Has ever an actress been more naked on screen than Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine?
Back in the early seventies, when your Blue Room scribe was a young lad about town, the cinema suddenly became a very interesting place if you were of a certain age, as I was. America had finally rolled away the Hayes Code and Ozploitation was beginning to peak. Breasts! Breasts could be seen on screens – both big and small (screens that is!). There were Abigail’s on ‘No96’ and a whole bevy of them, in the movie houses, chasing a young innocent called ‘Alvin Purple’ around Melbourne. The local ‘Star Theatre’ in my provincial town throbbed with excited young men, agog with displays of unfettered bosoms in those innocent years before before we lost our sense of wonder at all that.
When the aforementioned venue advertised something called ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Was Too Afraid to Ask’, we all thought we were in for another eyeful. It didn’t quite turn out that way – in fact I was quite underwhelmed by the whole experience – but it did serve to introduce me to Woody. Now the convolutions of his love life are almost as famous as his remarkable oeuvre of cinematic offerings, but to me, when on song, he is in a league of his own. Although my expectations of the introductory sample were not realised by that collection of skits – there was virtually nothing to titillate and were of a style of humour I just didn’t get. It was, nonetheless, a harbinger of the cause of much joy to me in the years ahead.
It wasn’t long before Woody hit his straps, as far as I was concerned. He caused my first love affair with a screen beauty – if teenage infatuations with Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Annette Funicello are discounted – and I’ll always thank Woody for giving the world ‘Annie Hall’. Everyone, it seems, male or female, fell in love with Annie. With her quirkiness, kooky sense of fashion – starting a trend no less – and affinity with lobsters – check it out on YouTube – she was my first ‘it’ girl. Along with ‘The Graduate’, ‘Annie Hall’ set me on a path of cinema going I still follow to this day. It was also most people’s first introduction to the director/star’s now well known Jewish shtick – his New York-centric neuroticism. Multiple Oscar winning ‘Annie Hall’ was also notionally semi-autobiographical – as one presumes many of his movies are.
As if Annie wasn’t enough, next along came the gorgeous ‘Manhattan’, Woody’s homage to the city he, in part, defines. That glorious opening collage of Big Apple images to the tune of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ are pure gold, as was his decision to film in lustrous black and white. As a bonus we get another dose of his main squeeze for a while – Ms Keaton – as well as the undeniable charms of Mariel Hemingway as Allen’s character’s exceedingly young mistress in the film. Two delights for the price of one. Keaton’s Mary woos Allen’s Isaac away from Hemingway’s Tracy. Meryl Streep also has one of her very early roles in this.
Keaton still has what it takes to woo on the screen too – even after all these years. Watch her in ‘Something’s Got to Give’ as she woos Jack Nicholson away from her screen daughter – she’s magic.
There’s a whole heap of wooing going on up on the screen whenever Keaton’s involved!
Woody has had his ups and downs – both in the quality of his product, as well as in his private life. In recent times I felt he had lost his mojo somewhat – that he wasn’t any longer living up to his earlier masterpieces. I cannot claim to have viewed every single movie of his these days – I tend to be guided by the reviews rather than going along and making up my own mind. A few years ago he enticed me back with another homage – this time to the City of Love. ‘Midnight in Paris’ was a fantasy/rom-com taking us back to the years when the French capital was the place to be for any artist or writer – the 1920s. Here a modern francophile, a delightful turn by Owen Wilson, is transported back to the era of his heroes – Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker et al. It was so whimsical – I adored it.
His latest release is superb, but is a beast of a different nature – different from all before it. In it he features a very uncovered Cate Blanchett. We are used to her glacial poise and alabaster skin in most of her starring vehicles, or so it seems to me. Allen transforms her into a shrew. She is just so emotionally raw in ‘Blue Jasmine’ – the film is lit in such a manner it makes our Cate appear visually scoured and her flawless beauty is, for once, well, flawed.. There is nothing hidden in the close-ups. Here Cate’s face seems to give away all Jasmine/Jeanette Francis’ secrets. Her skin is blotchily brightly hued with every line magnified – either that, or it’s very good make up. As befits her role as a borderline alcoholic a few sheep short in the top paddock, her eyes are perennially red-rimmed. She is emotionally naked for the world to see. She is the anti-heroine, aka Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison in ‘Homeland’, or Mireille Enos’ Sarah Lund in ‘The Killing’. Recoiling, as her world comes tumbling down, due to her husband’s (a smooth turn by Alec Baldwin) financial and romantic farragoes, Jasmine flees NYC for San Francisco to hole up with her much poorer sister till she gets back on her feet. Playing off Blanchett are a range of engaging performances, none more than Brit Sally Hawkins as her put upon sibling. The latter’s roughly hewn main squeeze is adeptly played by Bobby Cannavale, who Jasmine rightly pins as a yob, encouraging sis to move on to Louis CK’s character – who is perfect for her, apart from one minor issue. Hopefully Mr Oscar will recognise either Allen or Cate (or both) when he next appears. For the former, the movie is a late career marvel – it is stunning.
Now many on-liners have given some major pondering to rank ordering Woody’s films. For what it’s worth is the Blue Room’s Top 10
1. Annie Hall 1977
2. Manhattan 1979
3. Blue Jasmine 2013
4.Midnight in Paris 2011
5. Husbands and Wives 1992
6. Hannah and Her Sisters 1986
7. Melinda and Melinda 2004
8. Vicki Christina Barcelona 2008
9. Zelig 1983
10. Crimes and Misdemeanours 1984
Woody Allen on Cate in ‘The Big Issue’ = http://www.bigissue.com/features/interviews/3050/woody-allen-interview-cate-blanchett-has-amazing-gift