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The International Writers Magazine
: Film in Depth - Woody Allen

Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo
‘‘When you choose reality, you get hurt, it's as simple as that''
Robert Cottingham on Woody Allen

Although frequently complimentary, the critical reception tends to suggest that Allen had stepped back from the philosophical questions considering the operation and creation of myth and identity. Brode describes Broadway Danny Rose as ''low key in its approach'' suggesting it ''may be viewed as one of Allen's minor works, a mere trifle (Brode 233).

Further, in considering Purple Rose of Cairo he cites Molly Haskell's review in Vogue describing the film as 'slight but charming. (244) ' As Brode extends his analysis; he comes to realise that these two films are deceptive in their apparent simplicity. Both films comment upon the deceptive nature of cinema, which in its escapist qualities effaces the nature of the medium's manipulative nature. The obvious impact of these ideas upon the presumed autobiographical nature of Allen's films is clear. By showing that films are works of fiction intersecting with reality, and sometimes, cultural events themselves.
To those who make it their task to equate Allen to characters within his films, Cecilia and Danny Rose would be the most prominent targets offered by these films. These characters offer, however, significantly differently representations of the little man persona, to those we have seen in Annie Hall. Danny Rose and Celia are essentially victims who suffer betrayals from those closest to them. Both are victims of cruel economic worlds; Cecilia’s environment is the bleak, earthy hues of the depression era where work is scarce and men have little to do but gamble and drink. Danny inhabits possibly the least romantic surroundings of New York Allen has given us, a fact made clear in comparison with the tremendously evocative imagery of Manhattan (1979).

As indicated by Pogel, Allen indicates something of the barbed nature of these two films in their titular references to roses. Roses are flowers which are at once achingly beautiful but are also covered with painfully sharp thorns.

It is surely no accident that Allen's two works most preoccupied with myth and reality should carry references to both in their titles. Both of the films encourage the audience to think specifically about the fact that they are watching fiction whilst, ironically drawing the audience to the same temptation as Cecilia; the same comforting feeling of escapism.
Broadway Danny Rose is in many ways Allen's affectionate tribute to his days as a stand-up comedian. Like Manhattan, it is a valentine to a New York that probably never existed, except in Allen's febrile imagination.

Vincent Canby calls Broadway ''a love letter not only to American stars and to all of those pushy hopefuls who never quite made it to the top in showbiz, but also to the kind of comedy that nourished the particular genius of Woody Allen.'' Essentially, Canby refers to the small clubs and side rooms where struggling singers and hopeful comics once plied their trade, places like the hungry i in San Francisco where Allen got his grounding in comedy.

In starting the film with a table full of comic veterans reminiscing about the good old days and those people who came within reach of New York but never quite managed to take Manhattan, Allen allows viewers to feel nostalgic for the past that is not far removed from the present. Allen drew on a real life incident to make the film, when Charles Joffe was dropped by Harry Belafonte when the latter found fame and fortune. The film’s framing device has the effect of legitimizing the story that we are about to hear. It unfolds through a documentary realist style, whilst at the same time hinting that the very realism the style produces is an artificial construct. Initially the camera passes through the window of the deli revealing the artificiality of the scenario. Yet, in contrast, as the scene unfolds the camera assumes a documentary position so that passers by obscure the audience's view of the comics.
Writing about the early Allen personae, Diane Jacobs wrote that 'they have perfect comic faith in the efficacy of their most ludicrous illusions, which take them out of the realm of despair and into crime, revolution and a bit more successfully, romantic love.''

Replace revolution with show business and keep everything else she mentions and you have an apt description of B.D.R, which is the kind of film the aliens in Stardust Memories wanted Sandy to make. The film is a perfect compromise between the black and white art films Allen loves to make and the warm, touching and funny films that the public want him to make.

If the film has a link with the other films of Allen's period, it is in their characters need to satiate their desires with food, art or love. Throughout B.DR, there are connections made between food with camaraderie, conviviality and love. At the party where Danny and Tina meet, we se guests gorging themselves in the background. Then, we see them bond in a deli. Finally, the film concludes with a sequence in which Danny and his lovable losers share a Thanksgiving meal of frozen turkey.
Danny Rose's greatest accolade is not down to any professional or personal achievement but that at the Carnegie Deli they named a sandwich after him. Perhaps this is the closest any Allen character has got toward immortality.

