Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012: Endings and New Beginnings

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Cosmopolis, Magic Mike, The Grey

Because the tradition of a “top 10” is cruel and arbitrary, and because I loved so many of this year’s movies so intensely, here are 15 more candidates for best of the year, ordered alphabetically, before I really begin: Amour, Barbara, The Cabin in the Woods, Cosmopolis, Girl Walk//All Day, The Grey, How to Survive a Plague, The Imposter, In Another Country, Lincoln, The Loneliest Planet, Looper, Magic Mike, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, and Your Sister’s Sister.

And because all the same is true of performances, here are 10 more of those, too: Carlen Altman, playing sisterhood as venom The Color Wheel; Ann Dowd and her Middle American sincerity in Compliance; Thomas Doret with his wounded puppy look in The Kid with a Bike; Tommy Lee Jones topping his own Lincoln work in Hope Springs; Fran Kranz as horror’s new stoner hero in The Cabin in the Woods; Anders Danielsen Lie, haunted by himself in Oslo, August 31st; Kelly Macdonald (collaborating  with Pixar animators) in Brave; lonely, frumpy Teresa Madruga in Tabu; Aggeliki Papoulia and her roleplaying breakdown in Alps; and Sean Penn, screwier than ever in This Must Be the Place.

Oh, and this year’s award for Best Performance in a Documentary—previously given to Exit Through the Gift Shop’s Thierry Guetta and Tabloid’s Joyce McKinney—goes to Frédéric Bourdin in The Imposter.

And now, my 10 favorite films and 20 favorite performances of 2012…

10) Tabu, directed by Miguel Gomes

Nostalgia pervades the films on this list. Each of them contains some yearning for a past, pre-lapsarian and long-gone, whether before the war, the digital age, or the onset of maturity. Tabu couples this same yearning with postcolonial critique, embedding them both in its form and bisected structure. Languid and bittersweet, throbbing with forbidden romance, the film dances to the beat of its own playful postmodernism. For Gomes, the histories of film genre and sound design are like tropical fruits on the branch, just waiting for an adventurous filmmaker to stroll up and take a bite.

Dame Judi Dench finally got something to do in a James Bond movie, leaving the office and weaponizing her stiff upper lip as Skyfall’s stakes grew personal.

Michael Shannon seemed to bend Premium Rush’s gravitational field around him, making the movie as much about his demented giggles as it was about bikes.

9) Oslo, August 31st, directed by Joachim Trier

This spiky Norwegian character study is in some ways the anti-Trainspotting: subdued instead of stylized, it shifts the emphasis of substance abuse away from the act of shooting up and onto the aftermath—the alienation and awkward apologies. They’re the quicksand that recovering addict Anders must shuffle through on his day-long furlough from rehab. He bounces between bistros and apartments, from one mangled relationship to another, but he can never shake the disappointment and self-loathing that choke up Oslo’s frames. The resulting film is quietly devastating, with an ending that’s still metastasizing in my soul.

In Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck wore a tacky blond wig; as Killer Joe’s femme fatale, Gina Gershon wears a merkin. Her white-trash performance will forever leave a tragic imprint on the words “However much!” and the object known as a breaded chicken drumstick.

Seven Psychopaths was a lumpy witches’ brew of a movie, but Christopher Walken improved it with every second he was onscreen, his idiosyncratic cadences enriching the film with grief and absurdist comedy.

8) Goodbye First Love, directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Sunlight floods this tender French bildungsroman as young Camille, played by the incandescent Lola Créton, grows from infatuation to heartbreak and regret. Season by season, her story blossoms. Year by year, the burdens of adulthood settle around her shoulders. Time flows here like a mountain stream, making Goodbye First Love a hard movie to hold in your hands. Its sensory details are so rich, yet they recede so quickly thanks to the film’s merciless momentum. But such is the pain of maturation, and Hansen-Løve captures exactly that beneath a warm, glimmering surface.

I loved every one of Damsels in Distress’s damsels (see below), but Megalyn Echikunwoke’s faux-British accent and delivery of the word “operator” cracked me up more than I thought humanly possible.

As the cuckolded husband, Simon Russell Beale has The Deep Blue Sea’s quietest role. Yet he says so much with merely a knit brow, conveying both how alien his wife’s actions are to him, and how gravely they’ve wounded his pride.

7) Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson

Last summer, I wrote about Anderson’s knack for dense, poignant compositions using an example from The Royal Tenenbaums. But I could as easily have made the same point with his latest film, the pastoral lovers-on-the-run tale of two wounded children. Its audiovisual density is startling, whether in the endless bon mots, art design Easter eggs, or musical selections from Benjamin Britten and Françoise Hardy. And yet more startling is the acute loneliness that gnaws at the film’s small island community. Moonrise Kingdom is as heartfelt as it is deadpan; as joyous as it is pained.

The one big saving grace of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is Eva Green, cackling and seductive as the wickedest witch this side of Margaret Hamilton.

The highlight of Hong Sang-soo’s lost-in-translation comedy In Another Country is Yu Jun-Sang as “the lifeguard!” who repeatedly, clumsily tries to hit on different iterations of Isabelle Huppert.

6) The Kid with a Bike, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Little Cyril has two loves: his deadbeat dad, and his oft-stolen bike. That’s it. That’s the whole foundation for this heartbreaking fable, a film of extreme narrative clarity and unadorned technique. The Dardenne Brothers merely follow Cyril, swiftly panning as he runs or bikes across the frame, and by following him extract a complex vision of childhood—as a garden of forking paths; as a blank slate written on by every nearby adult. As pure potential, embodied by flinty child actor Thomas Doret. Helpless, wanting only to be loved back, he’s the heart and soul of this sparse, simple tearjerker.

As the pregnant wife of The Master’s title character, Amy Adams both fulfills and defies the “earth mother” archetype. She bares her teeth as the film nears its climax, especially through an unforgettable, power-exerting hand job.

In Cosmopolis, Paul Giamatti plays unemployment as abjection, turning himself into a lump of malignant flesh, a one-man dose of Cronenberg’s trademark body horror.

5) The Turin Horse, directed by Béla Tarr

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with the precise formal control and mordant humor that have permeated Tarr’s filmography. It’s an incredibly experiential movie, making us feel every inch of ground covered by that old dappled mare and every boiled potato dined on by her owners. Broken up schematically into days and interminable long takes, the film grinds—and Mihály Víg’s score grinds with it—toward a small apocalypse. Yet for all its gloom, The Turin Horse is a film of palpable physical realness, and in that realness lies a measure of minimalist beauty.

Jumping, kicking, flying, Anne Marsen is hyperkinetic in Girl Walk//All Day, throwing her whole body into a feature-length fantasy of free dance.

Rarely has Liam Neeson’s low, Irish growl been used better than it is in The Grey. He gives a performance of reluctant leadership wreathed with pain.

4) The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Furthering the elemental violence of There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s new film is an American epic carved from sea, sun, and rock. The relationship between two souls—one broken by war, the other longing to mend that damage—forms its spine, but the real meat of The Master is its images: a ship’s churning wake, a tracking shot through a 1950s shopping mall, the jagged face and jerky gait of Joaquin Phoenix. The Master recasts the postwar years as a war of their own, one that pits atavism against modernity and is destined to end in stalemate.

Ensconced snugly in a gilded cage, Keira Knightley goes through hell in Anna Karenina and registers each mounting indignity across her delicate face.

Jack Black refines and restrains his broad comic persona in Bernie, playing the film’s benign murderer as a smiling surface without a hint of guile.

3) Damsels in Distress, directed by Whit Stillman

No conversation is too frivolous or too silly for this through-the-looking-glass comedy of college life. No bit of zigzag plotting is too digressive. Everything is fair game on Damsels’ verbal playground, from donuts and the smell of soap to dance crazes and mental illness. Led by Greta Gerwig, the film’s feminine ensemble savors all of this absurdity, extrapolating lifestyles from one-liners and collectively establishing a very different, very funny kind of world. Not for a second does Damsels take itself the slightest bit seriously, yet its rhythms and mock-wisdom gave me more pleasure than nearly anything I saw all year.

Emmanuelle Riva’s work in Amour is so physical, vulnerable, intimate. Every year of life experienced by the elderly actress is visible onscreen.

Was Klaus Kinski reincarnated as a ’50s Method actor? Did someone hire a hungry jackal to star in a movie? No, sorry, it’s just Joaquin Phoenix in The Master.

