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Shadows and Fog (1991)

by on 2012/08/10

“I don’t know enough to be incompetent.”

* * * *

It is a scene of pure gothic horror: a murderer lurks in the dark, foggy alleyways of a small town. He kills at random, garroting his victims with piano wire.

Some victims are killed in their beds. Men, women, young, old. No one is safe.

In the panic, the town forms vigilante mob.

Then, smack dab in the middle of this little terrarium of terror, the intelligent designer drops in Woody Allen.

And then John Malkovich! And then Madonna!  And Donald Pleasance (THX)! And Lily Tomlin! And John Cusack (Say Anything)! And Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver)!

Then the intelligent designer shakes the terrarium real hard. Genius.

This is Woody Allen wearing a spine-tingly thriller like a ill-fitting overcoat. And sweet jeepers, I love this hilarious black-and-white movie.

An homage to filmmakers like F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu), Shadows and Fog has all the trappings of a German Expressionist film, with scenes slashed with black shadows and creepiness by the pickle-barrel-full. A jittery, hand-wringing Woody Allen in this environment is a recipe for amusement.

Like any good gothic opera, it has adultery, scandal, jealousy, prostitution, tragedy and extra bloody murder. The action pivots around two characters, Allen’s Kleinman and Irmy, a sword swallower at a travelling circus, played by Mia Farrow. Kleinman, is a deeply-flawed man who is more worried about an upcoming promotion than being strangled in his sleep.

Irmy (Farrow) is a ditzy, wispy slip of a circus performer, taken in by prostitutes after storming out of her relationship with circus clown, Malkovich. Malkovich is exactly like a packet of silica gel in every scene, he keeps everything nice and dry. He takes clowning really seriously, “We’re not like other people, we’re artists, you know with great talent comes responsibility.”

I loved this film when I first saw it. Screening it again for my celebration of the genius of Woody Allen this month, it is hard to see it the same way this fourth time around. With themes like the fragility of love and the joy of having children, my mind wandered a bit.

Having read exhaustively about their later break-up a scant year after this film came out, the only thing I would like to say to Mia Farrow if I ever met her is, “Parental Alienation Syndrome much?”

To Mr. Allen, I say with great introspection and careful thought, I love both the art and the artist.

This month, the “A” in August stands for “Allen.”

* * * *

85 minutes

Rated PG-13

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