Thursday, July 06, 2006

Film: Play It Again Sam (USA, 1972)

I’ve seen quite a few Woody Allen films in my time, but not much in recent years. My involvement had tapered off when I realised enjoyment was no longer there - and was never vociferous anyway. That made this a pleasant watch, for unexpected reasons.

When I look at his filmography (see above link), I’m surprised to see how many he made – and how many I missed.

Certainly, Allen’s films are contextualised to particular points in time. Play It Again Sam is the first in his Diane Keaton period, which is plainly visible: the fibre of Play It Again Sam contains some of the slapstick of his earlier work (such as Take The Money And Run) and the focus on relationship contained in later films such as Annie Hall. Imbued throughout, of course, with the Woody Allen persona - so much so, in fact, that he inflicts some of that persona on Diane Keaton’s character. Some could say that this persona is one of Allen’s more endearing creations, but it can become threadbare, particularly when two of the characters are possessed.

Nevertheless, what I found here was a human warmth, more so than any other Allen film I’ve seen. That warmth was between the Woody Allen and Diane Keaton characters, in both the writing and acting. The premise: A jilted Allen is set up with other women – unsuccessfully – by a couple of Allen’s friends, including Diane Keaton. The magic in the film is the developing relationship between Allen and Keaton. Tension builds as Allen becomes attracted to his best friend’s wife. This gives him an opportunity to replay Casablanca’s final scene – and speech - from (with the added twist “It's from Casablanca; I waited my whole life to say it”).

Despite the possession of these two characters by that sometimes excruciating persona, there was a genuinely touching humanity here, that I’ve never found in other Woody Allen film – no matter how he tried.

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