2) Holy Motors, directed by Leos Carax

I dreamed I saw a movie that dismantled the whole engine of cinema, then went on being a movie anyway. Or maybe I just saw the weird and poisonously funny Holy Motors. Energized by “the beauty of the act,” chased by ghosts of the past and future, it hops from one genre to another as if allergic to stasis. It takes on the shapes of different stories, always a little melancholy but never less than entertaining. Carax acknowledges through the film that filmmaking is impossible, immoral, and draining, yet nonetheless… 3! 12! Merde!

In Take This Waltz, Michelle Williams works layers of immaturity and emotion into her body language, casually reminding me that she’s one of the greatest living actresses.

As the star of Holy Motors, Denis Lavant delivers a performance about performance—roughly a dozen of them, in fact—and it’s rendered all the more impressive by how deftly he balances grace and grotesquerie.

1) The Deep Blue Sea, directed by Terence Davies

My favorite movie of the year could so easily have been a soporific, middlebrow prestige piece. But instead of filming a conventional adaptation, Davies shattered Terence Rattigan’s play and transformed it into pure cinema from the inside out. Faceted like a diamond, The Deep Blue Sea criss-crosses time and memory with a frozen-in-amber aesthetic. (Much like The Master, it’s a story of postwar trauma involving a toxic veteran named Freddie.) The bulk of the film consists of strained conversations in private rooms, but that’s all it takes for the small cast and their muted passions to create a tragedy. In an age when the romantic melodrama often seems a dying art, The Deep Blue Sea proves it ecstatically alive.

And, in fact, I wrote about Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea for my answer to the Criticwire Survey question on the best performance of the year:

Just listen for the smoke and mystery in her voice; watch for the sardonic arch of her eyebrows, or the way her body seems to pulse with secrets rather than blood. Her work here, so finely attuned to the film’s postwar milieu, suggests a bottomless capacity for both pain and romantic ecstasy, and makes Hester Collyer one of the most tragic heroines in recent memory.

The last performance I’ll single out is Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe, who resembles either Robert Mitchum or a horny panther. As the film nears it climax, he uses his whole angular body (especially that monstrous jaw) to elicit maximum terror. 16 years ago, a young McConaughey starred in the fourth Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This year, he is the massacre.

[Movies I have yet to see include Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Comedy, Django Unchained, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Middle of Nowhere, Rust and Bone, This Is Not a Film, and Zero Dark Thirty.]


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Link Dump: #85

Giant, person-devouring KITTY!

This week’s man-eating kitty is from the Sandman series, specifically the story “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” from the book Dream Country. Remember: Watch out, because with a single collective dream, cats could overturn the natural order again! And now, I give you our last set of links for 2012:

We’ll close off this year of Link Dumps with a pair of pussy-related search terms: “oozing foaming pussy vedios” (eww) and “two gey one pussy” (huh?). Yeah, I think “eww” and “huh?” just about sum up the Pussy Goes Grrr search term experience.

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50 Best New-to-Me Viewings of 2012

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Below, in alphabetical order, are 50 of the most pleasurable moviegoing experiences I had this year. (Roughly 1/10 of my total viewing made visible—like an iceberg.) They include three 2011 masterpieces I finally caught up with; some fantastic silents and documentaries; and plenty of canon classics I’ve enthusiastically crossed off my “must-see” list. More than a few of these movies will turn up on future “best ever” lists I might construct. So will the performances in them, by the likes of Vivien Leigh and Gary Cooper, David Thewlis and Samantha Morton (x2!), Tilda Swinton and Klaus Kinski and Mark Ruffalo. These are the movies that really worked for me this year.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) · Antichrist (2009) · An Autumn Afternoon (1962) · Blue (1993) · Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938) · Cemetery Man (1994) · La ciénaga (2001) · Daisies (1966) · Days of Being Wild (1990) · Demon Seed (1977) · Desperate Living (1977) · The Devil, Probably (1977) · Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) · The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) · Fitzcarraldo (1982) · Heroes for Sale (1933) · Hour of the Wolf (1968) · House of Pleasures (2011) · Hud (1963) · In Bruges (2008) · Isle of the Dead (1945) · Julia (2008) · Kes (1969) · Man of the West (1957) · Margaret (2011) · Morvern Callar (2002) · My Son John (1952) · Naked (1993) · Nothing Sacred (1937) · Observe and Report (2009) · Pennies from Heaven (1981) · The Phantom Carriage (1921) · The Reckless Moment (1949) · The Red and the White (1967) · Rocco and His Brothers (1960) · A Separation (2011) · Shortbus (2006) · The Spanish Prisoner (1997) · Starship Troopers (1997) · Stop Making Sense (1985) · Suicide Club (2002) · The Sweatbox (2002) · Sweet and Lowdown (1999) · Tales from the Crypt (1972) · They Live by Night (1949) · The Thin Blue Line (1988) · Twitch of the Death Nerve (1972) · The Warriors (1979) · Waterloo Bridge (1940) · You Can Count on Me (2000)

