Sunday, January 17, 2021

Cape Fear

 SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.


In the 1962 version of Cape Fear, one can see the influence of Alfred Hitchcock on director J. Lee Thompson. The musical score, by Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann, with its heavy instrumental stresses and flutterings that suggest shivers, communicates a feeling of impending sinister events. (Martin Scorsese’s violent, graphic remake has a horrific performance by Robert De Niro and utilizes the same score). The title of the movie is of an actual place in North Carolina, but it also sounds like a location that is cloaked in danger. The story presents the two kinds of America that Truman Capote wanted to expose in his book, In Cold Blood: the respectable, law-abiding, pleasant appearance on the surface, and the ugly underbelly of anger and violence simmering and ready to erupt from beneath that benevolent façade. The movie also asks what recourse do people have when regular law enforcement is not legally able to protect those who are being victimized.

 The film starts with Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), a vicious ex-con, entering a courthouse, his unlawful presence an affront to a place of justice (does his name imply that he is the maximum cad?). He walks up a flight of stairs and startles a woman who drops some books she is carrying. This image is an indication that Max is a threat to women. Max seems oblivious of her. His lack of either helping her or even acknowledging her presence immediately shows him to be a cold individual who is only focused on his own agenda. He is looking for lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck, who also produced the film). (Does Sam's last name suggest he is a potential weapon who might fire an arrow from a “bow” at an enemy?). Max sits down and observes the courtroom proceedings with a clenched mouth and a glacier glare which show his animosity toward Sam. 

 Outside, as Sam is about to drive away, Max sticks his hand through the driver’s side window of the car and grabs the keys. It is an invasive act which suggests the inability to escape a threatening presence. Max asks if Sam remembers him, and tells him the number of years, months, and days it has been since they last met, which totals more than eight years of incarceration. The details show the impact on Max of their last encounter. Sam does remember Max, and questions whether he blames Sam for what Max did. Max laughs, and says Sam doesn’t understand what’s going on. That means it will take some time for Sam to realize the full extent of what Max’s presence means to Sam. So, there is an ominous implication that this meeting will not be a one-time incident. As a shapely woman walks by, Max’s predatory sexual nature is evident as he talks about how the female’s “wiggle” is meant to arouse them. (In the book on which the movie is based, Max was convicted of raping a young woman, but that seemed too daring at the time, and is not mentioned in this adaptation). Max is always smoking a cigar, and in his case, a cigar is not just a cigar since it could be seen as a phallic symbol (consider General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove). Max then adds a creepy note as Sam drives away by commenting on how Sam’s wife and young daughter are attractive. The intimidation is obvious when Max tells Sam he should give Max’s “love” to his family and says he will be seeing him again. All of these comments on the surface sound acceptable, but the menace is implied, which fits in with the theme of benign appearance versus malevolent reality.


We have lilting, quick-tempo music which reflects Sam’s smiling return home as he hugs his daughter, Nancy (Lori Martin). Sam, his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen), and Nancy’s friend go bowling as part of a typical relaxed family outing. Into this supposedly safe space the scary Max arrives. He orders beer, not a cola. He notes the wedding ring on the young waitress’s finger and asks if it means anything to her. He assumes all women are whores and pushes a twenty-dollar bill towards her, asking if that “means” as much. She runs away from his lewd suggestion of prostitution, and he laughs as if confirming his warped assumption that all women are the same. Sam sees Max staring at him, and then misses the chance to make a spare. Max smiles, knowing he has rattled his prey. He even has the audacity to approach Sam in public, creepily saying he was just getting a good look at Sam’s family before he slithers away.


The cautious Sam talks to his friend, Police Chief Mark Dutton (Martin Balsam) about Max. We now get the backstory, as Sam says that he testified against Max eight years prior in Baltimore after he interrupted Max as he was beating up a young woman. She was hospitalized for some time following the assault. Sam says at the trial Max made it clear that he blamed Sam, and now the attorney fears for his family. Dutton wants to help Sam so he orders Max to be picked up for “vagrancy,” a flimsy charge. Sam is beginning to compromise his ethics as he is okay with police harassment here.


Max is at a bar where an inebriated, sexy young woman gives him a seductive look. The police arrive and when one of the cops grabs him, he resists. But, he quickly recovers his veneer of acceptable behavior by saying he will be cooperative, but just doesn’t like being “pawed.” It is an animal term, which fits Max’s bestial personality. At the police station, Max shows he has come prepared for any interrogation by the authorities. He declares that he is not drunk, and he has the right to be examined by his own doctor to ensure that the results of an intoxication test are legitimate. Sam enters the room, and Max agreeably consents to a strip search. Max points out that he legitimately has $5,400 in a bank account, which we later find out came from the sale of his property. So, Dutton can’t charge him with vagrancy. Max says he intends to stay in town for quite a while, which drives home how that it will not be easy for Sam to escape his presence. Sam tells Max to stay off of his property. Max just laughs, which seems like it is absurd that he would trespass, but his response really suggests he doesn’t take the warning seriously and that Sam will not be able to stop him.


The next shot has the camera behind a line of bushes, and as it rises we look at Sam’s house from the vantage point of a stalker. The family dog, Marilyn (a female, Max’s victim of choice) is barking, which indicates the possibility of an intruder, and the sound builds suspense. Then, the barking turns to canine whining, an escalation of approaching danger. Sam and his daughter go to investigate and become alarmed as Peggy runs toward them saying their dog is having a “fit.” They take Marilyn to the veterinarian, who tells Sam he believes that the animal was poisoned with strychnine and could not be saved. Sam realizes that Nancy was meant to see the loss of her dog, which means he knows the poisoning was an act of terror on the part of Max.


Sam shares his apprehension concerning Max with his family and tells Nancy that she must not leave the house or her school area. Max’s intimidation is beginning to sabotage social tranquility by restricting the family’s freedom and peace of mind. Peggy has a dream that contains bits of a conversation she had with Sam. Her anger and fear caused her to say that a man like Max should not have “civil rights.” Her subjective response is understandable, but Sam argued that a man can’t be put away for “what he might do.” He tries to keep to an objective code that requires all to be treated with the same legal requirements for protection against prejudicial impulses. In their talk Sam said that moving away would not stop Max from following, which emphasizes how quickly the course of their safe lives has turned into a road of danger with no exit. Sam knows that a man such as Max thrives on eliciting fear and Sam urged not to give into that emotion. Peggy wakes up from her dream and finds that Sam and Nancy are not in bed. The black and white photography allows no color to brighten the situation, and the shadows cast on the house’s corridors are ominous. As Peggy reaches the bottom of the stairs, no doubt worried that Max might have breached the family castle, she sees what looks like a man wearing a hat and jacket. She is relieved that it is only Sam’s clothes, and that Nancy is getting something to eat while Sam is talking to a policeman who is keeping guard over the house. But, the scene illustrates how Max has spooked Nancy and us to the point that what we see as innocent may contain an element of evil.