The theme of food as a metaphor for life is taken further in A Purple Rose Of Cairo. Firstly, Cynthia is a wan, down at heel waitress in a dingy diner where only her daydreams about movies keep her spirits up.

Food symbolises her plight; serving dinner to very real customers in the restaurant whilst daydreaming about eating in the Copacabana. Her relationship with her husband is defined not by physical affection or marital duty but through food: 'Is there any meatloaf left?' is all he really cares about. The highest compliment he can pay her is in terms of food - 'that stuff you made yesterday was delicious.''
When Cecilia packs her bags to leave him, he's less concerned about losing her sexually (he's already sleeping with someone else) than his stomach: 'I want my supper' is all he can say to her as she desperately walks out the door.
Monk exists in stark contrast to Tom. Yet when Tom steps out of the screen, the first thing he thinks of is his hunger. Naturally she gives him popcorn - appropriate food for someone obsessed with the movies.
Significantly, Cecilia desire to feed others underscores the fact that she never gets to eat herself.
Her starvation is not just figurative but literal. Mostly, she is starved because of her abysmal marriage, a variation on the typical Allen theme of marital dissatisfaction. Her drudgery and violence that she endures is in stark counterpoint to the star marriages she enthuses about with her sister in the cafe, squealing with delight at the forthcoming marriage between Lew Ayres and Ginger Rogers, explaining why his previous union couldn't work.
Even in the film within the film, the characters express their dissatisfaction with marriage 'I'm tired of getting married to you every night' Van Johnson says to Zoë Caldwell. 'We never get to the bedroom.'
As in earlier Allen films, the institution of marriage, intended by religion and law to provide sexual release, actually ends up causing tension rather than dissipating it; Allen's attitude to marriage does not appear to have softened over the years.

The film's premise is fascinating. It looks at the disruption caused when a minor (yet important) character decides that he no longer wants to be trapped inside a film and decides to spend time with a civilian. Secondly, it examines the vicarious relationship that exists between the film and the viewer. We already know, from the way we hear Cecilia talking with her sister in the cafe, that she considers the cinema to be a better, more pleasant reality than her humdrum existence. So we are not surprised when she responds to Tom Baxter as though he were a real person rather than a character in the film. In turn, Tom acts as if he were still in the film. He knows nothing of the real world. He's never worked, never seen a pregnant woman, knows nothing of prostitutes or brothels, is baffled by the concept of God, whom he can only envisage as a cosmic screenwriter. When they kiss, he can't understand why there isn't a fade out before' things get heavy.' Similarly, when he takes her to dinner, he finds that his money is not accepted because it isn't real. Conversely, when Cecilia joins Tom on the screen she is surprised when her night out flashes by in a series of montage and dissolves that suggests the passing of time. 'My whole life I've wanted to know what it was like on this side of the screen,' she says. But the movies like life are subject to rules and conventions; in the film Tom is supposed to get married to Kitty Holmes. After Tom defies the story's internal logic, other characters decide that they can act as they please. The maitre d, realizing that all bets are off, throws down his menus, orders the orchestra to hit it and launches into a spirited tap routine. The champagne that they drink turns out to be ginger ale. Cecilia's arrival in the film disrupts the story - Just as Baxter caused consternation for the characters in the film.

As soon as word gets out in Hollywood the film's writers demand that the film be taken off screen. Shephard's agent invokes the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, a reminder that the illusion of the flashy film star is often just a carefully controlled publicity construction. This is why the situation becomes further compromised when the actor playing Baxter comes to New Jersey in an attempt to reclaim his creation, and Cecilia cannot differentiate between character and actor. Woody's message is simple, we shouldn't confuse the two. While Tom Baxter is a true innocent, having never been to a brothel, Gil Shephard can only act innocent. Which is why at the end of the film, Gil goes back to Hollywood, satisfied that his character is back in the film. Tom would never have left Cecilia in such a final way. For Baxter is an ingénue, at once charmingly innocent and disarmingly poignant. When he expresses delight at eating popcorn after 'watching people eat it for all those performances,'' we are amused as we would be by a child. When he reminisces about his father however, the film takes on amore serious tone, for Tom can only ever know what is written inside his character.
Tom's emergence and interaction with the film's real world shows how he has only been created to experience and respond to certain situations. Ironically, this is true for all of the film's characters, thus Allen reveals the false nature of cinema, and in a sense highlights the difficulties involved in presenting a person in film intrinsic to the notion that his work is autobiographical. The scene is further underscored by its fairground location. The amusements are all closed for the winter, their escapist function stopped, just as ''The Purple Rose of Cairo'' is whilst Tom is absent. Inevitably, however, the season will change, the attractions will operate again, and Cecilia and Tom will have to return to their respective realities.

