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The Purple Rose of Cairo [DVD]
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Classic comedy written and directed by Woody Allen. The film follows Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a bored waitress who has a womanising slob for a husband and who regularly visits her local cinema in order to escape from the harsh realities of Depression-era America. One night, while re-watching her latest favourite 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', the film's hero (Jeff Daniels) steps down from the screen and asks her to show him around. A fantasy love affair ensues, but the couple's bliss soon comes under threat from Cecilia's husband, the bemused actor whose fictional alter-ego has gone walkabout, and the studio who want their character back on the screen.
"I've just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional but you can't have everything." So says Cecilia (Mia Farrow), the central figure in Woody Allen's lyrically humorous Purple Rose of Cairo. The era is the Great Depression, and she is the bullied wife who finds escape in romantic movies, falling in love with the explorer hero, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), of the eponymous film. So far, nothing remarkable. But Allen has Baxter spot her in the audience, fall in love with her, and desert the picture, much to the irritation of the other characters. The surreal quality of the situation develops further when Gil Shepherd--the actor who played Baxter (Daniels again)--seeks out his fictional alter ego to persuade him back into the film and thus save both their reputations. Naturally Shepherd, too, falls in love with Cecilia, and she's left to choose between fiction and reality, chooses the latter and is then cruelly jilted. The message seems clear: fairytales are just that, make-believe. There's no such thing as a happy ending. Dating from 1985 (after Broadway Danny Rose and immediately before Hannah and her Sisters), this is one of the few movies in which Allen doesn't actually appear, though he's recognisable in every line of Farrow's character. It's also a nostalgic tribute to the era that defined movie glamour, the close-up of Cecilia's face at the end a moment of pure Hollywood. At 81 minutes, this is a small but brilliant gem.
On the DVD: Aside from the technological improvement of DVD over video, the new format adds little by way of features: you can view the original trailer, scan the film scene by scene, and there's a choice of subtitles in eight languages.--Harriet Smith
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you won't regret it- pathos and comedy
From the opening theme of Irving Berlin's Cheek To Cheek, we know we're in for a fantastic cinematic voyage over the next 80 minutes. Set in New Jersey during the Great Depression, Mia Farrow (in another wonderful performance for Allen) stars as dippy, forgetful and cinema-obsessed waitress Cecilia, whose entire life is centred around the latest Hollywood comedies, romances and adventure stories, showing at her local cinema. Even the antics of two-timing waster and gambler, husband Monk (Danny Aiello, in probably his second best screen performance ever, behind his Sal in Do The Right Thing) cannot distract Cecilia from her movie addiction. Cecilia's obsession reaches new heights when Egyptian adventure yarn The Purple Rose of Cairo comes to town, and film character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels in, along with that in Something Wild, one of his best performances) literally comes down off the screen to whisk Cecilia away. The situation is further complicated when the film's producers get wind of the situation, sending Baxter's alter ego, actor Gil Shepherd (unsurprisingly also played by Daniels) to the cinema in an attempt to persuade Baxter to get back on screen.
Allen has devised a marvellous and poignant homage to cinema in Purple Rose, focusing for extended sequences on the interaction between film cast and audience, as they bitch away at one another, eventually leading to the cinema manager's threat to turn off the projector - 'No, don't', replies one of the cast, 'It gets black and we disappear'. There is a series of hilarious scenes as film character Baxter discovers the imaginary nature of his 'screen world' - including discovering that his 'screen money' is fake and that cars do not simply move on sitting in the driver's seat, but require a key to start. Another marvellous scene occurs where Baxter takes Cecilia onto the screen and into the film, convincing nightclub maitre d' Arturo (Eugene Anthony) that the rule book has been completely torn up, as he breaks into a virtuoso tap dance routine. Also worthy of mention is a great cameo performance by Dianne Wiest as prostitute Emma, as she whisks Baxter off to her brothel (this was the first of a series of great Wiest performances in Allen films).
In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen reinforces his credentials as a writer and director who is as masterful at romantic whimsy as he is at out-and-out comedy. The illusion created in Cecilia's mind is brilliantly conveyed in a romantic scene between Cecilia and Gil, as, following a passionate embrace, Cecilia laments 'I'm confused. I'm married. I just met a wonderful new man, he's fictional, but you can't have everything.'
For me, the precise reason for the appeal of the Purple Rose of Cairo is difficult to pinpoint. It is, essentially, a magical, romantic cinematic trip with an appeal similar to Powell and Pressburger's I Know Where I'm Going. Whatever the reason, the film's appeal is totally infectious and I rate it, along with Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanours and Broadway Danny Rose, among Allen's finest films.
There's no doubting the charm of this picture. Woody Allen takes trouble to obtain a period feel, lightly sketching in the consequences of the depression and the tightrope walked by a woman (Mia Farrow) with a violent husband, though nothing too nasty that might frighten the horses. No wonder that the haven afforded by the local picture house leads her to dwell repetitively on the charms of life up there on the screen, and that the glamorous characters seem that much more attractive than her neglectful husband and bad-tempered employer.
But to proceed from there to claim that Woody Allen is saying something profound about the rich imaginative world that people are able to conjure up at the drop of a hat and about the interlinked worlds of consciousness and heightened consciousness seems to me over the top. This is surely first and foremost an entertainment, a light-hearted but poignant (and the mix of the two accounts for much of the charm) illustration of the power of cinema to temporarily banish dull care.
The initial dissolve of Jeff Daniels' b/w archaeologist on screen into his own colour counterpart in the auditorium is delicately handled by Allen, and he continues to demonstrate deft control of the parallel worlds. This is essentially a one-trick picture and Allen is wise to draw it to a close at 78 mins. He's excellently served by the just-believable Mia Farrow as the filmstruck ingenuee and by the enthusiastic Jeff Daniels in the dual role of character and actor, who has just the right extra amount of steel in him as the latter so that his act of betrayal is not wholly out of character as he returns Mia Farrow to much (albeit not quite) the same state she was in to start with.
Anyone wanting to explore a little deeper into the issues of imagination and reality raised in Purple Rose of Cairo might enjoy two great plays by Luigi Pirandello; Henry IV and Six Characters in Search of an Author.
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