Transfer: Excellent/ Extras: Good
Label: Twilight Time
Released: February 14, 2014
Genre: Drama / Black Comedy
Synopsis: An ophthalmologist contemplates his brother’s offer to ‘erase’ a persistent lover before his marriage and career are ruined.
Special Features: Mono Isolated Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.
“A strange man defecated on my sister.”
In spite of the dark material that permeates Woody Allen’s Oscar-nominated film (Best Director / Screenplay / Actor Landau), there’s a genuine lightness to this otherwise grim tale of an ophthalmologist who reluctantly agrees to take the advice of his street-smart brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) and kill an obsessed lover Dolores (Angelica Huston) bent on exposing an illicit relationship and embezzling.
Eye doctor Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) isn’t really a bad man – he’s actually quite beloved, respected, and maintains a decent life in spite of sharing his aunt’s cynicism for religion – and so his transgression feels like a desperate reaction after clarifying with Dolores he will neither divorce nor continue to have ‘business trips’ with his emotionally reactive lover.
END SPOILER ALERT
The murder, however, isn’t the focus of the film, but Judah’s grappling with guilt, the validity of faith, and his coming to terms with a morally repellent act – the latter tackled in a wry, simple scene (captured in the film’s poster art) that’s beautifully played at the end, and confirms for audiences that for Judah, everything turns out just fine (much in the way that Michael Caine’s manipulative actions in A Shock to the System go unpunished because murder was the only option to ensure self-preservation).
END OF SPOILER
Judah’s story also functions as the architecture around which the smaller stories of relatives occasionally bump into each other. Allen plays Cliff, a documentary filmmaker hired to shoot a day-in-the-life puff piece on his arrogant brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), an Emmy Award-winning TV comedy genius. That story strand opens up small dramas of his lonely sister, his ‘platonic’ wife Wendy (Joanna Gleason), and a producer, Halley (Mia Farrow), within whom he attempts a courtship through their mutual love of classic movies.
Cliff’s hopeless efforts to start his own love affair contrasts the destructive path of Judah’s relationship with Dolores, and Lester’s courting of Halley shows another facet of the film’s depiction of ordinary people searching quite hungrily for love.
Judah’s inevitable grappling with faith begins during the eye examinations with wise rabbi (Sam Waterston), a genial man suffering from an irreversible eye condition who still ‘sees’ the moral pathways in life (get it?). Their discussions are pre-murder, whereas Judah’s vital post-murder dialogue occurs in a key scene where he converses with the ghosts of his family at a childhood sader where personality quirks and aspects of faith are knocked around the dinner table like a ping-pong ball.
Crimes is a beautifully written & performed film, with Landau giving one of his best performances after spending years playing small supporting characters, and sort of trapped in rather banal, predictable TV series (especially Space: 1999). Sven Nykvist’s cinematography is gorgeous in this sharp HD transfer, and the set designs are so tasteful, few elements look dated.
The film’s also a curious time capsule of long-gone / outmoded technology. Cliff’s routine matinees to repertory cinemas seem quaint after neighbourhood movie houses offering double and triple bills were soon to be replaced by home video, cable TV, and on demand services; Halley’s cellphone is shocking for its brick-like bulk and retractable antenna; and Cliff’s office / editing room is filled with the chunky gear and paraphernalia of 16mm filmmaking which is now the rare exception.
(To the other end, there’s a cute scene where Cliff convinces Halley to stay the evening and watch his personal print of Singin’ in the Rain on his Steenbeck editing console. For contemporary audiences, the scene may evoke the habit of present day people watching a movie on a laptop in bed because of convenience, and a peculiar sense of intimacy that comes from being so close in a personal space with a movie. At one point Allen the filmmaker, thru Cliff, exclaims to Halley ‘this is the best way to watch a movie.’)
Allen also directs certain scenes with a slight documentary quality, of which the most interesting are the arguments between Judah and Dolores in her apartment: the camera’s sometimes softly hand-held, and whether due to the location’s limited size or by the director’s design, the visual obstruction by kitchen cabinets and not always seeing actors’ faces makes viewers feel like interlopers or nosey folks peering from a distance as a relationship privately disintegrates.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features the film + a theatrical trailer, a mono isolated music & effects track, and Julie Kirgo’s essay provides a good overview of the film’s themes and enduring qualities within Allen’s massive filmography.
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).
© 2014 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review