanors, Sweet and Low Down, Small Time Crooks, Love and Death, Stardust Memories, Hannah and her Sisters, September, Another Woman, Everyone Says I Love You, Manhattan Muder Mystery, Banannas, Take the Money and Run, and this movie still retains many of his more amazing aspects: the pacing, the beauty of the shots, and his capacity to make an already-beautiful woman to look about as smashing as Marylin Monroe. Gone are the jokes, the insight into complicated psyches, the mordant, baleful wit, and the true intellect. Yes, we see our lead character not only reading Dostoyevsky, but also consulting a secondary text--The Cambridge Companion to Dostoyevsky--to augment his understanding, the act one gun which, in the third act, worries itself into a morally freighted murder, An American Tragedy, or Rope in reverse. But that's blunt, and it is opera--a guiding force in this movie, expertly used to make the bumbling murder scene into a true farce with drastic consequences--that he gives short shrift. I feel strange saying it, but Batman Begins took its opera scene more seriously than this. Love of opera is no excuse for wooden (and even sexist--the woman is all sexpot or "why don't you call me," without nuance or actuality) characterizations. This is to say nothing of his inability to properly characterize the upper classes: he loves them not wisely but too well.
And again i ask: why the piano? It was like watching opera scenes from college.
This all pains me to say, because I genuinely want Woody to have another renaissance and come back and remind us what a genius he is. He's certainly done it before (does anyone remember Alice, the bomb which immediately preceded Crimes and Misdemeanors?) and by so many people's accounts this film was his smashing return. I wish I did not disagree so strongly.