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The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

by on 2012/08/25

“No! No! Do
n’t turn the projector off! No! No! It gets black and we disappear!”

* * * *

I recently saw an incredible interview with Woody Allen on YouTube. Filmmaker Robert Weide asks Allen 12 entertainingly original questions about life, work, love, beards, malteds and movies.

One of the questions centers on Allen’s attitudes toward present-day cinema. “They really …are not the same as when I grew up,” adding that if he had to choose between watching films or sports, he pick sports.

It makes sense. Woody’s love of the past, and the romance of the silver screen, literally drips from this 1985 film about Depression era life. Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a clumsy waitress and wife, supporting her shiftless and abusive husband, Monk (Danny Aiello).

Cecilia’s life is crammed with rude diner customers, broken coffee mugs, her husband’s gambling debts and the occasional hard smacks in the face. Her only respite from the dish-water drudgery of her depressing Depression life is a trip to the movies.

The bleaker her life gets – and it is pretty bleak indeed, you’ve never seen Danny Aiello behaving like such an ass – she begins to compulsively watch a black-and-white romantic adventure, The Purple Rose of Cairo. So much so that one of the supporting characters, pith-helmeted Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), looks out into the audience and declares his undying love for her.

This movie is my childhood fantasy come to life. I used to believe that if turned off the dial on the black-and-white television set in my bedroom, I would cast all of the characters in every show on the dial into a dark limbo.

This film takes the fourth wall convention to a whole new level. When the romantic Baxter steps from the silvery screen, the remaining cast members plunge into chaos, drinking, smoking and hurling insults at the drab Depression audience. However when they are threatened with turning off the projector, they beg for their cinematic lives.

Farrow and Daniels’ vapid relationship is a solid basis for hilarity. “I just met a wonderful new man, he’s fictional but you can’t have everything.” Hilarity is further ratcheted up when the real actor, Gil Shepherd, scrambles across the country, doing damage control, while industry wags berate him for creating “too real” a character.

Allen takes a his love of the old classics, and takes out a pair of post-modern pair of scrapbooking scissors, and creates a loving collage of reality and old-time Hollywood. It is all completely charming.

I’ve gotta go with Woody, they don’t make them like this anymore.

* * * *

Rated PG

84 minutes

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