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July 12, 1975 - Image 6

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1975-07-12

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Poge Six

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Saturday, July 12, 1975

'Love and Death: Comedy of tears

By DAVID BLOMQUIST American show business admittedly
American dramatic culture has always lacks an active tradition of producing
seemed to classify comedy as the vile, intelligent farce. Much of our so-called
black sheep-like offspring of an other- comedy has been the banal, mindless
wise firmly staid theatrical history. Over sort of stuff that today serves as a main-
the last half century, drama scholars stay of commercial television.
have designated fewer than 10 comedies But when a thoughtful and creative
as worthy of the highly respected Pulitzer comic work like Woody Allen's Love and
Prize. And since 1960, only two comedy Death comes along, it is a pity that the
films have received the "best picture" monstrous reputation of comedy past
Academy Award. so often buries the artistic credit of
- - ------ - comedy present. For theatre presented
with a light droll touch, as Moliere and
Shaw certainly knew, can be an excit-
r e ingly different vehicle for literary com-
munication.
Allen demonstrates in Love and Death
'9rt ing a solid grasp of this matchless satirical
potential. In fact, his new release marks
a striking maturation from a wry night-
Underw r club performer turning out entertaining
but empty films on such enlightening
topics as a stolen formula for egg salad
By MARNIE HEYN to an influential philosopher and inno-
She dives toward the front door; the vative filmmaker whose long-term im-
porch steps flex under her feet. Heat pact on the motion picture may be just
waves slide off the board-ends in her beginning.
wake, sighing into the buffer state be- Allen's expressed concepts of the
tween lawn and flower bed at this final broadest human emotional experiences-
existential insult. love and death-are neither especially
Morning glories, closed, tick against new or remarkably revealing. His two
the aluminum clapboard; her key writhes principal characters-Boris and Sonja-
between hand and lock, less tool, more search throughout the film for some
magnet, tugging her and the house into more definite explanation of man's pur-
union. The tumblers turn over; the house pose in life, but locate only random
parts before her, and drinks her in. The threads that in the end add up to little
door resumes its surface tension. The more than gibberish.
eye of the porch light turns inward to the Boris, played by Allen, is an awkward
hall. and extremely shy peasant in the back-
In aqueous humor, she paddles across ward Russia of Alexander I-a divided
the algae wool down the narrow cavern nation desperately attempting to meet
toward her kitchen, past the dark pool the threat of Napoleon's invading French
of the living room. Her husband and two army. Even before a capricious fate
sons, under glass, peer at the sudden forces him to join the hopelessly ill-
movement with the deceptive clarity of equipped Russian army, Boris begins to
submarine vision. Little currents of the question his spiritual identity and seek
scent of furniture oil eddy around the some form of philosophical resolution of
conch legs, ripple back to stasis once his inner ecclesiastical doubts and con-
her turbulence is gone. flicts.
Her kitchen waits impatiently for Allen's view of the innocent Boris at
breakfast as a child waits for Christmas: war assumes a strangely Brechtian as-
doing odd jobs to earn money to buy pect, with out-of-place touches of irrev-
presents. She has learned to be proud of erence and sarcasm forming a touch
her room. Of course, there are new of bitterly sick humor that permeates
cupboards now, all the way from the the death-filled sequence. Cheerleaders,
back door to the double-door fridge. Ev- carrying colored pom-poms and mega-
erything is built in, recessed; when she phones neatly marked "Russia," stand
does dishes, cartons of odd paper- amidst the cannons and cavalry mouth-
leaflets, datebooks, pamphlets, mailers, ing absurd fight songs, while a presum-
brochures, postcards with exotic stamps ably dead man chats amiably with Boris
- no longer lap at their ankles; the drift- about the settlement of his estate.
wood veneer behaves with more de- Yet Boris-probably the least prepared
corum. private among the Czar's troops-not only
Her files had been moved, originally to survives the ordeal of the unfamiliar
the outside fin-de-siecle food closet wed- battlefield, but, in a truly ironic move,
ged between cellar stairs and back stairs. emerges as a war hero as the conse-
Then, when the closet became the mod- quence of an outlandishly staged "acci-
ern pantry with flower sink, her paper an- dent." Why has he been chosen to live
nex was shifted to the prefab pantry- when fate has decreed that so many
way between back door and garage door. others must die?, Boris seems to ask.
Now her archives subside in the tool And after he leaves the battleefield and
shed, out of sight, ink puddled, staples returns to country life, the same queer
rusted, correspondents lost.
The air conditioner kicks, turns over;
the pebble-textured silicate flooring set-
tles under her sinking arches. Her cof-
fee is inventorie; in its aluminum per-
colator basket: her eggs in their special
rack in the right-hand door of the fridge;
her whole wheat bread, her honey wait on
the enameled yellow tray. She has laid
tomorrow out: her attention may un-
dulate until the leaky sun makes the
house tingle.
She strokes the wall, and illumination
flows up the back stairs; she extends
and contracts long muscles across the
treads, passing mirrors, some utilitarian.
Her scale finds her the same. Her skirts
drift aromd her ankles toward the floor.
She presses down a laver, and carbon
filaments fade and cool. She ascends the
foam mattress and floats, belly up on the
bed.
Even the moon light misses her: it
trickles down the wall next to the lightl
table.
Marnie Heyn is the former Edi-
torial Director of The Daily.