 Chief Dutton summons Sam in the middle of a case he is arguing. Here we have more disruption of the normal routine. Dutton says that Max has attained attorney Dave Grafton (Dave Kruschen) to represent him (does the first part of his last name imply corruption?). Max is sly as he has hired a lawyer who specializes in police harassment. In a meeting with the four men, Grafton notes numerous incidents where the police have brought Max in for questioning regarding robberies and theft, and searched his home and car after the poisoning of Sam’s dog. Grafton argues that these public displays of police involvement caused defamation of Max’s character and required him to relocate twice. Sam questions why the cops should not be allowed to do their job. Grafton is surprised that the ethical Sam is losing his objectivity and is not able to see when the line is crossed on the part of the authorities. We have here an example of how laws are made to protect individual rights, but how criminals can exploit those safeguards for their own purposes. Sam does score a point when he wonders how Grafton knew police manpower was used to protect his home. Grafton hesitates and says the information was acquired from cops. But, it is obvious Max told his lawyer based on his surveillance of Sam’s home. The threat of legal action against the police is implied, and Max’s exiting line that he will be seeing Sam again sounds mannerly but is actually threatening. 

 Desperation sets in as Sam wonders what he can do since, as Dutton points out, they can’t arrest a person for what's in his mind in the absence of evidence. Sam sarcastically asks if he is supposed to turn his house into a fort and isolate his family as he hunkers down with a gun. That normal legal means are not sufficient here is evident when Dutton suggests that Sam hire a private investigator, Charles Sievers (Telly Savalas), to dig up something usable. 

 Max is driving around with the woman in the bar, Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase). When she asks why they are taking the road they are on he says it has “better scenery.” She rejects that explanation and knowingly says that Max doesn’t understand beauty or anything that makes “life worth living,” because he is an “animal: coarse, lustful, barbaric,” another reference to Max’s uncivilized, predatory nature. She sees life through a cynical, pessimistic perspective and so she is attracted to the “bad boy,” and says he is “rock bottom.” It is, ironically, a comfort that she knows she can’t “sink any lower,” than to be with him. Max notes Sievers is following him. The rear window of Max’s car has one shoe dangling from it. Is this image a suggestion that we are waiting for Max to let the other shoe drop? 

 Sievers calls the police to report that Max is in a room with Taylor and they can arrest him for “lewd vagrancy,” something that would be considered an obsolete puritanical law today if consenting adults are involved. For the time, the following scene was quite daring as it depicts the bare-chested Max staring menacingly at Taylor in her scanty, black negligee. He forms a fist, and she knows he is ready to unleash his psychotic nature. She tries to escape, but he grabs her. The movie only suggests the violence as we hear her getting hit behind a slatted door. Mitchum’s role here mirrors the one he played in The Night of the Hunter, with both of these male characters drawn to women’s sexuality, while at the same time harboring misogynistic, abusive impulses. When the police arrive, they find the beaten Taylor alone as Max left through a back door. Taylor refuses to say anything to the police or Sievers, and she calls for a cab to take her to the bus station, hoping to escape, even though she doubts that she can. Sievers asks her to prevent Max from adding more names to his list of casualties, but she says that nobody “can protect themselves from a man like that.” She says that Max said that what he inflicted this time was “only a sample” of what might come next, which is Max’s way of making sure she doesn’t press charges. She knows once released he will come looking for her. Her impression paints Max as a man who sees himself as not being subject to the norms of decent behavior.


Sam arrives on the scene, and even though Sievers told her about the threat to Sam’s family, she tells him she is “sorry.” She leaves because she is not willing to take the personal risk to stand up to the man who will continue to cause harm to others. Sievers advises Sam to go even further outside the bounds of regular legal channels by hiring a man known to inflict violence for a price. Sievers suggests that with a man such as Max, one must deal with him on his own, brutal level. Sam dismisses the idea as he doesn’t want to approach that deep dark place in which Max resides.

 Max shows up at the dock where Sam’s family is taking care of their boat. Both mother and father leave Nancy for a bit to get some supplies. Bad idea, given that they know about Max being around. Sam sees Max staring down at his daughter and warns him to go away. Max says that his daughter is getting to be as “juicy” as Sam's wife. His words have sexual and food connotations, which fits Max being an animal on the prowl. Max may be trying to provoke Sam, possibly so he can lodge an assault charge against him. Unfortunately, Sam accommodates him by taking a couple of swings at Max, who makes sure those there saw that he didn’t lay a hand on Sam. He does warn Sam that his turn will come, which builds the story’s suspense.


The sense of danger increases as Nancy is alone in a car (why do her parents keep leaving her by herself?). She sees the ever-present Max approaching. He is like a pervasive evil entity. She runs off but can’t get into a locked building. She then enters a school as she sees Max following her (a place of innocence being desecrated?). She hears footsteps that she believes come from Max, but instead are caused by an employee. The audience shares her fear since we don’t see who is walking at first. Again, what should be safe feels threatening now. Nancy runs out of the school and, ironically, into the arms of Max, another image of the inability to escape. She runs into the street and gets knocked down by a braking car, but is only bruised. Max’s wish to instill terror is succeeding.

 Back home, the incensed Sam grabs his revolver and sets off after Max. Peggy tries to rein him in by saying how Max didn’t hurt Nancy and if Sam shot the man it would be murder, which would ruin the family, the very thing Sam wants to protect and which Max is trying to destroy. She pleads that he should offer Max money instead. She threatens to call the police to stop her husband. After Sam gets in his car, she follows through with her warning. But Sam, succumbing to Peggy’s logic, comes back in before she talks with Chief Dutton. 

 Sam decides to take Peggy’s advice and has a meeting at a restaurant to offer Max some cash. When asked to come up with a figure, Max says that eight years in prison added to the value of a family brings a high price. When Sam offers twenty thousand dollars, Max says that’s less than three thousand a year for his incarcerated time. He sarcastically asks Sam if he’s heard of the minimum wage. Max tells Sam that he lost his family because his wife couldn’t stand the humiliation of him being in prison, and she left with their son. After getting divorced, she married a “plumber,” and they had children. Max complains that his son doesn’t know who his father is. The cruel Max then basically kidnapped his ex-wife and made her write a letter with “dirty words” in it saying she wanted to be with Max for a while. He implies that he sexually assaulted her and physically abused the woman, but he threatened to give the letter to her husband if she pressed charges. Sam sees that the man is out for revenge, not compensation. Max says that he just wanted to kill “someone” (he is careful not to make a direct threat) for seven years in jail but in the last year he decided it would be more painful to exact retribution in small increments. Sam gets up and calls Max a “shocking degenerate” and the “lowest” of all the people he has encountered. Here he is echoing Taylor who called Max the “rock bottom.” Sam says that it makes him “sick to breathe the same air” as Max, implying the man is a plague infecting the human species. 


