An Open Letter to the Director of Blue Jasmine
Dear Mr. Allen:
Let me start by saying I am one of your biggest fans. (I used to be your biggest fan, but then you made September.) I watch your early, funny films with joyful glee. I sit in rapt attention and awe, basking in the glow of Manhattan, Annie Hall and Bullets Over Broadway again and again and again. I love almost all of your pre-Mia films, and enjoy some of your post Mia’s. I’ve sat through your performances in Casino Royale, Picking Up the Pieces, and The Sunshine Boys, although you had nothing creatively to do with them. And I’ve suffered through Melinda and Melinda, Cassandra’s Dream, Hollywood Ending and Anything Else, just because I am an obsessive-compulsive who will go through painstaking self-abuse just to experience anything and everything from an artist I love. Oh, and I know your stand-up routines by heart.
You’ve written, directed and acted in more works than any modern film artist. In fact, the pure quantity of your output is staggering, and makes God himself look like a slacker.
I’ve debated, defended, cried, praised and cursed through all of your work. Your films have had a major impact on my life. I learned about comedy, drama, pathos, romance, sentimentality, and Xanax, thanks to you. I discovered Django Rhinehart (my all time favorite musician), Gershwin, The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini because of your use, misuse, abuse and over-use of these icons.
So I come to you from a place of love with just one question:
What’s with the music?
Don’t get me wrong. I love early “hot” jazz (jass), Dixieland, Dance and Big Band music. And I mean “love.” Like owning over 10,000 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, Mp3s,cassettes and 8-track tapes type of “love.” “ Love, love, love to the point that my wife has threatened divorce if I play anymore of my “Bordello” music (her term).
Therefore, as a fanatical fan of this material, I have to know “why?” As a great director, why do you insist on jamming this music down your limited audience’s maw? It’s no longer debatable, defendable or even understandable. You can love it all you want, but why do you believe it is germane to every moment of every film in your oeuvre?
It’s not like you’re some performance artist or experimental filmmaker, only creating work to frustrate and annoy the audience. You obviously seek to entertain people beyond yourself, and struggle to connect through filmmaking. You’re even quoted as saying, “If you asked me my druthers, I’d much prefer for people to like (my) film than to not like it.”
So why do you actively seek to strike such a discord (excuse the pun) with your soundtracks? Especially when you have been known, in the past, to sacrifice your love of this very specific genre for music that works? Love and Death wouldn’t play nearly as well if you hadn’t chosen Prokofiev, Manhattan wouldn’t be Manhattan without Zubin Mehta’s stellar orchestrations of Gershwin, and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy wouldn’t nail the satire so perfectly without Mendelsohn.
Now, with Blue Jasmine, you’ve obviously taken great strides to stretch and grow, much like you did with Match Point. You’re dipping your toe in other film and theatrical formats, story lines and genres, and for a man pushing 80, that is beyond admirable.
But like so much of your work, it is deeply flawed. At that tenuous point when it could slip over that narrow threshold into genius terrain, the piece falters and crashes to the earth, like Icarus, because your stubbornness takes over and your personal fetish forces your hand.
I would never deign to suggest what musician, or composer or even pre-recorded music would work for Blue Jasmin or any of your films. But in this case, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and King Oliver ain’t doing it.
The moments of scripted eloquence, pitch perfect performances and subtle direction get completely sabotaged by these tired music cues. Just as the audience is transcended to a place where they’re no longer watching a “Woody Allen” film, but watching a “good” film, you have to remind us, “Hey guys, Woody’s still here! How about some “Black Snake Swing” to really wipe my ass on this moment?”
I know these are harsh words, and I apologize for my obvious raw emotions, but you’ve forced me to take some of the greatest music ever recorded, music I love like a kid loves his first trip to Disneyland, and plunge the dagger in deeply, just under the sternum, because this flaw is so monumental and self serving.
In closing, let me say I have nothing but warmth and admiration for you as an artist. As much as I protest, I will still pay the price of admission to everything you make, for as long as you choose to make it.
And if I didn’t already own most of the music, I would probably even buy Blue Jasmine on CD. Or Mp3. Or both.
Just next time, because there will be a next time, and a next and a next, think about switching it up. Would you? Thank you.
Oh, and while you’re at it, how about a new credit sequence?