Label: Twilight Time
Released: February 10, 2015
Genre: Comedy / Spoof
Synopsis: Woody Allen’s spoof of bloated Russian period epics has Boris and Sonja teaming up to assassinate Napoleon before he wreaks further havoc on Mother Russia.
Special Features: Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively at Screen Archives Entertainment.
Woody Allen’s poke at grave, important epic films (War and Peace, Waterloo) and fat Russian literature with a maze of characters feels like a project that had been simmering for a while, but Love and Death also marks the last overt spoof before Allen would craft more personal tales rooted in the rich urban environs of New York City.
Spoofs are very much products of their time, ridiculing the sincerity, pomposity, and melodrama of overblown, critically praised works that sometimes really deserve a take-down. Although the energy and stream of sharp jokes gets a little variable around the film’s midpoint, certainly in its opening scenes, Love and Death moves like a bullet train, scattering an amazing cluster of one-liners and crazy gags, with some of the jokes bordering on / tumbling into political incorrectness, but that’s part of the allure –stereotypes taken to ridiculous extremes, and allowing audiences to laugh at things otherwise branded as outright taboo. (A running gag about village idiots might not play so well today, but it’s hard not to chuckle when it culminates with an Idiots Convention in Minsk, and a large banner plastered on a run-down hotel that exclaims “Welcome Idiots.”)
There’s also a sense Allen’s genre spoof may have been influenced a bit by Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974) which similarly concocted a ridiculous story that stops / re-starts for jokes, and once in a while drops in a surreal montage (which, in Love and Death, has Boris on the battlefield hiding in a canon before its fuse sends him across the field to immolate high-ranking French generals. Naturally, Boris not only survives, but gets a chest full of medals).
Allen’s script has cousins Boris (Allen) and Sonja (Diane Keaton) meandering through the dangers wrought by Napoleon’s invasive troops in Czarist Russia before the pair finally consummate their relationship, and bumble into Napoleon’s palace to attempt an assassination in the hope of ending potential mass-slaughter. (Both lovers are pacifists, but there’s a point where Allen addresses the quandary of sacrificing a life for many on-camera that could easily apply to more contemporary leaders with bigger goals of world domination and mass extermination.)
The occasional allusions to serious issues are counter-balanced with moments of utter nonsense (Sonja crafting an elaborate dinner made entirely of snow is brilliantly surreal), wordy philosophical arguments (subjective vs. objective), and anachronistic references pop up in weird corners (priests arguing over the best deli for a lunch break). Allen’s the everyman fool, and Keaton’s the wholly straight-faced partner, and their chemistry and delivery guarantees the film has more than enough peaks to make up for the inevitable finale where pacing and jokes are less clever, but the final shots certainly poke fun at the deep gravitas in Ingmar Bergman’s films (notably Persona and The Seventh Seal).
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray boasts a clean HD transfer that brings out the beautiful colours and natural lighting in Ghislain Cloquet’s cinematography, the elaborate sets and expansive locations, and a few unintentional production details (like foam dripping down ‘snow encrusted’ trees in a duel scene, and camera tripod legs reflected in Allen’s glasses during his last on-camera monologue).
Alongside Julie Kirgo’s booklet essay is an isolated mono music and effects track featuring the Prokofiev music, edited to fit Allen’s wacky scenario.
Woody Allen films released by Twilight Time include Love and Death (1975), Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days(1987), and Crimes and Misdemeanors(1989), and the Allen starring in the Red Menace satire The Front (1976).
© 2015 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review