Sam tells Peggy that Max is after their child, and how it will be difficult to protect her all the time. If he attacked Nancy, she would be forced to testify in detail at her young age at what would be a rape trial (although the word “rape” is not used, the implication is that would be the charge). Sam says that Max would be convicted but not after the damage to Nancy was done. Sam says Max knows that Sam and Peggy wouldn't put their child through that ordeal. 


Sam concludes his only recourse is to step outside of the law, which ironically is his job to uphold. He decides to do what Sievers suggested about hiring thugs to hurt Max. The next scene has three men beating Max. But Max is one tough fellow and he is able to overpower his attackers, although he does sustain injuries. After the confrontation, the bruised and bloodied Max calls Sam’s house and Peggy answers. Max is sexually suggestive as he talks to Peggy and when Sam grabs the phone, Max says he will essentially destroy Sam’s life by turning the law against Sam for ordering the assault. Then he is frightening as he says that he has plans for Peggy and Nancy that make what he did to his wife look like “kid’s stuff.” His words not only stress the extreme nature of his threat but also the defilement of innocence by evil.


The next scene has Peggy astonished because Sam has obviously been talking about killing Max. Sam tries to reassure her that he will need help and will not proceed until all the details of a plan are in order. The option that he presents argues that the “terror” that Nancy will experience if Max attacks her is worse than if they involve her in the plot. The short scene shows how far Sam is willing to abandon legal options.


Attorney Grafton confronts Sam at the courthouse telling him one of the hospitalized thugs admitted that Sam hired him. Grafton says Sam’s career as a lawyer is over and will be arrested. Sam seeks aid from Chief Dutton, who is angry, given what Sam has done, that Sam would ask for help to have a stakeout to catch Max. Sam says there is a houseboat on the Cape Fear River, and he will have Peggy and Nancy there as bait. Grafton wants Sam to appear before a committee in Atlanta. Sam says he knows Max will see him leave and it will give him an opportunity to go after the wife and daughter. Sam will drive back. He wants one policeman to be at the dock to back him up and Nancy will be hidden in an obscure cabin nearby. He frankly tells Dutton he will shoot Max to protect his family. Dutton grudgingly agrees to the stakeout, but warns Sam he can’t kill Max just for trespassing. Sam is walking a legal tightrope here as he sets his trap.


Herrmann’s score at this point sounds similar to the heavy stresses that he used for Psycho as the story heads toward its climax. Max can pass for normal as he pretends to be asking about delivering a package to Sam at the airport. He confirms that Sam was on the plane to Atlanta and verifies the date of his return. On the houseboat, Nancy is alert as she hears the engine of another boat approaching. Peggy has a gun as she checks out who is coming. The sound of water sloshing followed by footsteps increases the tension. But director Thompson is pulling a Hitchcock move by faking a threat as it is Sam and Deputy Kersek (Page Slattery) who have arrived. The result is to ratchet up suspense and then offer relief only to be followed by more fear, similar to waves crashing and abating on a beach. Sam intends to join Kersek at an observation point at the water’s edge. Sam first calls Sievers who says that Max was at Sam’s house and confirmed that Sam’s car was there, but Peggy’s wasn’t. Sievers says Max tailed him, but then he didn’t see Max anymore. There is a plot question here as to why Max would have to track Sievers instead of just following Sam and his family as they first arrived at the houseboat. 


Sievers heads out to the houseboat pretending to deliver a phonograph to the family. He and Sam hope Max will follow, but Sievers doesn’t see him. Max is clever enough not to use his own car and instead hitches a ride. He observes Sievers’s actions and discovers the houseboat. Sam decides to proceed as planned and he and Kersek go into hiding. There is dissembling by both parties here and each wants to capture the other. Max swims in the river like a water snake. He hears Kersek swat a mosquito, surprises the man, and drowns him. He says to him that he will be found without a mark on him, as if Kersek died in an unmanly fashion. Max sets the houseboat adrift to make it more difficult for anybody to get on the craft. Sam finds Kersek’s body and tells his daughter to phone for help.


he bare-chested Max, stripped of civilized behavior, goes onboard the houseboat to confront Peggy. He squishes some eggs and coats her upper body with the liquid in a sexually suggestive image. He says she will say what happened was consensual, as he forced his ex-wife to do, because she feared Max might go after her daughter. He then begins to manhandle her as Sam gets on the boat with a gun. He finds his wife but she has not been raped because Peggy says Max only wanted to lure Sam away from Nancy. Max escaped through a hatch in the boat to go after the girl.

Max breaks the window of the door at the cabin as Nancy cowers in a corner. She grabs a fireplace poker but is too shaken to use it against the powerful man who then drags her away. Sam swims back to the shore but Max surprises him, and the gun Sam was carrying is knocked away. The two men fight, and it appears that Max has drowned Sam. But Sam is also capable of faking appearances. He grabs a rock from the waterbed and smashes it against Max's head. He finds Nancy and tells her to run and hide. Sam goes back for Max, but the man has recovered and has a hunk of wood with a large screw in it that he uses as a weapon. Sam hides and then finds the gun. As Max attacks he gets off a shot wounding Max. Max tells him to finish him off because he doesn’t “give a damn.” Sam uses Max’s own words against him as he says killing him would be too easy. Instead, because he is “strong,” he will be in a cage for the rest of his long life until he “rots.” In a way, for a predatory animal such as Max, that punishment is worse. Sam’s decision also shows that he has returned to using legal instead of vigilante justice. 


The family sails away from Cape Fear, but the traumatized look on their faces shows that the horror of the place will reside inside them as they attempt to resume their outwardly peaceful lives.

The next film is Gaslight.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Gimme Shelter

 SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

 Gimme Shelter (1970), from the acclaimed documentary filmmakers, the Maysles Brothers, and noted film editor Charlotte Zwerin, covers the last ten days of the Rolling Stones 1969 North American tour with the final performance at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco on Dec. 6. Some have characterized that last concert as the demonic version of the harmony of the anti-establishment generation at the landmark festival at Woodstock, New York. There were roughly 300,000 in attendance at Altamont and the gathering was marked by conflict and eventually a killing. Whereas the youths at Woodstock happily slid around in the mud, those at Altamont would feel the need to run for cover because of the violence there. Thus, the title of the movie based on the Stones’ song takes on metaphorical meaning. 

