Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Interiors (1978) - Directed by Woody Allen

Looking back on it, Interiors is one of the most drastic 180 degree turns that any cinematic director has taken. Coming on the heels of his Oscar-winning romantic comedy, Annie Hall, and prior to that, several really funny flat-out laugh fests like Bananas, Sleeper, Love and Death etc., he turned to a film which was entirely dramatic and in fact a Bergmanesque homage, deliberately recalling the Swedish Master in both form and content. Yet Interiors was not just an homage. It was a coming-out party of sorts for Allen. It was a film that would allow him to explore other darker dimensions of the human existence, the likes of which he would return to again in everything from Manhattan, to Hannah and Her Sisters, Another Woman, September, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Match Point. It’s not just Allen’s best dramatic film though, it stands as one of his best films period.

Interiors concerns an extended family. Geraldine Page stars as Eve, who had three daughters….Renata (Diane Keaton), Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), and Flyn (Kristen Griffith) and is an interior designer. Her marriage to Arthur (E.G. Marshall) started falling apart after she had a nervous breakdown and other psychological problems. References in the film to Eve’s ice-cold demeanor and calculated intentions throughout her daughters’ upbringing have left the 3 daughters floundering in their adulthood and in their relationships. When Arthur announces he’s splitting from Eve to “take a break”, it leaves Eve on the brink of suicidal despair, even though she hopes they will get back together again. After Arthur returns from a trip from Greece along with a woman named Pearl (Maureen Stapleton) with intentions to marry her, it sets the family on end.

Allen’s film examines all sorts of relationships here: husband to wife, father to daughter, mother to daughter, and sister to sister. It is remarkable how deeply the film examines the human condition in its most paralyzed, impotent state. So many of these characters are lifeless and cold, fearful it seems of even being able to get through the day. Even the set design and costume design, reliant on grays and tans, is drab and lifeless. Allen’s consistent fascination with death throughout his career is something he had in common with Ingmar Bergman, and it’s no wonder that Allen would make a film like this at some point. Allen also wants us to recall Bergman in those tremendous scenes near the end of the film at the beach house which recall Bergman on the island of Faro in so many films. But it feels like a springing-off point for Allen, not just an exercise, using his quick wit to inflict insults and verbal injury here in Interiors, where in Annie Hall those efforts were used to inspire laughter.

Allen’s sense of pacing is terrific, building to a climactic wedding party and fateful night at the beachhouse in winter, complete with gray, crashing waves. Pearl’s attempt to rescue a nearly drowned Joey, whilst wearing a bright red, waving nightgown allows for a striking use of thematic color. In fact more than once Pearl appears in the film is bright red, which is just about the only time the color shows up at ALL in the film. This use of red highlights her passionate and fun existence, exemplified by her discussions on rare steak, card tricks, and her carefree dancing, which are in complete opposition to the mother figure as portrayed by Eve, who is cold, anxious, fearful, regretful, bitter, and suicidal. This display of the human condition, the great acting turns from Page, Hurt, and Stapleton, and Allen’s rightful choice of utilizing Gordon Willis to create some spectacular cinematographic compositions make this one of Allen’s truly memorable films, and places right near the top of his canon. 


R. D. Finch said...

Jon, I know a lot of people look down on this film, but I like it a lot and absolutely agree when you write, "It’s not just Allen’s best dramatic film though, it stands as one of his best films period." I have to wonder what its detractors would have said if they hadn't known it was a Woody Allen film. I suspect the reaction might have been quite different. Allen's admiration of Bergman is clear, and it seems to have inspired him to tap into an area of his art that was closed off before.

Geraldine Page was a favorite of mine even though later in her career she seemed to rely a bit too much on her mannerisms. But there's none of that here, and her Eve is completely different from anything else I've seen her do. I'm glad you also singled out Mary Beth Hurt for acting honors, as I think her performance here doesn't get the credit it deserves. I also enjoyed your comments about the look of the film and the use of color and composition, a level of formalism completely unexpected of Allen at the time.

Jon said...


Another film we're on the same page on. It's a very tightly controlled and composed work from Allen, who until this point in his career was all over the place....even Annie Hall, which is considered very mainstream, even contains a great deal of "kitchen sink type filmmaking". I love this film and could watch it every year if I let myself. The acting is great and Page and Hurt stand out amongst a great cast. Thanks for your comments. Yes I don't quite understand the complaints thrown at this one from some people.