Towers of Babel
This film caught me unexpectedly with its tenderness, it’s squaring of the circle of love and its complex companion sex. This is definitely a screwball comedy which flexes its comedy with a bit or two of heavy Jewish slapstick irony in a full sunny delight New York, Brooklyn in particular, robust life goes on in the background.
The luster has left Woody Allen sometime ago for me and a rub of fortune from screenwriter, actor and director John Turturro brings a little shine back to the master comic persona that is Woody Allen.
I was past caring what he did and this films portrayal of a pimp by Woody Allen has his usual comedy dodge ball routine, wisecrack commentary sweeping down the cinema aisles and seats more than ever before, or since fellow Jew and what most Jewish comedians base their act on, Moses, laying down the Ten Commandments.
Moses wasn’t actually a comedian you will know, but most of you will have realised that sinfulness is never a difficulty with humans and the Hebrews (also human) nor has it been since they got told not to do certain things and to embrace others.
In ‘The Ask‘ by Sam Lipsyte the first line of the book goes –
“America, said Horace, the office temp, was a rundown and demented pimp.” The begotten, begorra, shift in the first world run by a bunch of pimps is its schmaltzy odyssey.
When the Hebrews idolatry of the golden calf that immediately preceded it (the TC) is forbidden, it may figure as a turning point from getting what you want. Rescued and given the promised land. You could say the Jewish race never recovered. Having seen the riches the people act all human and acquire things surreptitiously and veraciously. Greed had left the traps.
Come to think of it this film adopts a little more Jewish philosophy, “The consumer is always right.” Give them what they want.
The Jewish slant is merely a reviewers presumed anchor to pitch context, it perhaps is what might be seen as an anti-semetic view. If it were true I would be astonished, as it would offer a way back to God for those Jews who transgress never mind all others. We do not separate so.
The fact is we all transgress and forgiveness though never plain is the way in which those failings are to be accepted.
Firstly you have to be aware of the sin.
The pimp is the spin doctor, the one who indulges in the fantasy of needy patrons as their go between. Like e-bay or Tinder app. it acts as the safe commodisiser. Love is never having to put your hand on your wallet/purse!
Love is for ever, but insoluble it can never be explained. the many guises of sex, as a commodity and pleasure, power, weakness, fantasy, acts of illicit encounter all appearances and surface embodiment are all contained in a strangers desires. In this synopsis there are strong women whose need for sex is unrealised and their repressed craving is able to be satiated by a little exploration and exploitation by the septigenarian, immoral and poor bookseller Murray played by Woody Allen
Along for the ride
The married dermatologist Dr Parker, the immaculate screen beauty, Sharon Stone, encourages Woody Allen, the initiate go between, to find her an escape from her repression, to add some lift to the boredom of domestic and married life and for her unchallenged intellect to play within her, those fantasies she courts as a woman not prepared to accept those limits set in her present life.
Sharon Stone inhabits the part like a new skin, hormones awake under perfect alter ego. She has all the skills and slinkiness that forces you to go along with this madcap set of circumstances. John Turturro has the other card to play to convince us he is Mr Right there and then. It makes it into Dr Parker’s flat and unfolds like a first teenage date and with a few scotches to stop it hitting the rocks.
She does what we wish her to do, to explore the levels of unconscious feelings she keeps hidden, to explore and set aside shamefulness as it’s meaningless guard only suppresses natural instincts. She blasts out a reference to hubby in flagrante. It is not even, once a routine is started, anyway shameful, more recreational and good for body and mind. Fiorvvante has a lot on his mind and he calls upon his own memory for quotations, Italian, Jewish and everyday Americano to make his own adjustments. He begins to struggle in coming to terms with his new role. He needs little encouragement as he can figure things out while he ‘works’.
Intesity gathers pace
Fiorvante has no family and is himself a reluctant loner and begins to see what the clients see and it immerses him a little deeply when a local Jewish widow, with a family of six, ventures or is encouraged by the now therapist pimp into conquering her aloneness.
This is the character Abigail and she is an ordinary domestic, played by the extraordinary Vanessa Paradis whose perilous looks could create heartache wherever she flashes her eyes and looks away. She is vulnerable and fearful.
Fear is overcome by Murray when a cheque or brown envelope might appear. In fact Murray just loves the money and has expansion on his mind and the pair get into a routine which has little cover.
Fear is overcome by Dr Parker when her Lothario is hand picked and she quizzes Murray about the ‘Gigilo’. Murray lies through his teeth on his employees track record and paints a corny identity for his charge. Fiorvante is somewhat already a go between himself, being a florist, his occupation acting as a symbolic response refuge for pleasure, pain, forgiveness and exhalation with outwardly visible extravagance. Fioravante, John Turturro, is that pupil Gigolo whose fortune happens to be to accept the many gifts, not all redeemable that his client Dr Parker has to offer. In return he has to keep his manipulated lustings and concepts of sexual pleasure in check, not that Dr M has much problem expressing her needs, so with his notions of sex converted to something else in these illicit waters, Grafenberg equations ticking over in his head like root tables, Fiorvante is quickly into not saying a great deal unless it is positive, gracious or gratifying.
