>> It’s been a kind of a undeclared spontaneous Woody Allen festival here in Manhattan the last couple of days. At the Lincoln theatre his latest Blue Jasmine is showing every half hour in all the cinemas and yet getting a ticket is virtually impossible as the people he has spoofed, teased, empathised with and featured in his films line up to catch his latest. And at home we are treating ourselves to a Woody Allen fest of our own by watching Annie Hall on Netflix here at the Upper West Side.
Allen has made more than 40 movies in the corresponding number of years, and his strike rate has been astonishing. From Manhattan, Annie Hall, Love and Death and Sleeper to the really good ones like Hannah And Her Sisters, Celebrity, Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona to the not quite brilliant but heck pretty damn good ones like Bullets over Broadway, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Purple Rose of Cairo, to every other Woody Allen movie that you know you will just have to see the moment it comes to a theatre near you. So now to Blue Jasmine: based loosely on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (The New Yorker’s David Denby called it ‘more a grateful homage’) and starring Cate Blanchett as a recently divorced and widowed Park Avenue hostess, Allen’s latest film is a welcome departure form his recent run of lyrical summer escape routes to European capitals like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love.
Allen addresses the vanities and viles, the fautousness and flamboyance of his own crowd, the crowd he lives and works and schmoozes with the help of a scalpel. Watching Blue Jasmine in Manhattan with the people he’s so mercilessly spoofing is a surreal experience: there is mostly pindrop silence in the audience, punctuated with only a guffaw here (at the Prozac jokes), a sharp intake of breath there (when it gets too close to the bone for some of the women in the audience) and a muffled sob elsewhere.
Unlike Blanche duBois, who is haunted by genteel ambitions and culture, Blanchett plays Jasmine as a ruined, New York hostess who has clawed her way up the social spiral and is clawing her way down one nervous breakdown at a time, as her simple (and endearing) sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) a checkout clerk in a supermarket has been co-opted to give her a roof over her head. With remorseless honesty and an unflinching gaze with his latest film Blue Jasmine, Allen has gone to the gut of so much that ails America today: economic chicanery, financial ruin and class divides. If this is the new Woody Allen, we want more!
>> As for watching Annie Hall — what can one say? Like Blue Jasmine made more than 30 years later, it captured the era’s zeitgeist, heralding it and reflecting it at the same time. Diane Keaton’s portrayal of an over analysed wasp, with a sartorial style to die for paved the way for a million women waifs.
We recall seeing Annie Hall in Mumbai, way before the age of Internet downloads and VCRs and DVDs at a single screen cinema. Walking out there were a hundred of us (as there were across the world) women who knew it was okay to be flaky, to be cutely vague or vaguely cute and who could dress in their dad’s hand-me-down ties and shirts and be adorable and loved. Annie Hall influenced us for decades.
The character of its protagonist was a direct descendant of Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, a flighty vulnerable NYC socialite who flees from her inner demons by seeking a life of flippancy and fun. Both women epitomised a fragile waif-like charisma that influenced the women of their age. In fact, if one were to chart the zeitgeist of America through Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly to Allen’s Annie Hall and Blue Jasmine, it would appear that the age of innocence is long gone!
>> The rest of our time in NYC has been spent in paying homage to some quintessential Manhattan experiences. A picnic basket packed at Zabar’s for Sheep’s Meadow at Central Park one afternoon. Oysters and bubbly at Ten Bells, a dark and dreamy tapas bar from the Prohibition era; Jazz at Small’s at the West Village followed by a rousting sing-along at Marie’s Crisis Café where the crowd fueled by cheap drinks in paper cups sings along to Broadway hits around a piano; Peppercorn and basil gelatos at the very trendy Il Laboratorio del Gelato; standing in the queue at Katz (where that other iconic Manhattan film Where Harry met Sally was shot) for a taste of their famous pastrami and of course, a mandatory sampling of New York’s coffee obsession at the Brooklyn Roasting Company. We have been packing as much of the New York experience as we can into our last days in this glorious, maddening, demanding and giving city. Soon, very soon glorious maddening demanding and giving Mumbai! We like!