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Peter Clothier Headshot

Fruitvale, Blue Jasmine and Tragedy

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(A review of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine intended as a sequel to my recent post about Fruitvale Station.)

What is it about Woody Allen and me? I went with friends to see Blue Jasmine, his new movie, this past weekend, and everyone loved it except me. Granted, Cate Blanchett did an outstanding job with her lead character, as did Alec Baldwin as her faithless husband, and the rest of the cast. Blanchett makes the story of her downfall entirely believable, from the wealthy, stuck-up East Side wife of a Bernie Madoff-type Wall Street cheat to the abject, pathetic, poverty-struck woman cadging from her working-class sister and her rowdy boyfriend in San Francisco. The downfall, though ably assisted by a sleazy husband, is of her own creation. With her distorted view of reality and her desperate lies, she brings about her own ruin -- and would seem to be as tragic a character as the one I was praising just yesterday in my review of Fruitvale Station.

Why then do I find myself reacting in this negative way -- as I do, admittedly, to most of Woody Allen's work? I think it has to do with Allen as "auteur." His characters are his puppets, and he seems to enjoy watching them destroy -- or make idiots of -- themselves. I was writing yesterday about the element of necessity in classical tragedy, how tragic characters are caught in the web of a kind of inevitability: the wheels of some force greater than, and outside themselves propel them mercilessly to their destruction. Absent that force, tragedy descends to pathos. And with Allen's characters, that force -- it seems to me -- is substituted by the writer-director himself; it's he that is merciless, the Oz behind the curtain, manipulating the play to satisfy... I don't know, some sadistic, misanthropic streak in his own personality. I feel more wry, condescending intellectual speculation about their plight than true compassion for the fate of his characters.

And of course I recognize that this may be more about myself than Woody Allen, a projection of some deeply buried misanthropic streak in my own character, a cynicism that lurks behind the benign exterior I offer to the world. If so, I need to look much deeper than I have thus far -- and to thank Woody for his kindness in making me aware of it. Hmmm....