[NB: This list consists exclusively of pre-2012 films; I’ll have a list of my favorites from this year up next week.]

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The Pataki Files: The Beeper Queen

(I started this series over a year ago! It’s been a sluggish trek but I have not abandoned this series! For any newcomers, read the intro here!)

“The Beeper Queen” opens with Miriam reaching into a wine-stocked cabinet for her Tabasco sauce, the key ingredient of her obviously alcoholic smoothies. Helga sits at the kitchen table making herself a lunch for school the next day, frustration at her mother simmering just below an impassive surface. These first 30 seconds sets the stage for what is, in my opinion, the most tragic Pataki-centric episodes of Hey Arnold!


Helga mothers herself while Miriam’s priorities are elsewhere

After Miriam breaks a shelf, Bob steps up to do a “man’s job” and pulls out his back, laying him up for the next few weeks. Miriam volunteers to substitute for him at meetings and in the office, an offer that her husband and daughter originally meet with derision. It’s easy to feel bad for Miriam because her family thinks she’s incompetent, but in reality she’s never given them a reason to believe otherwise. Against his better judgment, Bob allows Miriam to go to an important meeting, and it turns out that she’s a powerhouse  of executive decision-making and wooing clients.

Suddenly Miriam is super-mom: working diligently, making Helga nutritious lunches, taking her to school, and spending the evenings with her while she does her homework. And therein lies the tragedy of “The Beeper Queen.” During this brief hope spot, we see the mother that Helga needs—and desperately wants—but just as quickly, through the power of montage, it all falls apart. Miriam’s newfound energy goes from being evenly distributed between daughter and job to one-track and work-centered. She essentially becomes a gender-reversed Big Bob Pataki: absorbed in work with little interest in her kid.  Once again, Helga is left with an emotionally unavailable parent who doesn’t see her sadness or her yearning for love and attention.

The rapid rise and fall of Miriam's maternal skills

The rapid rise and fall of Miriam’s maternal skills

As Miriam discovers that she thrives in a high-energy, high-responsibility executive position, we’re shown that she’s no better a mother than she was before. Eventually, Miriam sees the error of her ways and quits her job. This seems like a sweet, motherly gesture until you realize that it means that things will return to how they were at the beginning of the episode. It’s doubly troubling because, although throwing herself into work saves Miriam from depression and alcoholism, it’s more damaging for Helga—at least her depressed, alcoholic mother was there.

The episode seems to end on a happy note, but due to the power of status quo we know that Miriam’s behavior won’t change for good. She’s incapable of being a good mother regardless of her personal circumstances—unreliable alcoholic or responsible businesswoman—and ultimately Helga is the one who suffers.

Previous editions of The Pataki Files:

Olga Comes Home

Helga and the Nanny

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Special Effects

Monsieur Oscar in his mocap suit

Film is dead? Has Hollywood murdered the moviesIs movie culture dead?” Whether eulogizing cinema or disputing these premature obituaries, a lot of film critics had death on their minds this year. So, it seems, did French filmmaker Leos Carax. Holy Motors (2012), his first feature in 13 years, is haunted by its own perceived obsolescence. Nipping at the film’s heels are some of the very same divides that have been plaguing cinephiles as of late: art film vs. blockbuster, story vs. spectacle, and especially celluloid vs. digital projection. But this is no mere epitaph. Morbid in its joy, joyous in its morbidity, Holy Motors is a meta-movie that teases apart its medium’s secrets. It intertwines film’s agonizing death with explosive resurrection.

