Sunday, February 03, 2008

Scene Sunday: The Purple Rose of Cairo

Okay. So, although I got no comments, the first post in this new series was actually mentioned elsewhere in the blogosphere with some nice words, so that means that it wasn't a total disaster. So I present the second edition. I was planning to pick a scene from 2007 release Yella, but, through a combination of workload and procrastination, I haven't actually watched it yet, so that flew out of the window. So, in its place, I've instead picked a bonefide classic. (And I've sheared the screencaps of those ugly black borders this time, too!)

The Purple Rose of Cairo may be my favourite Woody Allen film. Perhaps Annie Hall and Manhattan are more auspicious both technically and script-wise, but I think Purple Rose is closest to my heart. It's most likely because the film, like me, is so in love with the movies- oh, it recognizes the danger of escapism and the effect it can have on your life, but it also rejoices in the magic, and its the combination of these two elements, surely familiar to any cinephile, that make the film itself so warm and connectable. And, for this week's scene, I've picked the epitome of this movie's magic: the moment where a film character actually walks off the screen and into real life.

Cecilia (Mia Farrow) has just been fired from her waitressing job. So, as she always does, she retreats to her comfort food: the movies. She may have already seen it twice, but we quickly cycle through two scenes from 'The Purple Rose of Cairo' (the film within the film)- including a hilarious one where the maid (Annie Joe Edwards) asks Rita (Deborah Rush) whether she'd like her bath of "the big bubbles or the asses' milk"- and then seem to be repeating the first again. Only this time it's slightly different.

Mia Farrow looks at the screen with such wistful longing, so transfixing a stare, that it's obvious without words that Cecilia is utterly besotted with this film she's been watching for hours on end. She's on her third straight viewing and there is no trace of fatigue or boredom in Farrow's eyes- Cecilia would be nowhere else for anything in the world.

Henry (Edward Herrmann) and Rita are progressing through the scene as normal, but when we reach Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels)...

He moves across the room, looking around him with slight awe. "Well, I am very impressed. I really am. You have yourself quite a place here." He chuckles quietly to himself.

"You know, I still can't get over the fact that twenty-four hours ago I was in an Egyptian tomb, I didn't know any of you wonderful people-" Here, Baxter suddenly, inexplicably, flicks a hopelessly obvious, slightly bewildered and maybe just a bit fascinated look into the audience, and his speech slows. Allen, for his part, has so far kept both Cecilia and the movie screen embedded within his frame, grounding both within the context of the movie theatre- Tom is still just part of a movie, and Cecilia just part of the audience.
"- and here I am now, I'm on the verge of a madcap... Manhattan... weekend." He finishes almost reluctantly, now staring abandonly at Cecilia. She, baffled, even looks behind her, as if so derogatory of herself that while she can believe that a movie character is suddenly breaking the fourth wall, she can't fathom that he might be looking at her.

But Baxter's words can't apply to anyone else. "My god, you must really love this picture."

"Me?" Cecilia asks squeakily, causing the other members of the sparse audience to turn in surprise.

Tom smiles. "You've been here all day, and I've seen you here twice before."

Allen finally closes in on his heroine, emphasizing Farrow's innocent, perplexed expression. "You mean me?"

He closes in on Tom too, omitting the entire frame of the movie screen. The film has suddenly cut out the peripheral, has engaged in the romantic duet we think we're embarking upon. "Yes, you, you... this is the fifth time you're seeing this!" Tom explains, a sly bit of snide amazement apparent in Daniels' tone.

But Baxter isn't the only character who can break the wall. Allen keeps close-in on a short cut to Rita, as she hisses "Henry! Come here, quickly!", accompanied by a lovely mixture of shock and possible fear in Rush's expression.

"I gotta speak to you," declares Tom, and then the line between fiction and reality is broken, irreparably:

Tom literally seems to step off the screen, black-and-white becoming colour before our eyes, and although this transition is clearly illogical (he was enormous on-screen yet is regularly sized as he walks down the aisle), it reinforces the blurring of the two worlds, mystifies the process.

The expected gasps, screams and an "Oh my god!" are heard but not seen, although Allen treats us to the quick comic moment of the above woman screaming and doing a dead faint sidewards.

"Listen, old sport, you're on the wrong side!" calls Henry, but Tom doesn't look back as he walks towards Cecilia, dismissing his fellow character with "Hang on, I wanna have a look around, go on without me." Even Henry's response- "We can't continue with the story!"- is cut across by Tom's question to Cecilia, as Allen tightens the frame, focusing our attention solely on our central couple. Side-lit by the projector, Tom still seems romanticized- our (and Cecilia's- though they are much one and the same) ideal romantic hero.

"Who are you?"

Amazed, baffled, stunned, but still rather besotted, Farrow looks up at her movie hero with wide-eyed adoration, and answers with a stutter: "C-Cecilia."

Allen inputs another comedic little aside here: the usherette (Juliana Donald) does a fantastic little staccato action, announcing dramatically: "I'll go get the manager!"

Background still blurring out all others, Tom suggests "Let's get out of here and go somewhere where we can talk." Well, suggests, but he waits for no response as he pulls Cecilia up the aisle and out of the theatre, dismissing her weak protestation- "But you're in the movie!"- with a dramatic, liberated little exclamation:

"Wrong, Cecilia, I'm free! After two thousand performances of the same noxious routine, I'm free!"

And, illuminated from behind by the glow of the screen, Tom and Cecilia escape the cinema, Allen's camera still back where it had been when Cecilia had been sitting down. They might be escaping, but Allen's going to hang around for a second...

Rita vainly calls after Tom, and, in a fantastic comic moment- but also one that quickly establishes the internal 'laws' of this suddenly different universe- she pushes her face up against the screen, trying to follow him out. No such luck.

1 comment:

Cal said...

The dynamic of the group of actors inside the film is so funny. You definitely captured one of the best moments. Great write-up.