 At the start of the Madison Square Garden Stones concert, the announcer asks, “Are you ready?” to the crowd. As Stanley Booth says in his essay, “The True Adventures of Altamont,” nobody was prepared for “what was to come” later at the speedway. In between footage of performances we see Mick Jagger and the other Stones members sitting with David Maysles as they watch an early print of the movie. Amy Taubin, in her piece, “Rock-and Roll Zapruder” (a reference to the footage that showed JFK assassinated), says that they look as if they are doing a “kind of postmortem.” It is an appropriate observation given the tragic event that altered what would normally be a post-production artistic act of editing. Taubin comments that the joy and exuberance reflected in Jagger’s face in New York City could indicate an overconfidence that led to the “impulsively conceived and shoddily planned” concert at Altamont. One aspect of that bad planning was to hire the Hells Angels motorcycle gang for security. The Stones had used the British version of the Angels, and that group was a much milder bunch than the violent outfit in California. 


Booth notes that the Rolling Stones “worshipped at the altar of the blues,” and that the blues “got the reputation of being the devil’s music.” If that is the case, then the association of the Stones with what happened at Altamont has a scary consistency. Before the Altamont concert there were elements of conflict brewing in America as much of the population was protesting the war in Vietnam, and there were the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Even the Stones had lost member Brian Jones to drowning in 1969. Altamont epitomized the love of others fostered by the Hippie movement and the anti-establishment and reactionary hate that existed simultaneously in the United States at that time. 


The Maysles subscribe to the “cinema verité” school of documentary filmmaking. This style tries to portray candid realism, as opposed to Michael Moore’s approach, which uses satire, entertainment, and some would say propaganda. But, the camera is still there, which alters the reality to a degree, and the editing of the recording fashions the final product to fit the filmmakers’ wishes. 

The first song at Madison Square Garden is “Jumpin’Jack Flash,” and Jagger has his moves choreographed as he repeats thrusts and other gestures. There is a second where he points to something at the end of the stage and rolls his eyes, as if making a comment that an item is not quite right. He gets the lighting enhanced as he wants the members of the band to be seen. These moments show the manipulation of the proceedings to preconceived plans. Taubin says that Jagger liked to be in control of the Stones’ concerts, and the loss of that power at Altamont means he realized that he “failed to give the devil his due.” If that assessment is accurate, then it is ironic that Jagger wrote the song “Sympathy for the Devil,” and also that the tragedy at Altamont happened when he was singing, “Under My Thumb,” since the crowd was not in the singer’s grasp.


While looking over the footage, drummer Charlie Watts observes, “it’s really hard to see this together, isn’t it?” The comment starkly contrasts the exuberance of the early performance with the horror of the final concert. If one didn’t know what happened at Altamont, the upsetting facts are presented up front in a radio discussion recording, so tension is created as the audience anticipates what they have heard happened but may not have seen in news coverage. Sonny Barger, the Hells Angels leader, called in and basically said they were used as dupes by Jagger to be blamed for the violence at Altamont. He says the concertgoers were high and kicked the bikes of the Angels, and their retaliation was justified. The Stones do not comment much about what happened. Watts says that the way the Angels cleared a path to the stage was startling, and says of the whole business, “Oh, dear, what a shame.” But the lack of expressing detailed feelings allows the audience to decide how it feels about the events and the band’s possible culpability in what happened. 


After performing “Satisfaction,” there is a clip of a female reporter asking Jagger if, after all this time, he is satisfied. He says sexually he is, but financially he isn’t (which is difficult to believe, although the expenses for a big band’s operations and tours are quite high, and “everyone wants a piece of the pie”). When it comes to being philosophically satisfied he says he is still “trying.” His remarks have always stuck with me, because it sounds like an honest assessment, since despite any success with romance and finances, most of us are still “trying” to figure out what it all really means. (However, Jagger’s comment at the screening is “rubbish,” which stresses the artificiality of these types of promotional interviews). Booth states that there were several free music festivals occurring and the Stones felt the pressure to have one. Jagger announces at this press meeting that these concerts were, “creating a sort of microcosmic society which sets an example for the rest of America as to how one can behave in large gatherings.” Jagger also said that the event isn’t just to listen to music, it’s an opportunity to “talk to each other and sleep with each other, ball each other and get very stoned, and just have a nice night out and a good day.” Ironically, Altamont became a model for just the opposite of what he describes as a great fun-filled social experience and shows the fallout of too much self-indulgence. 


Jagger’s optimistic statement contrasts with the next scene where famous lawyer Melvin Belli is trying to negotiate the gritty details of staging such a music festival. Instead of “an example” of a “microcosmic society,” there is a view expressed that these concerts are “a pain in the ass,” since they leave destruction of property in their wake. We then have the words, “You got to move,” sung by Jagger which in this context stress the need to escape the situation. The soundtrack has Jagger singing “Wild Horses,” which seems to say all is emptiness except for the love of a woman. But those animals turn into the anarchy represented by the motorcycles of the Angels later on. 

 The Maysles allow themselves some artistic leeway as they shoot Jagger in slow motion and with superimposed frames to emphasize his facial, hand, and body movements as they create a sort of bluesy ballet. Keith Richards wears a T-shirt that features Marilyn Monroe. The image is that of another pop icon, but her life ended in tragedy, and the shot is a sort of foreshadowing as to what is to come. 


At another city, while singing “Honkey Tonk Women,” a girl rushes the stage and almost knocks Jagger over. Security workers remove other young women as they move onto or charge the stage. The heightened sexuality of the program (inflamed earlier by Tina Turner almost having sex with the microphone) incites audience members. The desire for individual freedom of expression clashes with the need for social boundaries that are there for the protection of the many. Despite what has already happened, Jagger just adds to the lustful atmosphere by saying he broke a button on his pants and says teasingly, “Hope they don’t fall down … You don’t want my trousers to fall down now, do you?” The screaming of the girls answers his suggestive question.

 Crowds descend upon the Altamont Speedway and the lines of cars and the hordes of people dwarf the number that attend a standard concert, thus multiplying the problems that can occur. There are issues with parking and there is a call for first aid supplies to the audience, which points to the lack of preparedness on the part of those handling the event. These shortcomings exist despite the efforts of Michael Lang, who organized the Woodstock festival. The movie may imply that sometimes magic can’t be conjured twice. There are young people handing out flowers, and there is dancing, face painting, and bubble blowing. But these standard concert activities are accompanied by the onset of violence. As Jagger arrives, someone hits him and tells him that he hates him. Booze is available and someone is selling all kinds of drugs, including hashish and LSD. There is one fellow who is totally stoned, writhing on the ground and laughing hysterically. But, there were drugs and alcohol at other concerts, including Woodstock. Here, though, they added fuel to the incendiary nature of the Hells Angels. 


