It’s a topic that has come up multiple times in my odyssey through the list: a director makes a film essentially about film, or his love of film. A good number of the major directors on the list all have such a film, and one I’ve been particularly looking forward to is Woody Allen’s. I’ve been a fan of his since Annie Hall, so when The Purple Rose of Cairo finally came up, I eagerly looked forward to watching it. Well, long story short, it turned out to be just what I had wanted it to be; a love letter to cinema that only Woody Allen could’ve possibly written, with his trademark wit and know-how. I wasn’t expecting, however, to care so much about the characters, particularly in the face of the film’s ending.
Cecilia is in a loveless marriage to Monk, who treats her about as poorly as he can given that she’s the only one with a job in the Great Depression era the film is set in. To escape, she goes to the movies, and the most recent one she adores is called The Purple Rose of Cairo. She goes to see it day after day, until finally, in one of the best plot ignitions I think I’ve ever seen, one of the characters in the film, who has noticed her watching the film over and over, walks right out of the screen and declares his love for her, as the audience and other characters in the film are in an uproar over the impossibility that has just happened. While the main focus of the rest of the film would likely be the blossoming relationship between Cecilia and Tom Baxter, the movie character, the film explores a lot more than that; in that way that only Allen could get away with, the film also explores the how and why of a character in a film up and leaving the screen. Mentions are made of other prints of the film across the country experiencing similar problems, with characters trying to leave and even forgetting their lines. It gets so bad that the producers of the film are notified of the problem, and fly to the small New Jersey town where it began, along with Gil Shepherd, the actor who plays Tom Baxter in the fictional film-within-the-film, making the situation absolutely deliciously meta, especially in the scenes where Gil and Tom meet face to face, actor to movie character. But Allen doesn’t stop there; the rest of the film’s cast, now with no way to continue the story without, in their words, a “minor character”, are left perpetually stuck in the scene that Tom walked out of, doing nothing but sitting around and playing cards, all the while still interacting with whoever is still left in the theater. It’s a definite mindtrip of an experience, and I found myself openly laughing a few times at the absurdity of it all, which was often pointed out by the movie characters or the producers in Allen’s trademark witty dialogue.
What may escape some people, what with all the fourth-wall demolishing and deconstruction going on, is how good a film this is. It’s a period piece, and it looks wonderfully like one, though the sequences with Tom hiding out in an abandoned amusement park had less of this appeal, mostly because the abandoned rides seemed to have a timeless quality about them, instead of placing us right in the middle of the 1930s like the rest of the film does. And Allen, clever as ever, manages to escape his general “neurotic awkward character in New York” shtick with a film that proves he’s as great and versatile a writer/director as one could want, and far from one-note. I enjoyed every bit of this one, right up to the film’s ending, which I won’t spoil, but it left me feeling feelings I hadn’t felt in a long time; bring tissues. Annie Hall aside, this might be my favorite Woody Allen picture, and I’d love it if as many people (particularly cinephiles) as possible gave it a chance.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10