Allen's earlier examination and use of the carnivalesque in Broadway Danny Rose is perhaps more explicit than that seen in The Purple Rose of Cairo, whilst nonetheless reaching similar conclusions. Watching Broadway Danny Rose we are literally presented with a modern day commercial carnival on several pivotal occasions. Allen's use of carnival is more pervasive, however, extending to the overall narrative and particularly its spirit is present in Allen's pastiche of The Godfather throughout the film. Allen appropriates the familial structure of Coppola's film to generate a sense both of comedy and tension, as Danny Rose attempts to draw Tina Vitale away from a garden party for her Mafioso former lover. Both visual and verbal humour follows as the family attempt to revenge her ditched lover Tommy Rispoli, placing their wrath on the man they suspect of stealing her heart - Danny Rose. Allen's jokes range from Danny's talk of cement with another guest to their escape using 'Shandar's' rope escape trick.
The carnival atmosphere, then, operates as it does in The Purple Rose of Cairo, as both subversion of normal reality and to illustrate the role of myth, fantasy and play in ''real'' life. A conventional shootout is robbed of all its suspense through its setting in a warehouse storing helium inflated parade floats. The comedy of the scene works on several levels, visually, the actors are made to appear ridiculous next to the giant inflatables, and the bullet punctured floats spill out helium making all of the usual talk of such a scene farcically high pitched.

This scene like those based on The Godfather at the Rosotti's country estate, is a sophisticated merger of filmic reference and Allen's own fantasy, reflecting Barthes view of the text as a ''tissue of quotations,'' discussed in chapter one. We laugh because in both locations we recognise the original reference, thus it is the combination of fantasy and reality in parody that amuses us. Allen does not, however, use carnival merely for comic effect. Danny's earlier escape from the henchmen by naming Barney Dunn as Tina's lover has cruel repercussions. Dunn is a stuttering ventriloquist so bad that even Danny won't handle him. Danny understands that Barney will be on a cruise ship and therefore safe from harm. In a cruel Carnivalesque twist the cruise is cancelled and he is beaten to a pulp.
It is testament to Allen's understanding of magic that we never for a moment doubt the credibility of the story. The concept of the actor leaving his film is no more far-fetched than the remarkable transformations that occurred in Zelig or the strange apparitions that emanated from Andrew's spirit ball in a Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. We may say that Allen plays God in the film, indeed, the story resembles something like Orpheus in the Underworld in the way that it shows the romantic confusion and tragedy that entails when one of the God's (Tom Baxter) becomes involved with a mere mortal (Cecilia).
Allen's idea of heaven is illustrated in the scene where Tom takes Cecilia with him on the 'madcap Manhattan weekend' that takes place in a minute of screen time, and sees them go from El Morocco to the Copacabana in whirl of popping champagne corks
That we are watching two characters in a film within in a film scenario shows just how deceptively simple the film is. Earlier films would have required a voiceover or some of Allen's sarcastic to camera asides to keep things together. But Allen does away with these methods and manages to interweave several different stories at once. Thus, while Cecilia is being harassed by her husband, Tom sleeps in a disused fairground, and the actor playing him is on a plane to reclaim him. For once, the focus is ubiquitous rather than subjective. It isn't just Cecilia's story, but Allen's also. Like a puppet master operating from beyond our range, Allen pulls the strings, orchestrating the story and the characters in it.
God in the film is considered by Baxter to be the screenwriters - the men who gave him life. He can't imagine a higher order, because that would bring his very existence into question.
Alone in the cinema at the end of the film Cecilia realises that perfection is only achievable in art, but needing perfection, she resumes her movie going. What we are left with is the realisation that perfection only exists in films like the fictional Purple Rose of Cairo or Top Hat.
Elsewhere in the film, Allen's admiration for prostitutes is in evidence. A significant scene involving Tom Baxter is set in a brothel
Essentially, Cecilia symbolises the American public of the 1930s, for whom the movies, providing a much-needed release from the hardships of life, were so important. The very period, in fact, that young Heyward Allen first started going to the movies himself, and found it hard to reconcile the world he saw on screen and the real world of Brooklyn in the thirties. In the movies, everyone wore expensive clothes, drank martinis and lived in opulent homes with marmoreal white telephones. Life was so drab, that people were happy to suspend disbelief because their own lives were so gloomy.
Purple Rose of Cairo is unique in all Allen's films for its down at heel atmosphere. The cafe where Cecilia works has none of the panache of those in The Sting or Bullets Over Broadway - it’s as unappetizing as the food it serves. The house where she lives is cramped and badly decorated. And the brothel, which would seem to offer a frisson of eroticism and glamour in Dianne Wiest's sparkling eyes, is just a shabby room in a rundown apartment.