The fans push against boundaries of order by crowding the stage and even occupying it. They dangerously climb sound towers in a reckless attempt to get a better view of the performers. The Angels wield their pool cues which are like outlaw nightsticks. There is a plea for people to not hurt each other and a call for a doctor to treat someone. As fighting increases, lead singer Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane keeps calling out “Easy,” as skirmishes break out between African Americans and the Angels, adding a racial element to the hostilities. Jefferson Airplane member Paul Kantner says to the crowd that one of the Hells Angels “just smashed (singer) Marty Balin in the face and knocked him out for a bit.” In response, one of the Angels goes onstage and confronts Kantner. As other Angels wield their pool cues, Slick urges, “You gotta keep your bodies off each other unless you intend love.” Her statement shows the peaceful rebellious hippie movement slamming into the wall of hostile outsiders represented by the Angels whose idea of freedom incorporates any form of anti-establishment behavior, including violence. 


The elation on the smiling faces of the audience who expected a Woodstock time now changes to grim looks of concern. Performers such as Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, hear what’s going on, including the assault on Balin, and become anxious. The Angels on their bikes part the sea of people like devilish versions of Moses as they make way for the Stones to arrive to perform. Jagger uncharacteristically has to advise the crowd to quit pushing in front of the stage and, “just keep still.” At other concerts, Jagger would fire up the audience and urge them to clap and dance, but here things are backwards, or maybe the protest age is backfiring. 


Jagger starts singing “Sympathy for the Devil,” and can’t even continue with the song as a fight breaks out in front of the stage. Jagger tells the band to stop so he can try to quiet things down. He tells the crowd to “be cool,” but it’s a little late for that. He jokingly, but tellingly, says that, “Something very funny happens when we start that number.” (The band stopped playing “Sympathy for the Devil” until 1975). As the Stones continue the song, speakers on the stage that were knocked down are repositioned. The shot emphasizes how out of sorts everything is. As Jagger sings, one of the Angels on the stage looks at the singer with an angry scowl, showing his disdain for the rock star. It is a chilling, unblinking stare that prohibits enjoyment of the music. Despite the tension, some still try to sway with the sounds. The camera angle is now right down in the crowd giving us a spectator’s view of the scene as opposed to aerial shots that would lessen the feeling of turmoil. 

 There is a guy in the crowd who looks at Jagger, who has stopped dancing as more fighting occurs, and he just shakes his head at the singer and talks, looking as if trying to say he doesn’t understand why bad things are happening. As Jagger resumes strutting across the stage, there are more Angels looking at Jagger with contempt, showing how they are not fans of this little fellow prancing around the stage. One girl starts to cry as Jagger tells the crowd, “who’s fighting and what for?” Jagger says that if the violence doesn’t cease the band will stop playing, and he calls out to one person to quit what he is doing. Someone calls for a doctor. All of these attempts are in vain since it’s like trying to contain an explosion that has already gone off. By the time Jagger starts singing “Under My Thumb,” there is no enthusiasm left in him and he isn’t dancing. He even lets the instrumentals take over. He finishes the song by changing the words into a plea by singing, “I pray that it’s all right.”


There is another scuffle and we switch back to Jagger looking at the footage and he asks David Maysles to rewind the tape. It shows that an African American male who was later identified as Meredith Hunter had a gun in his hand, and he was then stabbed to death by Hells Angels member Alan Passaro. Because it was considered self-defense, Passaro was not prosecuted. Jagger’s response to seeing the footage is a terse, “horrible.” 

Because what was actually happening was not clear at the time from the stage, the Stones continued to play some songs. After the concert the film shows those straggling away from the arena looking like apparitions in the dark, as if part of them died that night, too. As the screening ends, Jagger says, “All right,” as he leaves, but nothing is “right.”


The film ends with shots of the happy people heading toward the speedway in anticipation of a great time, which contrasts with the terrible incidents that will follow. There is irony as they smile and the soundtrack plays “Gimme Shelter,” with Jagger singing, “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away.” Life is precarious, as joy can change to tragedy in an instant.

The next film is Cape Fear.

Sunday, January 3, 2021


 SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

In Manhattan (1979), Woody Allen, who stars, co-wrote, and directed the film, shows his love for the New York City island through the movie’s cinematography, courtesy of Gordon Willis, and the soundtrack. But, the story shows romance between individuals to be an elusive, incomprehensible, and sometimes heartbreaking experience.


The film is in black and white which suggests an imagined as opposed to realistic view of the city and its inhabitants. It opens with shots of the Manhattan skyline and throughout the movie there are many images of famous New York City locales which provide a definite sense of the setting. The opening music is from George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue,” which starts slow and breezy, like walkers on the street, and then soars as do the city’s skyscrapers. Allen doesn’t want to spoil the mood with credits so he announces the title of his movie with a blinking building sign that reads “Manhattan.” A voice-over from Isaac (Allen), a successful television writer (Allen’s old job), shows him struggling to capture in words what he feels for this place that enthralls him. But his narration reveals that he “over romanticizes” almost everything, which means that nothing can live up to his fantasies. His complaint about those unappealing aspects of the city, such as the garbage and the drug usage, reveals him to be someone who would rather live in an idealized nostalgic past than in the here and now. As the music reaches its crescendo, it is matched visually with fireworks exploding over the lit buildings at night.


Isaac is having dinner with his girlfriend, Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway). Now this is the uncomfortable part, because he is forty-two years old and she is seventeen and goes to high school. But, within the context of the film the age difference is ironic, because she acts more mature than he does. In addition, her youth symbolizes for him a romantic ideal unspoiled by life’s corruptions. But, Isaac is also very aware of the age difference and goes through the story feeling guilty about her youth instead of really seeing her intrinsic worth. They are at the noted eatery, Elaine’s, with Isaac’s friend, Yale (Michael Murphy) (His name communicates northeastern intellectualism), and his wife, Emily (Anne Byrne Hoffman). Yale is waxing on about how art helps to enlighten a person as to how to “get in touch” with one’s feelings. Isaac says that artistic “talent is luck. The important thing in life is courage.” He asks if any of them would jump into icy water to save a drowning man. He jokingly says he’s off the hook because he can’t swim. It is an interesting statement since the rest of the story shows Isaac to be a coward when it comes to emotional commitment. This inability to maturely connect in a relationship is reflected in the fact that Isaac has two failed marriages. His second wife, Jill (Meryl Streep), is writing a book about their union. The movie is intolerant of tell-all books that invade people’s privacy.


As Isaac and Yale walk ahead of the women, Yale admits that he has become seriously involved in the prior two months with someone else, a female journalist named Mary (Diane Keaton), and doesn’t know how to proceed. He admits to having a couple of earlier flirtations, and yet he says how much he loves his wife. Yale obviously is another clueless male trying to navigate the romantic road without a sense of direction. At least Isaac knows he is not the one to ask for advice on the subject. He says when it comes to relationships he is “the winner of the August Strindberg award,” a literary reference to the dramatist who was a misogynist. It is a funny line, but does not paint Isaac as someone who truly values women.