The vehicle for Carax’s delirious vision is star Denis Lavant, who spends a series of vignettes (skits? modules?) shifting from one persona to another. Businessman, beggarwoman, sleazy hired killer: each metamorphosis is startlingly thorough, the only constants being Lavant’s homuncular stature and feral energy. For one episode, he becomes a rumpled middle-class breadwinner contending with a daughter on the verge of adolescence. For another, he’s Monsieur Merde, the crude imp into whom Carax channels all of his most nihilistic impulses. (Amusingly, Merde and the father both hold their cigarettes between the same fingers, but are otherwise totally dissimilar.) It’s at least a dozen performances in one, with the reality of Lavant’s “real” identity, Monsieur Oscar, impossible to pin down.

Oscar feels like a paper doll, or perhaps like some Platonic ideal of “human.” He’s infinitely malleable, putting on attitudes and relationships like we’d put on clothes. He’s essentially an actor, albeit one who refers to his performances as “appointments” and meets each of them via limo at a different Parisian locale; an actor with no obvious audience aside from us, the viewers. This is his job, and it’s killing him. Matching the film’s overarching exhaustion and ecstasy, Oscar throws himself body and soul into each assignment. He dances! Destroys! Plays the accordion! But in between, he drinks on an empty stomach and vents to his motherly driver, Céline. Underlying (perhaps fueling) Lavant’s theatrics is a river of pain. The pain of dishonesty; the pain of memory.

This is, of course, all a bitter allegory for filmmaking. Oscar’s outrageous and often physically impossible stunts—e.g. murdering and being murdered by his own doppelgänger—stand in for the massive expenditures and effort that the film industry pours into staging and recording complex illusions. His uncanny impersonation of an elderly, dying man consoling the tearful niece at his bedside foregrounds the way movies bend space and time, the way they simulate emotion so artfully you can’t tell it’s faked. Rarely have I seen a film so keenly aware of its own artifice and, what’s more, of the comfort that artifice gives us as moviegoers. Through one puckish joke after another, Holy Motors represents cinema as absurd yet necessary, dangerous yet therapeutic, beautiful yet deadly.

The most overt of these jokes is Oscar’s visit to a studio (pictured above) while clad in a motion capture body suit. He performs some acrobatics, fires a gun, then mimes sex with a similarly mocap-suited contortionist. By way of punchline, Carax pulls out the process’s final product: a pair of digitally rendered fantasy creatures fucking wildly. It’s a scathing burlesque of 21st century Hollywood as land of pixelated, lowest common denominator entertainment—and for all its satirical vulgarity, the segment’s still hugely gratifying, as kinetic and bizarre as anything else in the film. It’s cinema’s future, and palpable within it is the prick of nostalgia for an analog past.

Holy Motors spans the gulf between past and future. They’re both here, one giving way to the other. The film is a tragedy of loss and regret, of interpersonal connections formed and then torn asunder, of Paris’s warehouses and alleyways. “Who were we?” sings Kylie Minogue late in the film. “Who would we have become if we’d done if we’d done differently… back then?” (Similarly poignant is the song playing over Oscar’s final appointment, Gérard Manset’s backwards-looking “Revivre”—or in English, “relive.”) “No new beginnings,” concludes Kylie. No going back. The only option is forward out of death, to take solace in what Oscar calls “the beauty of the act,” to create something with beauty and passion, something like Holy Motors. To do your job.


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Link Dump: #84


This week’s big, cute kitty is from Bertrand Bonello’s House of Pleasures (aka House of Tolerance, L’Apollonide, etc.) It’s kind of like a campus cat, except for a Belle Époque brothel. And now, some (very list-centric) links:

My favorite recent search term has to be “brother sister awkward sex.” Because really, how many other types of brother/sister sex are there? (I also like “status update about fuckers.”)

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Yellow Fever

Sunny Chae as the Chinese prostitute in Deconstructing Harry

Woody Allen’s movies see the world through nostalgia-tinted lenses. Sometimes this has positive consequences, as when they delve into the annals of history: Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Shadows and Fog, Bullets Over Broadway, Sweet and Lowdown. Each of these films recreates the past (as well as its attendant cinematic/theatrical traditions) with affection and detail; in each case, Allen’s nostalgia and encyclopedic knowledge are assets. But more often, especially when his films are set in the present, this nostalgia is blinkering. It’s embarrassing. And, when it’s coupled with the solipsism that pervades Allen’s films, the consequences are disastrous.

