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Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)


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  • 2 months later...
  • 4 years later...

I finally, FINALLY got around to writing my blurb on this film for the A&F Top 100. And before I pack my notes away, I figured I'd just jot down a few things here that there wasn't space for in the blurb.

First, notice the way Woody repeatedly draws our attention to the question of whether some sins are smaller than others and therefore really not so sinful necessarily. This theme is implicit in the title, but note also:

  • the scene where the rabbi, trying to strike a casual tone, says, "We went from a small infidelity to the meaning of existence," to which Martin Landau replies that his wife won't think the infidelity was so "small".

  • the scene where a woman tells Woody Allen's sister that she's found the right man for her, but there's a catch: he's in prison, but don't worry, it's "nothing serious, insider trading."

Second, note how the film repeatedly suggests that art, religion, and various other human constructs (such as the law) are attempts to impose meaning on the world (whether or not it has any):

  • the scene where Landau's relatives debate whether the universe is fundamentally moral or not, and one of the relatives says: "Whether it's the Old Testament or Shakespeare, murder will out."

  • the scene where Landau tells Woody his idea for a great movie (which is really the story of Landau's own life, though Woody doesn't know this), and Woody replies that the movie would be more satisfying if the guilty man turned himself in, and Landau replies that this is "reality" and Woody has seen "too many movies."

Add to this someone's comment (Mia Farrow's, I think?) to the effect that, no matter what philosophical system you follow, in the end it will be incomplete.

Oh, one extra thought: As I wrote my blurb, I found myself thinking that it is very tempting for Christians, in particular, to focus almost exclusively on the Martin Landau half of the film, in much the same way that we often focus almost exclusively on the Eric Liddell part of Chariots of Fire without paying due attention to the film's OTHER protagonist (i.e. the Ben Cross character). I hope I was able to keep both halves of Crimes and Misdemeanors in mind while writing my blurb, but I'm open to correction on that.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 5 months later...

Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted a 20-year-old article of his called 'Notes Toward the Devaluation of Woody Allen', in which he looks at Woody's career in general but devotes quite a few words to this then-new film in particular, e.g.:

Intellectuals and anti-intellectuals, liberals and conservatives, can all walk away from Allen’s movies feeling that their own worldviews have been corroborated and illustrated because no issue is ever forced to a point of crisis — a few potshots in every possible direction usually suffice. The gag in ANNIE HALL about Dissent and Commentary merging into Dysentery has something for everybody: readers of both journals feel grateful for this uncharacteristic form of recognition in a commercial movie; people who feel distaste for the intellectualism associated with both publications are rewarded; and even those who might bristle at the political incompatibility of the two magazines are likely to be amused by the pun.

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS offers another case in point. A film that professes to address the rampant amorality and self-interest of the 1980s gives us an ophthalmologist (Martin Landau) who arranges to murder his mistress and gets away with it and a socially concerned documentary filmmaker (Allen) who isn’t rewarded for his good intentions. But both characters seem equally motivated by self-interest, and we are asked to care much more about Allen’s character as a fall guy than about the murdered mistress (Anjelica Huston). Landau’s masochism about his initial feelings of guilt are matched by Allen’s masochism about being a loser. There is a lack of ironic distance on this aspect of both characters, and if the film is genuinely attacking self-interest, it is seriously handicapped by being unable to see beyond it.

A major distinction here is social context. Chaplin and Tati offer characters whose main problem is coping with the world; Lewis and Allen’s characters, however, are concerned with both coping and scoring, and the importance of scoring — greater in Allen’s case than in Lewis’s — implies a different relationship to the society in question. Scoring is the aim of the extrovert hungering for society’s approval and applause; and for all their apparent maladjustments, Allen’s heroes already belong fully and integrally to the society they wish to succeed in. They never suggest total outcasts, as Lewis’s heroes often do.

One thing that makes both Chaplin and Tati profound social critics is the fact that their characters’ difficulties in coping with society lead to a consideration of society’s difficulties in coping with them. Lewis carries over some of this process (see, for instance, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR), but Allen virtually abandons it. Apart from the loving self-deprecations, and the daring jibes against his audiences in STARDUST MEMORIES, his social critique seldom gets beyond the range of one-liners, whereas the obsession with success and scoring usually implies that it is the oddball individual and not the society that needs to make adjustments.

One of the most disturbing facts about contemporary American life is its rejection of the concept of victims; the current synonym for “victim” is “loser.” When Allen’s character in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS is listening to his sister describe her humiliation at the hands of a sadist after answering a classified ad, Allen’s horrified responses are telegraphed to the audience as invitations to cruel and derisive laughter, not pity. This is a curious ploy in a film that professes to be protesting the erosion of moral and ethical values, but one that is consistent with Allen’s usual methods, because it’s much easier to laugh at a loser than at a victim. . . .

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 years later...

Just curious: do any of the Woody Allen threads have all the Woody Allen threads linked together? I try to do this for my favorites (for instance, see the first post of the Melancholia thread), and Peter has tried to keep things linked together over the years, too. But to look up "Woody" and "Allen" and to think of ALL the years of this guy's films -- I'm willing to put the work into linking some of the threads together, but I'm simply curious whether that's already been done here.

(Peter). lol

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I've *thought* about doing something like that, but Woody Allen has made so many films it would be a daunting prospect. Give me time, though, maybe...

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I've *thought* about doing something like that, but Woody Allen has made so many films it would be a daunting prospect. Give me time, though, maybe...

Ummmm.... hellllloooooo..... it's been 10 minutes......

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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I started doing it and found that Peter did it Here.

Thanks, Peter!

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Whoa, so I did.

Yer welcome!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 8 months later...
  • 6 years later...

I nominated Crimes and Misdemeanors for the top 100. When this thread was started, Matt used Roger Ebert's "The Great Movies" essay to start the conversation. In that essay, Ebert comments on the film's bold question-asking. It dares to ask the biggest spiritual questions that plague all of humanity from the questions of how morality is determined to questions about the existence of God. Of course, I understand any reticence to vote for Woody Allen in the post-#metoo era, but I felt we would be remiss if we did not at least consider a film that uses two parallel stories to ask these deepest spiritual questions without feeling the need to give tidy, moralistic answers.

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