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"If the Titanic is a metaphor for the certainty of death, then the denial phase was, I cant die, this ship cant sink."  -director James Cameron
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday December 3, 2019 

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FILMS WE LIKE

Films that receive commercial success automatically gain some cultural value, but as we all know from the debate over Titanic and the LA Times, there are other measures - and critical appreciation has always been a much desired standard for a film to achieve. There are regular polls of 'critically approved' films and this has helped create a cannon of films which stand the test because of their contribution to our cultural life and to film history. Often when critics are asked to make their lists these 'big' values are foremost in their minds - we make judgements for posterity. But there are also films we simply like. For whatever reason. Films which do not necessarily fit into the new cannon - or maybe they do - but we want to write about them because we like them.

An appreciation of Woody Allen's DECONSTRUCTING HARRY By Hunter Cordaiy - just because he likes the film (and Woody's work)

AN UNLIKELY HERO
Woody Allen is an insightful writer, a perceptive director of actors, but most of all Woody Allen is an unlikely hero who neurotically charms his way into our hearts. The secret has been that he shouldn't really be a hero - he's the wrong size, is a coward, overtly intellectual, and probably not very good in bed. Neurosis is not a central ingredient in the traditional hero rather bravery, insight, personal strength, and handsomeness make the grade. We have built a 100 years of movie heroes around these qualities for the most part, yet audiences have always adopted the weakling - Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis are good examples - vulnerable in a cruel world which seems designed specifically to frustrate all their best intentions. So it is with Woody. I am sympathetic to the characters he plays and identify with him in the sense that his phobias are understandable, - I would not be brave enough to break into an apartment across the hallway to solve a murder mystery- and perhaps I secretly resent the bravery of those heroes who would! In Deconstructing Harry, Allen plays Harry Block, a writer whose last novel too thinly disguised his family and ex-lovers. Drawn from life might be a good title for both the book and the film - Allen as a writer (or teacher) has always appealed to me - remember the opening scene of Manhattan where he lies on a couch dictating the first chapter of his novel about New York - his opening lines were too angry, too intellectual, too corny, and eventually the film becomes the notes for the story which he starts again in the final scene. In the new film the process has been completed and Harry Block has to live with the consequences of his art - this is an enormous change from the Annie Hall /Manhattan period of Allen's work - more in line with Hannah and Her Sisters or Crimes and Misdemeanours, where the results of actions are important in the moral universe of the characters. So he makes his new hero one who has created but cannot see the way through the obstacles of the next project, an artist haunted - literally- by his past and his fictions. In this sense, Deconstructing Harry is a film about the absurd side of creative responsibility, where the creator is the accused by the creatures to whom he has given life.

INDEPENDENT AUTHOR
Woody Allen has made the transition from slapstick to arthouse, a history which started with What's New Pussycat in 1963 and crossed the line into serious film-making in 1977 with Annie Hall. I have to admit to being fan of the second period of his work - I never much cared for slapstick but have devotedly followed his career since he became what I can unashamedly call, an author of the cinema. Authorship is intimately connected to the terms of independence a film-maker can achieve, and whilst Allen has appeared in other director's films, it is as a writer/director/actor in his own productions that he has created a unique oeuvre. That trilogy - writer/director/actor - is the expression of creative power and control which others in Hollywood would kill for. And that's the point - Allen isn't in Hollywood but in New York and operates by other, perhaps more cultural rules. The New York sensibility and the city itself has become his only subject which means that Allen has a double focus for his work in this film - authorship is inside and outside the film, in character and in the production. The film industry is notoriously nervous and reluctant about giving away control - it's the biggest cause of conflict in most film histories - and Allen has maintained an independence over his work which means he has the freedom to explore particular themes and subjects year after year. The result is a well orchestrated career and an authorship which is enviable.

FAMILY
Everybody wants to be in a Woody Allen film and Deconstructing Harry is no exception. There are superb performances from Kirstie Alley and Judy Davis, and Mariel Hemingway and I particularly like the quirky presence of Robin Williams as the out of focus actor complimenting the writer with a block. (We all have our creative stresses, the cycles of a career, and the fears of failure or simple decline). Increasingly, Allen's films, and Deconstructing Harry is no exception here, are about families - his own or others. The greatest of these is Hannah and Her Sisters, and Deconstructing Harry which is about an even larger and vibrant family - characters real and created. So there is a family of actors, a family of characters and indeed a family of films (36 at last count). Deconstructing Harry combines the two most potent of these groups and attempts to plot the intersecting possibilities from characters in the present and in the past. The theme of transference is not there by accident - the transference of dependence from patient to psychiatrist which occurs several times in the film, is also a metaphor for the changing allegiances of the characters who slip in and out of fiction. The relationship between creator and character is mercurial, often dangerously incestuous. In Deconstructing Harry, this places Harry at the centre of a feuding family, and we have dramatic conflict of Shakespearian complexity - kidnapped children, dead bodies, religious dissent, sexual betrayal, and the journey from earthly paradise to hell. The family is Allen's greatest source of inspiration, yet he hardly ever has a family life on screen. More often he has relationships and friends, narrative descriptions of city living for his generation, but his strongest films are about families and their incredible dynamic capacity for storytelling. Thus, Deconstructing Harry begins with a serene comfortable family cooking on the lawns of a large house whilst upstairs there is desperate sex by the small window overlooking the garden. This could be a 1990's version of the opening scene from Chekhov, a complacent bourgeois scene destroyed by lust. The film uses the family as the starting point for the deconstruction of Harry Block. We know that Harry has used everyone for his own purposes, that he is incapable of doing other than drawing from life. The film ends with Harry, having broken through his block, beginning to write again.. There is sense of triumph here, of catharsis that might at any moment bring Harry to burst into song but instead, the cast of characters real and fictional, applauds him - it is the reassurance he needs, the clapping of hands being the greatest love Harry can feel because it is beyond the messy stuff of living and belongs instead to the appreciation of the artist by his (even imaginary) peers.

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"I am sympathetic to the characters he plays and identify with him in the sense that his phobias are understandable, - I would not be brave enough to break into an apartment across the hallway to solve a murder mystery- and perhaps I secretly resent the bravery of those heroes who would!" - Hunter Cordaiy







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