For example, I’ve noticed a strain of really noxious, nostalgia-inflected Orientalism in Allen’s films from the ’90s.* Granted, Allen’s not the only filmmaker who indulges in this. American pop culture has exoticized Asia, using Asians as villains or comic relief, since its inception. But I’ve been struck by how consistent these examples are—how these three films from the same director, made across seven years, convey precisely the same racist mindset. The films and offending scenes are as follows:

  • During a montage of Halloween performances by little white kids in Allen’s musical Everyone Says I Love You (1996), three of those kids—dressed in stereotypical Chinese robes and conical hats, but mercifully free of yellowface makeup—sing a few bars from the jazz standard “Chinatown, My Chinatown.” (This is followed by more white kids performing “Chiquita Banana,” complete with maracas.)
  • In one of the vignettes that form the spine of Deconstructing Harry (1997), a young Woody Allen stand-in named Harvey (Tobey Maguire) is advised by a friend to spend $50 on a Chinese prostitute (pictured above). She’s “schooled by tradition in the art of pleasing men,” says the friend, and a narrator (voiced by Allen himself) later describes her as Harvey’s “oriental passport to paradise.” The woman, played by Sunny Chae, has four short lines. All of them mention Harvey.
  • The final and biggest example is from Alice (1990). Discontented bourgeois wife Alice Tate (Mia Farrow) is, like Harvey, advised by a friend to visit the herbalist Dr. Yang (Keye Luke) at his office in New York’s Chinatown.* There, Yang dispenses hypnosis, magic herbs, and fortune-cookie wisdom in broken English. Although he has hints of personality—sage, enigmatic, stern yet supportive—he’s still strictly a plot device, existing only to facilitate Alice’s self-discovery.

So what do these scenes and characters have in common? 1) They’re reductive, drawing their notions of “Chinese identity” entirely from stereotype; 2) the stereotypes they nostalgically employ are based in decades-old racist imagery; and 3) they represent Chinese people and culture as tools, adding color to and/or fueling the plots of white stories. (Another commonality: cringe-worthy musical cues. You know the kind.) Everyone Says I Love You is alone among the three in that no Chinese actor is ever actually onscreen—as far as the film’s concerned, China could be a made-up country, fabricated by jazz musicians for the sake of entertainment.

In the other films, however, Allen trots out real, tangible people to act out stereotypical roles. On the basis of their accents and epicanthic folds, he identifies Chae and Luke as alien, exotic, mysterious. In Deconstructing Harry, these traits are fetishized. The prostitute’s “oriental” eroticism not only makes her an especially satisfying lay, but also amplifies Harvey’s postcoital guilt. This is that solipsism at play: the prostitute is only a projection, a one-note fantasy that Harvey desires just as he loathes himself for that desire. Of course the prostitute doesn’t get an identity or any desires of her own, because this is Harvey’s story.

It’s much the same with Dr. Yang. His screen time may be greater, but the character (and by extension, all of China) is still an appendage to Alice’s white self-absorption. Like similar stock characters—the “sassy gay friend,” the “magical negro”—his inner life is negligible and his outer behavior is devoted to helping the heroine. Alice, meanwhile, gets to have neuroses and adventures. She gets the semblance of a full, real life. Granted, caricature can be a powerful tool in comedy, and it’s pivotal to many of Allen’s best jokes. But this isn’t merely caricature. It’s racial cartooning, with some very clear, off-putting implications.

Furthermore, it’s bad writing. It lazily condenses a whole continent into a vague construction informed by badly dated pop culture. It lacks even the most tenuous relationship to reality. I go to fiction (yes, including Woody Allen’s) searching for some kind of truth, and these Orientalist cartoons do not ring true. Hell, they’re contradicted by my own experiences of having real Asian-American friends, ones with multiple traits per person, whose lives do not revolve around servicing my sexual or emotional needs. I love many of Woody Allen’s movies and I even love his nostalgia. But sometimes, he serves as an aggressive reminder that you can’t learn everything about the world from jazz and old movies.

*This is my obligatory note that yes, it can be tempting to draw biographical parallels between this Orientalism and Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, but I have absolutely no interest in doing that.

**Chinatown, that enclave of exoticism tucked inside the American metropolis. Cf. the title and climax of Allen’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, if you dare.


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