The freedom of the carnival is tempered in Broadway Danny Rose, as it is in Purple Rose, with the reality of the difficult cultural and economic environments in which the little man attempts to survive. Allen turns Bakhtin's examinations of the meanings culture creates to show how his contemporary urban society affects it people, frequently pushing them towards violence and betrayal. More positively, however, Allen reinstates guilt as a virtue when Danny Rose visits Barney in hospital and insists on paying his bills. Most positively of all is the transformation undergone by Tina, a character who states her philosophy as being ‘‘its over quick so have a good time. You see what you want go for it. Don't pay any attention to anybody else. And do it to the other guy first, cause if you don't he'll do it to you.''

Watching a Thanksgiving parade brings about a carnivalesque inversion, altering her perception of her ill treatment of Danny. She had been instrumental in Lou Canova leaving Rose at the first sign of success; despite all of the support Rose had given him. When Tina arrives at Danny's party, she quotes his uncle, who said that the three most important things in life were 'forgiveness, acceptance and love.' Tina had integrity all along, but Danny was the one who brought it out of her.

The bittersweet conclusion of Danny Rose provides an acute contrast to Purple Rose's downbeat ending. With the arrival of Gil Shephard, the actor who plays Tom Baxter, Cecilia is forced to choose between the idealistic character and the real man, with all his flaws and imperfections. Ultimately, as we know we must choose reality in the end, and this is the dominant discourse that the film's ending supports. Thus Allen leaves the audience with the final image of a ''yearning, sad'' dejected Cecilia, returning to the cinema again, the need for escapism never greater:

Some people have suggested that perhaps if they had married in the end Cecilia and the movie star, the film would have had a much bigger audience, there was such a feeling of unhappiness when he left her at the end. But that was the whole reason for doing the film. (Bjorkman ED. 81)

These two films illustrate that Allen is aware of the difficulties, and complexities of representation in film, indeed, they form a dialogue which when applied to his work as a whole forestalls the claim that autobiography is his principal aim, Through privileging discussions of cinema itself within his films, Allen engages the earlier problems generated by the disjunction between myth and reality, notably developing the argument in the adoption of the carnivalesque. Allen reveals in these films how characters and events are formed and manipulated within narratives. Characters are shown to be both functionally slight and falsely portrayed. Further, placing these distinctions within the context of the cranivalesque alerts us to a wider manipulation of events and distintegration of normal filmic practices, allowing the fantastical to become possible, as it does in Purple Rose. These two films reveal, in a sense, the complex nature of representation that hampers the filmmaker attempting to present their own life definitively in film. AS an alternative goal these films posit the value of discussing and illuminating the difficult nature of self-representation as a new strategy for the personally expressive filmmaker; revealing both the deceptive nature of film and, once again, narrative perspective.
It is worth noting, however that the critical debates that Allen develops and those that inform his films are never allowed to overshadow the narrative cohesion of the films as a whole. As we have seen Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo stimulate thought regarding reflexivity, the carnivalesque and myth in the most unexpected, diverse and entertaining ways. They are films of far greater depth than they appear, perhaps revealing far more about Allen than any conventional exploration of a life's events, for these are the concerns that compel him to make films.
© Robert Cottingham May 2005
See also Melinda and Melinda

Robert is a Creative Arts/Film graduate of Portsmouth University

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