The Relationship Between Bananas and Sex

February 17, 2018 | By

There’s a line in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980) in which aliens visit Earth, and in their one-on-one with Allen’s fallen pop culture hero, make a point of not offering some grand wisdom to help guide humanity gone awry, but pretty much tell the film’s funny man to stop with the self-absorbed serious stuff and get back to the ‘especially funny older movies’ that everyone seemed to like better – like Bananas (1971) and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) on Blu from Twilight Time.

I grew up watching a mass of Alfred Hitchcock films, so it’s easy for me to point out the shifts in story, tone, and emerging fetishes as the celebrated British filmmaker moved from silents to talkies, then arrived in the U.S. under exclusive contract to hands-on producer / Benzedrine champion David O. Selznick, took a slight detour with two indie films, and returned to the studio system where he made pictures for Paramount, Warner Bros., MGM, and the later bulk for Universal.

That’s a long career, and not everyone liked Hitchcock’s later creative and production choices – building stories around archetypal ice cool blondes; becoming terribly addicted to filming in obvious studio environments and backlots – and although he did slow down in his final years, he left a substantive body of work, including pioneering classics in suspense and horror.

Allen’s unique in still being rabidly active, but not unlike Hitch, there are distinct career phases: from a comedian to a writer-director-collaborator of satires and sketch comedies; then an auteur to evoking hero Ingmar Bergman with introspective dramas.

The changes in visual style remained refined during those phases, but his use of original scores was reduced to my favourite most hated term from Film Theory 101, diegetic sound (onscreen source music, often period jazz tunes in Allen’s case); and those beautifully designed titles by Norman Gorbaty were scrapped in favour of a singular font on black backgrounds.

The running times still hovered between 80-90 minutes, but the shift from sketch & satirical sequences to dramas with deft, light comedic touches was very obvious.  There are few films within Hitchcock’s filmography that I haven’t seen, but Allen’s still new to me, and my exposure so far has concentrated on his early and ‘classic 1980s’ films instead of the big 1970s Oscar hits, and that later (and still unfurling) phase which some critics would regard as a slow, painful, downward spiral of pale imitation and regurgitation, with rare gems in between banalities.

When Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) were screened in class, they were rammed down our throats as Genius! Works of Greatness! and Magic Which Must Make All Laugh Uncontrollably! My tastes have changed significantly since then (note: sleep deprived students forced to watch a movie at 9am followed by group chats with disinterested TA’s is Wholly Uninspiring), but it was these two masterworks that immediately turned me off Allen, and it took a good 20+ years to try a few films around those Oscar classics to get a feel for his work.

I admit I’m not keen on seeing what follows after Deconstructing Harry (1997) but maybe after I’ve done the peak creative periods, and after a small pause, I’ll give a few later works a try. Hitchcock was a master craftsman and savvy producer, but Under Capricorn (1949 ) is boring, Torn Curtain (1966) contrived, Topaz (1969) a flat-out dud, and Family Plot (1976) a hugely disappointing, unfunny swan song – although the trailer had some irreverent zing.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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