28 June 2002 | tedg
The Story about the Story
Woody is an intelligent man who worries about the issues of film-making. The primary concern, the very first problem, is always to decide what the relationships are among the audience, the camera, the narrator if any, and the characters.
Woody was on his way to making a murder mystery, which is the purest form of messing about with these relationships. In a much studied decision, they decided to cut out all the mystery and just focus on the context. In this case, that context is a richly layered evocation of a relationship. I really wish I could see the original film to discover the mysteries Woody intended to hide in the folds.
And the folds are as numerous and complex as they can get. We have a framing device where Woody speaks to us partly as a conversation which blends into a standup, which is mirrored as a part of the story. We have timeshifting where we move back and forth in time in a simple 'Tarantino' way; but we go way past: characters from the 'present' enter the past as Dickensian ghosts, then they talk to characters in the past. we have characters in different pasts talking to each other via split screen. We have a layering of Woody and Diane's relationship in real life, then the film, then TWO films within: a play which is part of the action and a cartoon which is the action itself.
More: we have Woody talking to the audience as if we were shifted into the play -- early in that play we are introduced to Bergman and Fellini: in both cases while they are waiting outside. These are the two inventors of folded narrative. Even more: while some bozo perfessor spouts off about Fellini and McLuhan, Woody enlists the audience to challenge him and drags out McLuhan himself! The joke of course is that McLuhan himself was a vapid weaver of lowbrow theories.
And more and more with the constant weaving of 'analysis' and other film-like activities: singers, photographers, TeeVee stars, models...
This period was when he was first exposed to Wallace Shawn who was hanging out with Terrence Malick, two other innovators in narrative folding. All the 'New Yorker' stuff means more when you know Shawn's father was the long-time editor of that publication and defined the self-absorbed reflection that characterizes the city and this film.
Keaton's manner was essential to pulling this off, someone who could pull off the story about her uncle dying while waiting for a Turkey. Watch her.. she is clued in to simultaneously being in herself (Keaton), herself (Hall), inside the story she is telling and inside the story Woody is telling. She shifts and guffaws just as if she were stoned and moving among realities, just as her character.
Just amazing and intelligent. Will we ever see this the way it was written and shot? Or is that mystery too intelligent for us, who prefer to think of this as a funny, endearing love story.