Woody
pattern again appears. Challenged to a
duel by a superior marksman, Boris
escapes with just two shoulder wounds-.
one self-inflicted. Later, a would-be assas-
sin's knife whizzes past him and lodges
safely into the molding around a door.
Thus again and again he poses the
same question to his wife, Sonja (played
by Diane Keaton): Is there a God? Does
Hell actually exist? What happens after
death? They trade a few chic psycho-
logical phrases back and forth, but can-
not form any satisfying conclusion-or,
for that matter, any conclusion at all.
Yet even though Boris and Sonja's
exploration of metaphysics is largely in
vain, it is not entirely futile. Through
their quixotic adventures, Allen seems
to be momentarily implying that there
are some philosophical questions for
which we cannot hope to find an answer.
The nature of sentiment and, indeed, life
itself are apparently among the abstract
ideas he classifies as beyond the com-
prehension abilities of the human mind.
Finally, after a bizarre series of inci-
dents, Boris is convicted of murder and
is sentenced to die. Sitting in his dimly
lit prison cell, he goes over the puzzling
structure one last time-although again
to no avail. But in the midst of these
last deliberations, a mysterious shadow
calling itself his "guardian angel" ap-
pears on the .cell wal and informs. him
that all is indeed well: the "angel" has
arranged for Boris to receive a last-
minute government reprieve.
And so Boris marches out to the exe-
cution ground, happy, light-headed, and
totally unafraid. He is convinced that
God-or some other high spiritual author-
ity-exists and has once again decreed
that he, Boris, will be permitted to live
when less fortunate (less blessed?) souls

would be relegated to death.
The soldiers line up and load their
rifles. No sign of a reprieve. Boris's con-
fidence wavers slightly. The commander
gives the order to aim. Still no sign of
a reprieve. Symptoms of panic begin to
appear on Boris's face. The squad fires.
No reprieve.
"If there's a God, he's an under-
achiever," Boris notes, somewhat maso-
chistically. It is an unusually fatalistic
turn for Woody Allen. In Sleeper, Allen
and Keaton finally defeated the mam-
moth fascist government that dominated
the 21st century United States. But in
Love and Death, Allen includes no sim-
ilar giant killing antics in the final
frames. With a striking show of force, a
powerful Goliath dashes the dreams of
the helpless challenger.
To accommodate this somewhat more
desolate philosophical approach, Allen
u s e s a markedly different cinematic
scheme in Love and Death than in his
preceding pictures. Entire sequences of
Sleeper, for example, consisted entirely
of "master" (i.e. general) and medium-
distance shots. Characters o f t e n re-
mained distant and somewhat static, be-
cause we had no intimate film contact
with them.
In his new film, however, Allen seems
to place greater emphasis on the tight
close-up. Faces and expressions suddenly
become important and no longer subtle
contributors to the artistic process. And
consequently, the characters in Love and
Death assume less constrained and more
portrait-like images.
Naturally, Allen's quick-paced script
features a wide assortment of the zany
sight and language gags on which his
comic reputation is based. And he and
Keaton continue to be the best male-
female comedy team in American show
business since George Burns and Gracie
Allen.
But beyond all the crazy jokes, the
pratfall humor, and the slapstick "busi-
ness," there is still an eerie sense of
moral inversion that dominates Love
and Death from the very beginning and
towers over it by the final reel.
Outwardly, Boris nee Allen seems to
leave the door open to some kind of hope
for mant-hat- the recurring dream of
eternal life may, far some, be a partial
reality. Yet only the nagging reciprocal
of that argument seens to prevail at
the end: the individual -with hopes and
dreams can actually look forward to
nothing but harsh reality and shattered
visions.
It is this perverse and perlexing dicho-
tomy that raises Love and Death above
the level of the traditional comedy and
makes it an unusually introspective piece
of American entertainment.
David Blomquist is The D a i I y
Arts and Entertainment Editor.

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