Sunday, 25 September 2016

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: BANANAS

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT

8. "Blood! That should be on the inside!"

24/09/2016



Woody Allen used to be funny. This is not to sound snobbish, but after 1977's "Annie Hall" gave way to "Interiors" (1978), a dark drama inspired by Ingmar Bergman, Allen's films departed from the type more influenced by Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and S.J. Perelman, and more towards Bergman and Federico Fellini. They are still about the human condition, but increasingly from a different angle - that it also coincides with the point where Oscars and BAFTAs are being passed his way is, well, coincidental.

Woody Allen's comedy career started aged nineteen, through a writing development programme at the TV network NBC, later writing gags for the old Hollywood guard, like Bob Hope and Sid Caesar. Allen supplemented his income with a stand-up career in the 1960s, writing plays, and presenting his own TV chat show - much more successful than the one Michael MacIntyre had. Allen turned to directing his own films after his first film script, "What's New Pussycat?" - yes, that Tom Jones song was written for something - wasn't made the way he expected.

Allen's first films feel Chaplinesque in that his persona is backed up by the comedy. For someone that cannot help but act and look like Woody Allen, a short, wild-haired nebbish man with horn-rimmed glasses and a body like a drainpipe, seemingly put upon by his own existence, his persona would come across as weird in normal situations, so setting him two hundred years in the future, as in "Sleeper," or, in "Bananas," as a product tester that unwittingly becomes the dictator of a banana republic, is not unlike putting Chaplin, or Harold Lloyd, or the Marx Brothers, into those situation.

I watched "Bananas" after finding it on Netflix, after the reason for subscribing, the animated spy thriller comedy "Archer," featured the fictional South American republic of San Marcos in reference to the film. The pace and tone is deliberately kept light, and no blood is shed in the revolution. There are numerous sight gags, including a work exercise machine that references a self-feeding device in Chaplin's "Modern Times," and a fake beard worn by Allen after becoming the dictator. Seemingly every line of dialogue serves the purpose of making a joke, such as Allen's character talking of having stolen pornography intended for the blind, so he could feel the bumps, and a mention of New York garbage men striking for a better class of garbage.

I don't know if Allen grew out of making this wilder type of comedy, opting more for examination and insight as he became older, but I prefer his earlier comedies to works like "Interiors" and "Match Point." However, if films inspired by Bergman and Fellini leads people to works that were made by Bergman and Fellini, then so much the better.


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