Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen, 1997)

Woody Allen is first and foremost a writer who can direct films. He takes his cinematic cues from his favorite directors, most notably Ingmar Bergman. He sometimes experiments with the medium, modifying the mood, the style, and the form. However, the writing is still distinctly Allen. Allen's screenplays would always have that neurotic New Yorker, usually played by him. This neurotic New Yorker has a variety of professions: usually a novelist, a writer, or anything that has to do with the imagination. He is often well-off, with enough money to support his vices which include alcohol, anti-depressants, and the occasional whore. Finally, the neurotic New Yorker is more often than not, a fast-talker, his mouth spewing line after line of witty retorts that need no impetus to get released. This character feels like a window to Allen's brain.

While there is that comfort of knowing exactly what to expect from an Allen-written and directed picture, that predictability, I believe, is one of Allen's pitfalls. Allen has a narcissistic tendency that can be observed in all his films: his characters would always be molded from him. In Deconstructing Harry, Allen's recreation of Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957), Allen recreates his standard protagonist, a famous novelist who is invited by the university that kicked him out to be honored for his life's work. Harry Block (Allen), the character's name obviously alluding to his writer's block is a deplorable character. He married twice, has one child from an irate ex-wife, several mistresses, and few real friends. He is a potential alcoholic who subsists in popping pills for emotional comfort, has a major problem with Judaism despite being a Jew, which eventually causes him to have a rift with his sister. With too many personality quirks for an aging man, Harry has a hard time finding anyone who is willing to accompany him to his former alma mater, to the point that he had to pay off a prostitute five hundred dollars just to be with him for that day.

As I've said, Harry is not a very lovable character. Allen however, supplies him with natural wit, and a gift for writing which in turn, becomes the window for the audience to discover what exactly is happening inside the mind of Harry. Allen shifts from the real world of Harry to Harry's literary creations which are obviously based from Harry's real life events, with the characters' names just changed to little effect or comfort. This effect, the switching from real life to fictional, is where the film got its name. Deconstructing Harry is in fact a deconstruction of the main character, what makes him click, what psychoanalytical explanation can be garnered to give justice to such an imbalanced character, what aspects of his real life determines his literary decisions. Actually, the little stories are pretty interesting and could have made feature films if they weren't part of the whole process of deconstructing Allen's stereotypical neurotic.

Deconstructing Harry is one interesting mess of a film. Incongruently edited, blandly shot, and with a story that can be described as a collection of half-baked although brilliantly written comic sketches, the film may be a struggle to watch. The conclusion feels a bit too self-congratulatory for comfort. While I may have complaints, the mess actually becomes rather enjoyable after a while. The little bits and pieces mesh pleasantly, revealing a likable side to a character whose ability to throw witty lines and to write stories cannot save him from being deplored. Also, I have always enjoyed Allen's brand of cynical humor, which comes in huge doses here.

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