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    Midsummer Mirth

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    It’s that time of the year for a new Woody Allen movie. This year, it’s Café Society, a romantic comedy about a young Bronx innocent navigating his way through soigné Hollywood and New York social circles to find love only to misplace it when he’s torn between bicoastal ambitions, opening today in theaters. Thirty-four years ago tomorrow, Allen offered us what he called “a small intermezzo with a few laughs,” aptly named A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982). A sunlit, moon-glowed chamber piece for six nutty characters that coalesced while he was also preparing his dazzling docucomedy Zelig (1983, which would open this same week the following year and which debuts this week on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray), A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy riffed on Ingmar Bergman’s pastoral idyll Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and was lovingly crafted, as the filmmaker once told biographer Eric Lax, “to do for the country what I’d done for New York in Manhattan (1979). I wanted to show it in all its beauty.” That he did radiantly, working with long-time cinematographic collaborator Gordon Willis, who captured the bewitching flora and fauna of the Pocantico Hills environs of Mount Pleasant, New York, northeast of the village of Sleepy Hollow and southwest of the village of Pleasantville, as well as the behavioral follies and foibles of a 1900s weekend experienced by three men (Wall Street broker and avocational inventor Allen, doctor Tony Roberts, philosopher José Ferrer) and the ladies with which they are dubiously paired (free-spirited bride-to-be Mia Farrow, repressed spouse Mary Steenburgen and adventurous nurse Julie Hagerty). If Sleeper (1973) was a zanier, more elaborate peek into a farcical future with outlandish contraptions, this could be considered a fonder, more intimate gaze at an effervescent past – still, however, with Allen’s inventor on the loose, including outlandish contraptions. “One of Mr. Allen’s sunnier efforts,” as Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times, it’s also “a trifle that owes much to Bergman in style and to Groucho Marx in content,” which is how Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross saw it in The Motion Picture Guide. An Allen trifle is still a treasure, since few filmmakers can dexterously portray the sexual trials and tribulations of fallible, frustrated humans as Allen. And when the scenery, sensuality, anxiety, pomposity, buffoonery, spontaneity and incorporeality of a rural roundelay are as cleverly served up (with ethereal Felix Mendelssohn melodies on the soundtrack) as they are in A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, the night smiles endlessly on TT Blu-ray.