At home, Emily asks Yale if he has given more thought to having children, which is a normal question for a serious couple to consider. But, the immature Yale says, “Oh, my God. Kids,” like it’s an unreasonable topic for discussion. He then comes up with selfish excuses not to be a parent, such as getting a book finished and acquiring money to start up a magazine. She mentions their plan to move to Connecticut, but he says all of his “stuff” is there in New York. He sounds like a child who doesn't want to put away his toys. He goes so far as to say he can’t “abandon” Isaac, as if he's a playground pal who can’t function without his childhood friend.

 Isaac confronts his ex-wife Jill about her book. He argues how revealing details about what should be left behind closed doors would be humiliating if disclosed in public. She is humorless and says it is “an honest account of their breakup.” Although some may say that public figures, such as Isaac, known for his writing, are subject to different rules than the rest of the population. But, the film argues that despite invoking honesty as the justification to disclose information to the public, there are private topics that nobody has a right to know. From today’s viewpoint, Isaac’s sarcastic question asking whether his son is playing baseball or “wearing a dress” seems intolerant. Jill is now in a lesbian relationship and Isaac obviously subscribes to outmoded notions of sexual orientation. His stance is that Jill acted as an “immoral, psychotic, promiscuous” person. Obviously, Jill’s idea of honesty differs from that of Isaac, raising the question as to how objective are the types of books told from one person’s perspective.


In Isaac’s dark and spacious apartment (Roger Ebert notes in The Great Movies that the shot shows how empty Isaac’s life really is), Isaac keeps telling Tracy, who confesses her love for him, that he is just a “detour” on her life’s road. She says she has had three intimate relationships at her young age and found those boys too immature for her. He is giving her sound advice about not focusing on him. But, he has fostered the relationship, selfishly using her emotional and physical closeness while also attempting to distance her. 

Despite their age difference, Tracy and Isaac agree on what they appreciate, such as movies and art. At a museum they meet Yale and the woman he has been seeing, Mary, who completely disagrees with Isaac about which exhibits are praiseworthy. Mary is pretentious as she says a piece of sculpture has “a marvelous kind of negative capability.” That phrase comes from an observation by John Keats about the works of William Shakespeare. She continues to flaunt her intellectualism by talking about writing for a literary periodical. When she asks what Tracy does, the unapologetic, unassuming young woman says, “I go to high school.” Mary’s esoteric comment, “Somewhere Nabokov is smiling,” makes a reference to the writer’s Lolita which dealt with an older man’s obsession with a young girl. Yale adds to the condescension by placing people such as Gustave Mahler, Isak Dinesen, Carl Yung, Lenny Bruce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Norman Mailer, Vincent Van Gogh, and Allen’s favorite director, Ingmar Bergman, in the “Academy of the Overrated.” Allen punctures their elitist attitude by saying that all these figures are “terrific,” and says why not throw in Mozart since they are “trashing” people. Obviously, Allen is well read, but he has contempt for those who broadcast their knowledge in a snobbish, and sometimes inaccurate, manner. In contrast to Mary’s self-important proclamations, Isaac and Tracy do the needed mundane activity of shopping. Isaac tells Tracy that Yale is a sucker for women like Mary, which doesn’t say much for Yale. This film may be one of Allen’s most conservative movies, as he tells Tracy he doesn’t believe in extra-marital affairs. He says, “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons and Catholics.” 


While showing contempt for “pseudo-intellectual” types, Isaac also can’t tolerate the dumbing down of society by way of the TV programs that are sort of circus sideshows that he has become involved in. One of them is comically entitled, “Human Beings - Wow.” One episode exploits an affliction for supposedly humorous entertainment by featuring a catatonic woman. Isaac loudly argues against this type of so-called comedy, saying it is not funny. He says, “standards have been lowered over the years,” and have now reached a nadir. One of the men in the production booth tells him to calm down by taking a Quaalude. Again, we have a reactionary response, in this case to drug usage. Isaac tells the young people there that they think the material they are programming is funny because of all the drugs they are taking. He says to them, “you should abandon the show and open a pharmaceutical house.” He has the strength of his convictions here, and quits. Upon reflection, his pragmatic side surfaces and he complains to Yale that he will have to cut back on the expenses that allow him to enjoy all of the cultural perks that Manhattan has to offer. But, he hopes his book will eventually come out (the one he was dictating at the beginning of the movie).


At a dedication at the Museum of Modern Art Isaac again encounters Mary. We once more see Isaac’s no-nonsense approach compared to the mental over-analyzing, and thus passive, manner of other New Yorkers. He mentions about a Nazi march that is scheduled to occur in New Jersey. He urges that they have to get some people together with “some bricks and baseball bats and explain things to ‘em.” One man there says there was a “devastating satirical piece” on this event in the New York Times. For Isaac, that approach of retaliation is like bringing a rolled-up newspaper to a gunfight. He counters with, “bricks get right to the point,” and “physical force is better with Nazis.” One man, Dennis (Michael O'Donoghue, who used to write for Saturday Night Live), changes the topic by saying they were talking about “orgasms.” One woman there says she finally had an orgasm but her doctor told her it was “the wrong kind.” Isaac leans backwards in surprise and he looks sideways at the woman as if she is from another planet. He says, “I’ve never had the wrong kind. Ever.” The movie satirizes these New Yorkers who overthink everything to the point of sabotaging their own pleasure.

Isaac and Mary share a cab ride and Isaac comments that her friends are like characters out of a Fellini movie, implying they resemble the filmmaker’s portrayal of grotesque individuals. Mary says she divorced her husband, Jeremiah, because she “was tired of submerging my identity to a brilliant, dominating man.” She says he was a “genius,” which is the way she describes many people. Isaac continues to ground the discussion by saying instead of listening to all these geniuses, she should “meet some stupid people. You could learn something.” She says that he is probably with a young girl because she is less threatening, given his experience, than being with a more mature woman. When he questions her cold analytical assessment, she says she is “honest.” But again, as with Jill’s book, honesty not tempered with compassion can be destructive. Mary says, according to what she has read, since she does not have experiential knowledge, that his son should be fine being raised by two mothers. His funny response is, “Really? Because I feel very few people survive one mother.” 


The music in the movie is from classic romantic ballads that stress the hardships of relationships. He asks if she is serious about Yale, perhaps because he is now becoming interested in her. The two start to get to know each other and Mary begins to appreciate Isaac’s humorous side. She still over-analyzes things, saying her dachshund is a penis substitute. She asks about his book which he says is about “decaying values,” which has already been stressed in the movie thus far. The iconic shot from the film shows them in a moody, romantic black and gray image sitting on a bench next to a bridge, possibly suggesting attempts by people to connect with each other. 


