The Rose of Your Screen
In its quest to build a library of exclusive content for its streaming service, Amazon has plunged into the Woody Allen business, not only entering into an agreement for the prolific director’s first-ever six-episode series but recently also acquiring the rights to his new movie, which will get a perfunctory theatrical release this summer before becoming available afterward only via Amazon Prime. It’s a somewhat startling development for a filmmaker who has spent the better part of his life turning out a film a year for four decades, some of which resound with audiences and become box-office successes, others of which fall short but almost always have some points of interest that would attract the faithful to a theater. Indeed, 31 years ago today, Allen unveiled his most overtly charming and poignant argument in support of that pilgrimage to your local bijou, The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). In it, abused and downtrodden Depression-era housewife Cecilia (Mia Farrow) seeks refuge in the escapist magic she draws from a B-movie adventure romance screening at her local moviehouse, the Jewel. That appellation was the name of a Brooklyn theater Allen frequented in his youth; the film was shot on the streets of Piermont, NY, remade into a small New Jersey town for the shooting, and inside the Kent Theater in Brooklyn, now a triplex. Cecilia's solace in this wisp of a tale moves her to see it several times during its run, so much so that its lead character, stalwart explorer Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) steps down off the screen to join her in the real world of 1935. (It’s perhaps a homage in reverse to Buster Keaton, who in 1924’s Sherlock, Jr., played a projectionist who in his dreams, wonderfully realized through Keaton’s canny wizardry, enters the screen of the detective movie he’s showing. How awesome would it have been if Keaton had lived to catch Allen’s flick.) With wondrous attention to detail, Allen perfectly captures both the comic and sad contrasts between the soigné universe of movie make-believe and the harsh truths of unromantic reality when the on-screen activity falls chaotically dead in its tracks and the off-screen action is fraught with relationship complications as well. The Purple Rose of Cairo surely makes the case for movies as a nourishing part of our lives and the transporting, sometimes even personally inspiring value of seeing them on a big cinema screen, but is also a cautionary tale that goes far beyond “it’s just a movie” and “life is never easy.” Generations later, it’s a jewel that’s absurdly funny, wistfully melancholic and one of the most precisely drawn, perfectly cast juggling acts in all of cinema. But ever the pragmatist, Allen believes movies are meant to be seen and recognizes that the screen of one’s choice nowadays may not be his or others’ personal preference, as amazon.com has become Amazon Studios and become a financing player. At any rate, The Purple Rose of Cairo is exquisitely available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray for exhibition in the home- or device-based screen of your dreams.