Monday, September 25, 2000

A Hairy Story

"I like it. To me it's a really interesting character a guy who can't function well in life but who can only function in art. It's sort of sad in a way but sort of funny. All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it. Only his writing was calm. His writing, which in more ways than one, saved his life."
-Woody Allen in Deconstructing Harry

I'm not the kind of guy who forgets stuff often. In fact it's quite the opposite: I'd do anything to be able to forget more than I ever knew. Years back I took a cross country excursion with the woman with a limp and when we got back home I wrote a short story about the trip as was one of the implied purposes of the whole arrangement. Her reaction wasn't exactly what I was expecting. She said that it made her uncomfortable that I remembered everything down to how much sugar she put in her tea. With the wind knocked out of me I wasn't even able to point out I made that part up (I think the character in the story randomly put two packets of sugar in her Jack in the Box iced tea) all by myself.

With the power that movies have over me it is even more rare that I forget I've seen a movie and rent it twice. But that recently happened when I rented Woody Allen's 1997's Deconstructing Harry and in the very first shot I realized I had already seen the movie.

I'm glad I did slip up because the film reminded me of a thing or two. Perhaps it was meant to be. Call it unconscious fate. What caught my eye about the film and led to me unknowingly re-renting it was this note in the synopsis: "...when Harry Block writes a bestseller about his best friends, his best friends become his worst enemies." The role writing plays in relationships is something that has been lingering in my mind for a while now.

The first time I saw Deconstructing Harry I liked it well enough but it seemed like the same thing we've seen many times before from Woody. The second time around the film really moved me. It's common with his movies to try and figure out how much of the material is autobiographical. While this isn't exactly fair, Allen brings a lot of that on himself by essentially playing the same role in each of his movies- a self absorbed neurotic whiny but witty sad soul. With his personal scandals well publicized it's even more difficult to separate his life from his art.

Deconstructing Harry plays with that theme masterfully. Allen's Harry Block is a sad despicable figure. Three times married, each breakup caused by his cheating ways he alienates those in his life to a point where no one will even accompany him to a ceremony at the college he attended that's honoring his work. He spends the night before with a hooker and she agrees to go with him. They pick up a friend (who Harry had run into at the doctor's office) along the way and the trio kidnap Harry's son to accompany them.

The movie uses quick choppy cuts to create a jittery feel. In a memorable bit Robin Williams plays an actor who is so lacking in focus that he is actually becoming blurry. One of the film's most interesting devices is that most of the characters are played by two different actors/actresses- one representing the "real person" and the other representing Harry's fictional recreation.

For others it's bad enough the way Harry treats them. It's ten times worse that he uses their life situations to make money and entertain others. For Harry the ends justify the means. His life is his art. His decidedly cynical view of life is that most people are OK looking at photographs of themselves even if that medium can be wholly inaccurate. He would rather look at a painting of a person because a painting represents not only interpretation and perspective, but also expression. Harry isn't writing about others nor is he writing for them, he's writing about himself. He may be screwed up in every way possible but he is quite good at expressing himself (no matter how delusional he may be).

Is Woody Allen Harry Block? Is Harry Block Woody Allen and is there a difference? Are we the audience able to separate the two? Is fiction more real than reality? Can a complete jerk be redeemed by his work? If we are to assume we know an artist by his or her work, isn't that artist entitled to use their life as their work?

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