Isaac is now openly disappointed after talking to Yale on the phone and hearing that he is still interested in Mary. She and Yale are out shopping and the two of them show ambivalent feelings toward each other which mirror Isaac’s attitude about Tracy. Mary questions being with a married man and says she doesn’t want to break up a marriage when he offers to move out of his home. She concludes she should look for someone single, and, like Isaac, seems to want old fashioned “values like warmth and spiritual contact.” But, just like Isaac and Yale, she gives into her selfishness by agreeing to go to a hotel with Yale. 


Isaac goes to pick up his son and hostility is apparent when he encounters Jill and her girlfriend, Connie (Karen Kudwig). When the latter says that his son is a talented drawer, like herself, he implies that since she can’t be the father, the ability is not inherited. Alone, he tells Jill how he can’t understand why she would prefer Connie over him. But, he is in denial because she notes that he knew she had a “history,” most likely of gay feelings that he would not accept. He comically says his analyst warned him about Jill, but she was too beautiful so he got another analyst. He still is very upset about the book, and their differing interpretations of events continues. She says she hopes that they can just be friends, but how can that be a realistic desire given that she wants to reveal all of their problems to the scrutiny of others. Here we have more ways that relationships can be minefields.


Isaac wants to inject traditional masculine attributes into his son’s upbringing, which he sees as being in jeopardy in Jill’s household. But, it may be that he is needlessly projecting his own feelings of inadequacy onto the situation. He takes his boy, Willie (Damion Scheller), out to play basketball. They then go to dinner and Isaac jokes about how there are beautiful women in the restaurant and if Willie applies himself they could pick up a couple of them. Given the young age of the boy, it is a funny scene, but it also shows how absurdly worried Isaac is about how the lesbian couple’s influence affects his son. 


After not being able to get Yale to go for a Sunday walk because of his family commitments, the lonely Mary calls Isaac to take a stroll. They get caught in a storm and seek shelter at a planetarium with a reproduction of a moonscape that they explore. The black and white photography is put to evocative use here as the two walk in and out of shadows. The moon is invoked often in love poetry and song lyrics, so the setting is appropriate. But, the moon is also associated with madness (as in the word “lunacy”), suggesting that falling in love is an irrational, sometimes crazy occurrence. Lovers may also feel as if they are trying to transverse alien terrain because of how difficult it is to find the path to intimacy. Mary loosens up with Isaac, laughing about his drenched appearance. It’s as if the rain washed away her standoffish intellectualism. She admits that her ex-husband, Jeremiah, cheated on her, another example of a failed relationship. She confesses to feeling inadequate mentally and physically with her ex, which helps us understand her posturing as a defense mechanism. She talks about how Jeremiah opened her up sexually, and notes, “Women found him devastating.” We later see him, and her comments about Jeremiah set us up to encounter a specific male type. As she automatically tries to recite Saturn’s moons, Isaac gently dismisses her overachieving intellectual attempt by telling her the topic will not come up in normal conversation. He also says, “The brain is the most overrated organ,” as he pushes the emphasis on the importance of the physical aspect of humans, which includes intimacy. Even though he is attracted to Mary, he makes excuses when she wants to meet up again. He is trying to live by a code that means he should not get involved with a woman his friend is seeing. 


Tracy informs Isaac that she has been accepted into a performing arts program in London, but she wants him to go to England with her. He jokes his way out of the suggestion, not wanting to confront her concerns about a separation. She complains he doesn’t take her seriously because of her age, and she is correct. He urges her to attend, which will relieve him of the burden of eventually breaking up with her. She gets him to go on a horse and buggy ride around Manhattan, and he marvels about how she wants to do this “corny” thing. She is surprisingly more old-fashioned than he is when it comes to romance, and therefore, she seems like the more mature soul. He does care for her very much, and says that in the Bible, Job would have been okay with God’s torments if he saw that he could make someone as wonderful as Tracy.


This sweet scene contrasts with a contentious discussion between Yale and Mary where she argues more with herself about getting involved with a married man. She declares that she deserves better, but when Yale suggests again taking action to leave Emily, she still does not want to be blamed for breaking up a marriage. She, like Isaac, is looking for a way out despite having voluntarily put herself in a no-win situation. Later, Yale finally breaks it off with her, saying he has to think about Emily and he’s not sure if he and Mary would make it in the long run. She knows it’s for the best, but she became emotionally invested, and it still hurts. She tries to shore up her confidence for the future by saying she has a great deal going for her because she is smart and pretty, but her true insecurity breaks through as she says, “I’m all fucked up. I’m just shit!” Mary seeks solace by reaching out to Isaac, who listens to her complaint about Yale leading her on. Isaac tries to defend Yale, but he is really defending himself because he is doing the same with Tracy. 


The romanticism of the carriage ride gives way to Isaac using complaints about the noises and brown water in his new, more economical apartment to avoid speaking honestly to Tracy about what is going to happen to them. She wants to divert him by being sexually adventurous, and he is torn because he desires her but also is shocked by the sensuality in someone so young. He again sets up his exit strategy by saying that after she goes to London she’ll think of him, “as a fond memory.” But, he does not consider how much he is hurting her by continuing to be a couple and satisfying his desires. The thing is, Isaac and Tracy are very compatible despite the difference in their ages. They eat Chinese food in bed while watching a movie, like a comfortable married couple. They critique characters on a show who wear a wig and had facelifts, and agree that older faces are interesting. She is thrilled that there will be a W. C. Fields film to see, which shows her as being well-rounded beyond her years.


Yale tells Isaac that he feels good about himself now that he broke it off with Mary since he is not one for having affairs, all evidence to the contrary. He easily promotes the idea that Isaac should now date Mary, showing his waffling emotions. Isaac, getting his friend’s blessing, dates Mary, who does warn him that she is messed up psychologically, so she is “trouble.” He laughs it off by saying that his middle name is “trouble,” but then humorously says it really is “Mortimer,” not wanting to see any red flags as they begin to get physical. 


Isaac is outside Tracy’s school, almost uncomfortably looking like a parent waiting for his child. She bought him a harmonica because he talked about wanting to learn how to play it. She says, “I’m trying to open up that side of you.” She wants to expand Isaac’s possibilities. Out of the main characters, she is the most generous, the most grown up. But he is now seeing Mary, and says she is wasting her affection on him. He says that they should stop being a couple. She says she loves him, but he sums up the confusing world of romance by saying when it comes to love, “nobody out there knows what the hell is going on.” Her response is, “We have laughs together. I care about you. Your concerns are my concerns. We have great sex.” The film suggests that she understands more than the older Isaac does about what constitutes love. When she asks him if he loves her, he says he loves someone else who he has been seeing. Her understated, “Gee, now I don’t feel so good,” is heartbreaking as she realizes, despite his continued warning about the temporary nature of their “fling,” that Isaac has actually been cheating on her. She rightly confronts his hypocrisy by telling him that he acts like their ending things is to her advantage when he’s the one who wants to terminate their relationship. He is condescending when he says he encouraged her to go out with guys named “Biff” and “Scooter,” underestimating her maturity. Tracy’s sadness is palpable as she cries and asks him to leave her alone, since Isaac’s attempt at consoling her after he has hurt her just adds to her pain.


