January Movie Memories
He’s got another eclectic cast – Kate Winslet, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Max Casella, Jim Belushi, Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa – and the same great cinematographer, the gifted Vittorio Storaro, who did the recent Café Society, for his untitled 1950-set Amazon Studios project debuting later this year, so Woody Allen is on track to amuse or confound moviegoers with his 48th theatrical feature. It is described as a drama, which certainly characterizes Twilight Time’s upcoming February release Interiors (for which Preorders open next Wednesday February 1) and already announced April title Another Woman. But for now, consider the two TT Allen gems celebrating anniversaries this week. Opening 33 years ago today in beautiful black-and-white courtesy of esteemed cameraman Gordon Willis, Broadway Danny Rose (1984) was described by The New York Times’ Janet Maslin as a “graceful and hilarious fable” that “proceeds so sweetly and so illogically that it seems to have been spun, not constructed” around a title role, a small-time talent agent and personal manager played by Allen, that’s “one of the funniest and most touching characters Mr. Allen has yet created.” In conversations with the writer/director for his 2003 book Woody Allen: A Life in Film, critic/historian Richard Schickel alluded to Allen’s relationship with long-time friend and manager Jack Rollins and the concept of loyalty to the talents he shepherds. Danny’s client roster of marginal specialty acts is, putting it mildly, is of the lower-wattage variety. Allen told Schickel: “The phenomenon of the personal manager has always interested me in show business, because you always see it, you always see these guys who attach their lives to these actors,…and they do wonderful things for them. And it’s a unique occupation, because as [the act] succeeds, you become obsolete. At first the act needs the manager desperately, but as the manager builds the act and, as Jack Rollins would say, nurture the flower, the act all of a sudden doesn’t need the manager anymore. Now the manager is completely unnecessary.” That happens, comically and poignantly, to Danny as he hustles to nurture the act in his stable with the most potential, a boozing, bad-behaving, one-hit crooner named Lou Canova (Lou Apollo Forte), making a career comeback with the frantic and frustrating assistance of his wisecracking firecracker of a mistress (played to a comedic tour-de-force farewell by Mia Farrow). In a year where the big guns of “serious film” later emerged in force with award-contending heavyweights Amadeus, The Killing Fields, A Passage to India and the TT title Places in the Heart, so touchingly droll and delightful were the results that Allen scored Academy Award® nominations for his screenplay and direction. Another show business tribute, which opened 30 years ago next Monday, is the dreamlike and warmly nostalgic Radio Days (1987, shot by Allen's next great cinematographic collaborator Carlo Di Palma), which Schickel considers “one of Woody’s most accomplished movies, one which takes up, very lightly and gracefully, some of his most abiding themes – his somewhat unreasoned (but heartfelt) love of his city, his sense of the endless mutability of fashion, his awareness of how magical phenomena, like radio, can profoundly affect us and then, in the wink of history’s eye, become totally irrelevant.” Depicting the relationship of a bustling multigenerational family and their favorite radio programs during the 1940s era of Radio’s Golden Age, it is episodic in structure but, for this particular filmmaker (who would score yet another Best Original Screenplay Oscar® nomination), deeply felt and markedly autobiographical, “so densely packed with vivid detail of place, time, music, event and character that it's virtually impossible to take them all in in one sitting,” according to The New York Times’ Vincent Canby. Three decades and an occasionally tumultuous personal life have taken a toll on the Allen reputation but Radio Days (whose terrific ensemble boasts the likes of Farrow, Danny Aiello, Larry David, Seth Green, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Kenneth Mars, Josh Mostel, Wallace Shawn, Michael Tucker and Dianne Wiest) led Canby to conclude his review with unabashed admiration: “At this point I can't think of any filmmaker of Mr. Allen's generation with whom he can be compared, certainly no one at work in American movies today. As the writer, director and star (even when he doesn't actually appear) of his films, Mr. Allen works more like a novelist who's able to pursue his own obsessions, fantasies and concerns without improvements imposed on him by committees. At this point, too, his films can be seen as part of a rare continuum. Each of us has his favorite Allen movie, but to cite one over another as ‘more important,’ ‘bigger,’ ‘smaller’ or ‘less significant’ is to miss the joys of the entire body of work that is now taking shape. Radio Days is a joyful addition. Mr. Allen, our most prodigal cinema resource, moves on.” The prodigal resource is still productively on the move, and glowingly rendered TT Blu-rays treasures like Broadway Danny Rose (available here: http://www4.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26865/BROADWAY-DANNY-ROSE-1984/) and Radio Days (available here: http://www4.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/27347/RADIO-DAYS-1987/) remain joyfully timeless reasons to keep watching and listening.