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Jill Robinson Headshot

Woody's Blues

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I have read all the fine reviews of Blue Jasmine. I've seen Midnight in Paris three times. So I couldn't wait to see Woody Allen at his artful best; he's made a grand tragedy! Yes, Cate Blanchett deserves an Oscar.

However, most women I'd want to hear about, talk about or know; most women I care about have outgrown Blanche DuBois. Blue Jasmine is one more celebration of the mournful heroines of the 20th century; Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Monroe and several of my most promising friends who died young. Some still dying are not young, having not fought for the spirit to face real life like the heroic women whose books we read, whose voices we heard, who discovered the rocky trails we take today.

What is this arch seduction of stories about people who destroy their lives? I remember rather too well lying on the floor of a room at the Chelsea Hotel, with what would be my memorable novel; my last packet of speed gripped in my hand. I'd have a tragic death and be famous for dying so young.

What it is that clutches our hearts as we watch these stories? What's the news? We see a dashing male coat hanger, lying around, off the rack. We pick it up, ease the bends and it's off and running to slip itself into a newer couture model (look how they are with cars - must have the very latest). They keep their finances in the closet (we don't feel like opening that door) and, oh, the tragedy of it all makes for such profound melancholy. Especially if like some of our most cherished icons, we fall into madness, drugs and alcohol. Yes, the majority of women I know and honor have been through every scene in this movie, (I have all the Hermès scarves) have loved and lost it all.

I was encouraged, ah, here is a fresh story: Jasmine goes to work.

She functions. But the dentist she works for is the cliché mouseman who goes for the throat. That's when I put my head in my hands, too close to bear; then there's the loss that leads Jasmine to living with her chirpy sister, and we have to watch this heartbreaking, far too well-meaning Minnie Mouse fall for the caricature of the American Stevedore. Do we really know any woman who still thinks those guys are cute, who puts up with buffoons?

Oh, yeah. I guess I do. But don't want to see it all dressed up as satire.

Yes, it's Allen's version of Tennessee Williams' art: but what grabbed us about Streetcar was how very much it was not only of its time, but several steps ahead. The characters were not created by Fifties Mad Men (in which way can disaster be amusing, and ever so Vanity Fair stylish?)

Tennessee Williams, you felt, truly knew he was shattered by the shards of the Croquil pens he wrote with -- characters etched in blood. Those characters had broken his heart. And we felt for them and for him.

These characters in this film have broken no hearts. You feel no souls wrestled to the ground. With Williams, there was empathy. Behind the story, serious consideration, the artist's surgical care as he explores the anatomy of loss.

Would this woman Jasmine, in our time, have no wise friend who would say 'you're killing yourself with booze'? Would she not run into someone, who would see this was the issue: not the circumstance of having a bad guy husband?

What was killing Jasmine was the concentration of lethal attitudes pulling her down a chasm of self destruction. I did not find the witty celebration interesting. It was like the comic caricatures of Jews, of black people, Asians, in movies of the '20s and '30s -- if you laugh at someone, you're with them -- right? I'm not so sure about that. It's too close to what was once home for many of us; husbands joking about what bad housekeepers we were or making fun of what we did when we were drunk or stoned, and, as well, of the funny way we walk when we're wounded or old. Haven't got a leg to stand on? What's the laugh.

Will Blue Jasmine live to be old? Doubtful; she'll die young, Hermès bag swiped.

There's a lot to laugh about in life (how could we live without laughter?) but laughter comes best from shock, from News, from Wow! I never thought of that like this!!

But it is not news to see a woman destroy herself, over a man who has betrayed her and everyone he knew, in the best beloved fashion of the 20th century. Or do I mean the 19th where opium was the plague of the day.

I like that she turned him in. I like that she shows that gumption. But I didn't want to see her fall on her face before another guy -- I'd have preferred to see her give up the junk she's using and wind up in khaki shorts on a raft in the Congo with a troop teaching martial arts to some young people in Cameroon. She's used her seduction to persuade Hermès to make a new deal with unions, and to design a whole line of backpacks, boots and sneakers for hitching a ride on A Streetcar Named Defiance.