Isaac and Mary see more of each other as they take rides to the country and wander around New York City. A funny shot shows the two of them in a rowboat in the lake in Central Park. Isaac puts his hand in the water and when he pulls it out it is covered in thick, dark slime. Even though it is humorous, it is consistent with the opening lines of the film and the theme of Isaac’s book about how the city he loves is beginning to decay. 


Emily tells Isaac she doesn’t understand why he hasn't brought the girl he is dating around to see her and Yale. Mary says she’s fine with getting together, and Yale gives his okay. But, the meeting is unavoidably awkward as Yale and Mary pretend that they haven’t met before, and Mary now meets Yale’s wife. When they go to a classical music concert, Mary sits next to Yale and the two of them fidget as Isaac appears jealous as he keeps leaning forward to ensure the former couple are not touching.

While shopping, Mary’s ex, Jeremiah (Wallace Shawn), approaches her and Isaac. All of us who love movies and TV know the talented Shawn, and he is a short, balding man. His character also lost a great deal of weight according to Mary which adds to the depiction of a person who would not be considered by many as very attractive. Isaac is astounded because by the way Mary described him as this sexually empowered male who dominated women, Isaac thought the man would be the traditional tall, dark and handsome fellow. It is a funny twist on stereotypical expectations, and it also shows how there is a great deal of value placed on appearance alone, as it points to Isaac’s, and probably the audience’s, limited perception of a person’s worth.


As they do their respective writing in different rooms, Isaac chastises Mary for working on a novelization of a movie, another form of lowered standards that he sees devaluing society. As they work, Yale calls Mary, saying he misses her, but she resists agreeing to see him. Yale buys a car because he says he had to have it, sounding like a little boy who wants a new toy. He seems to act the same way when it comes to women. The two couples go for a ride in the vehicle. There are several shots of the characters riding in cars in the film, possibly implying metaphorically that they are always going somewhere, but not really arriving at a satisfying destination. 


On their day trip they pass a bookshop and Jill’s book is in the window. They buy a copy and as Mary reads from it, Isaac exhibits painful humiliation as Jill describes how much better the sexual experience was with a woman than with her husband. She also uses unflattering words to describe Isaac, including calling him chauvinistic, paranoid, and despairing. Although an invasion of privacy, her assessment of Isaac is not without merit. He confronts Jill, who keeps saying she wrote honestly, but she did profit off of his name by exploiting what transpired in a personal relationship. She bangs in the last nail in the coffin when she says that she has received interest in making the book into a movie.


To add to Isaac’s misery, Mary tells him that she thinks she is still in love with Yale. She says that Yale wants to leave Emily so that he and Mary can live together. Her admission comes under the category of what goes around comes around for Isaac. She is dumping Isaac after he dumped Tracy for Mary. He is stunned, but he is able to analyze Mary’s situation with Yale. He notes Yale has been married for twelve years and will return to his wife, and Mary is a runner who when she feels “secure” will not believe that impression and will leave Yale. He says he gives the reunion four weeks. Mary says she “can’t plan that far in advance.” It is a funny statement but stresses the fragility of modern love. 


Isaac confronts Yale where he teaches. They go into a biology classroom where there are skeletons of a gorilla and humans. Isaac yells at Yale and wonders why his friend introduced Mary to him in the first place. He says now they both like her, but Yale says, “I liked her first.” Isaac points out the immaturity of the statement, and thus the persistent childish level of the grown male, when he says, “What are you, six years old?” Isaac is sarcastic about Yale’s lack of an emotional anchor when he says, “You can still change your mind one more time before dinner.” He continues to indict Yale, telling him he is “too easy” on himself when he says he’s not “a saint” for seeing Mary behind Isaac’s back. Isaac says Yale rationalizes away his flaws and is thus not honest with himself. But, Isaac is also angry at himself for some of the same behavior he showed toward Tracy. He emphasizes Yale’s adolescent behavior by his preferring to buy a sports car instead of putting in the work to write his much-delayed book. Isaac sees this lack of ethical behavior may start small but leads to being, “in front of a Senate committee naming names,” a reference to the Communist witch hunts during the McCarthy era. As to Yale’s accusation that Isaac is being God-like in his self-righteousness, Isaac says, “I gotta model myself after someone,” which means people should live up to the high standards of morality they set for themselves. He worries about “what future generations” will say about their elder’s lives if they act irresponsibly. Isaac points to the skeleton he is next to and says that is what is going to happen to all of them, and the only legacy left behind is “personal integrity.” So, it’s important to him that when he is dead, “I’m well thought of.” 


To possibly put into practice what he preaches, Isaac begins to apply himself to writing his book and spending quality time with his son. He meets with Emily and she says she knew about some affairs Yale had in the past but thought there had to be compromises in a marriage. But, Isaac’s sense of morality causes him to say he can’t compromise. He admits that in hindsight he really blew it by leaving Tracy as he felt the best when with her. She even left a message for him once that the film Grand Illusion was going to be shown on TV, which shows how she still cared to let him know about one of his favorite movies. 

He is dictating ideas for a story about people in Manhattan who create “unnecessary, neurotic problems,” so they don’t have to confront “more unsolvable, terrifying problems,” concerning “the universe.” These notes point to how humans are limited creatures who find it frustratingly impossible to deal with their inability to understand the total nature of existence. But, he wants to include some optimism, so he asks, given our finite abilities, what makes life worth living. He makes a list, which includes, Groucho Marx, Willie Mays (who his son is named after), a Louis Armstrong recording, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Swedish movies, works by Cezanne and Flaubert, and “Tracy’s face.” With that last item, he stops and picks up the harmonica she gave him, which symbolizes her putting him first in the relationship. 

 As at the ending of most romantic comedies, one person runs to reconnect with the other. Isaac does so here, trying to rectify his mistake for leaving Tracy. He finds her loading her luggage onto a limo, ready to leave for London. She combs her hair and she almost looks like a young Ingrid Bergman waiting for that plane to take her away from Casablanca. He admits to being wrong for leaving her, but all the arrangements have been made and her parents are looking for a place for her to live in England. He now admits to being in love with her. She says if they truly love each other, her being away for six months will not change anything. He is afraid that much time will change her, having those experiences and meeting people that he once encouraged. She assures him that, “Not everybody gets corrupted.” She adds that he has to have a little “faith in people.” Allen shows he can act as his face reflects uncertainty by looking away, and then offers a sliver of optimism with a slight smile. 


The film seems to ask if idealistic love can survive in a morally compromised world that doesn’t comprehend what constitutes true affection for another.

The next film is Gimme Shelter.