Thursday, June 9, 2016

Magic in the Moonlight

Woody Allen directs Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart on the Bow Bridge in Central Park, New York. The bridge is a recurring backdrop for many a romantic liaison in his films. [Image source:]
There is scarce little in life more satisfying than watching a Woody Allen flick at the cinemas.

A frisson of excitement runs down my spine as I park my bike on Bondgenotenlaan, the deserted main drag of Leuven, on this warm summer evening, with a sliver of a crescent moon in the still-blue sky above me. I step into the cinema with a box of popcorn for company, the cinema similarly deserted, save for a handful of senior citizens. The young people of Leuven are probably at home watching Eurovision, preferring to save the big screen for a Hollywood blockbuster like Transformers, or Batman vs Superman. Good for me - I can pretend that I am at my own private screening that Woody has arranged for a selection of his discerning fans.

Someone asks me about the film later, and my description of it would probably be similar for any of the 50-odd films he's made over a career spanning 50 years - he makes roughly one movie every year. It's about life and the fear of death, falling in love and betrayal in love, often by someone close to the protagonist. It's about a starry-eyed couple silhouetted against the pearly lights of New York's Queensboro bridge, whispering sweet nothings to each other at 4 AM in the morning (Manhattan). It's about a city as a muse - New York in his earlier films (Annie Hall - 1977, Manhattan - 1979 and Hannah and her Sisters - 1986), and more recently, London (Matchpoint - 2005), Paris (Midnight in Paris - 2011) and Rome (To Rome with Love - 2012). It's about a dazzling opening montage showcasing New York of the 1970s - the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Brownstones, the art-deco Empire Diner in Chelsea, the Staten Island ferry,  set to the pulsating tunes of George Gershwyn's Rhapsody in Blue (Manhattan). And moving vignettes of Paris - the Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, the Moulin Rouge and the Pont Alexander III, set to Sidney Bechet's lilting, jazzy notes ("Si Tu Vois Ma Mère") in Midnight in Paris. It's about voice-over narrations and actors breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience.

Cafe Society, his latest film (like his 1977 classic Annie Hall), is set in two cities - New York and LA. It depicts the high-octane, ego-driven Hollywood Cafe society of the 1930s. Young, twenty-something Bobby from New York (played by Jesse Eisenberg), arrives in sunny LA, hopeful of securing a job with his uncle Phil (played by Steve Carell), a big-name movie producer, who wines and dines big-name Hollywood stars like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, in his multi-million dollar art-deco mansion in the Hollywood hills. Bobby is shown around town by Phil's lovely secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and promptly falls in love with her. Vonnie is beautiful, but in a girl-next-door kind of way. Like Bobby, she is apparently unfazed by the shallow and plastic world that surrounds her - they share a common contempt for it. But she rejects him for another suitor, from the same shallow Cafe Society that she apparently despises. Dejected and heart-broken, Bobby goes back to New York, and with capital from his criminal brother, sets up a jazz bar that soon becomes the toast of town, Bobby's own Cafe Society.

Unrequited love kills more people in a year than tuberculosis - "I'm kind of seeing someone," Vonnie tells Bobby, when he professes his love for her. [Image source: Daily Mail]

Many years later, Vonnie visits Bobby's celebrity jazz club with her high-profile husband in tow. Bobby is also married, but still pines for her. He meets up with her in private, and shows her around his town, New York, just as she had shown him LA. They walk all night, and share one passionate kiss on the Bow Bridge in New York's Central Park, a setting for many a romantic liaison in Allen's oevre. The film ends with each celebrating the New Year with their respective partners, and Bobby muses wistfully about what could have been - 'Life is a comedy, written by a sadistic comedy writer.'

The curtains come down with Allen's familiar crediting style - white Windsor type-face on black background, set to a sentimental 1920s  jazz tune. I am satisfied.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say I absolutely loved going to this place the other night. The people that work at venues in Houston were trying to create an optimal dinner experience while making your choices their priority. I would definitely recommend this venue for any kind of fancy event.