His needs are expanded and at once are modified, with clouds gathering in this new heady otherworld he becomes unsettled.
The last person you would think he should confide in is a pecuniary, kvetching, neurotic, supercilious, demanding Jew called Murray.
The stakes raise when Sharon Stone suggests a favour for her friend Selina, another unlikely unrequited, unsatisfied sexual soul.
She is enlisted as a client and offers up the axiom “Men don’t understand what goes on inside a woman’s head.” His reply is “I wouldn’t be here if I did ” instantly gets her response, “Good reply, I like a man who’s funny”
The voluptuous part, (the film gets absurdly populated with many attractive women and some tend to be a bit type cast,) is filled by the film star looks of Sofia Vergara. Fiorvantes reply had many interpretations but she was only going with the one that got her satisfied, which was the right answer. Smart girl.
The favour Selina angles for, once into the swing of things, is a threesome with Woody – Fiorvante the shrinking violet. Tough call.
Shady Sharon is full of her off and on screen charm as you can see she delights in playing another vampish strong woman getting her kicks as she pleases and playing her chips riskly and less villanesque than her Casino performance which won her a Golden Globe.
She is immensely charming, energisers the part with her natural ability which rolls the story on without becoming over trodden by the Woody part, Murray, which has you defraying real life, film life, in this role which he manages skillfully and to which his comedic talent is eminently and jewishly suited. His intensity in markedly oratorical and exclaimatic. The tongue never resting as another contradictory notion has assembled at the foot of his mental stairs and demands it climbs from his dark bunker wherein lives his imprisoned Issac. He fumbles some words on purpose showing some latter day contriteness. His Soul.
Everything he utters seems a reflection of the past. The cries of Issac no longer silent becoming the métier of hatred, sullied, trades veracity for a quick return. He is a wreck of a person ungarnered and employs his lack of morality as though it is mere comedy.
The Pop up Shop
To set up this business requires a plan and scale of rates if things get complicated. Are there union dues, federal taxes, licensing, marketing, consumables, rental costs? I think he has not thought this through.
Is he treading on anyone’s patch. This could be a real money spinner.
But what about the healthcare plan? Should his Gigilo join a gym, this is going to be calorie burning in all directions? How does he distinguish this from the local Cathouse where men pay to rape women? Does he need agency staff and what is their rate a pop? How many cellphones does one need? Arms, could he join the NRA, what about tooling up in case of a raid or unexpected violence from one of the clients, upset at the (unintended) slur if performance is not its finest? Tricky business the trick business.
Now has it an upside?
There is a sheriff of the Jewish neighbourhood whose job; the notion of Job’s comforter comes to mind as the incumbent is in danger of depressing everyone if he gets wind of this new business in the district. He provides more Jewish idioms and introduces the quixotic customs and quasi realism of Jewish live in Brooklyn. It even has a Mafia style sit down when it comes to confession time. A funny routine and sends you right back to Mount Sinai and those sins again. There is also a Jewish lawyer involved and the fee gets discussed on the walk down.
This film has many soulful moments. It makes a lot of terminally silly jokes about culture and the bedraggled misplaced nature of modernity.
It has vast open plan apartments where, if you feel like climbing the walls then go right ahead, there is a replica rock face in the cavernous space. Sharon’s. Self pictorial wall hangings and little actual sense of place or belonging.
There is a walk in Central Park in which a steep set of steps has light cascading down to the would be lovers and the greenery is a little temporary heaven. There is the muddle of Woody’s domestic arrangements in which he is the live in guru it seems to a flock of over active Afro Caribbean kids, as opposed to the chosen ones as part of Abigail’s brood.
Not all life is there and try as it might to be a slapstick on cultural mores and difference it ultimately gets properly placed as a contemporary take on relationships and separated unrequited love with plenty of contrasts and dilemmas at most steps on the way.
How does it resolve itself? Well in true New York style whatever happens life goes on and it constantly will surprise which is no surprise.
John and Vanessa, (Abigail,) exchange lots of quotations, as do some others, the exhaustible Murray of course, the Sharon and Sofia foil is a class act and all coffee shops are not replicas of Starbucks. It is a compassionate piece and it would be interesting to see if its comedic values are strong in the New York sense, or is this routine baloney which faces differing cultures all the time.
As you can see I have made a lot of inferences around what is just a movie and I hope it does not offend. The movie does not offend and as opinion, entertainment it is part of diversity.
As the last review said Films have many faces.
A little more from The Ask by Sam Lipsyte. It has Brooklyn origins.
Extract from Chapter Fourteen. Buy and read!
This particular movie took place in Hollywood’s New York, a wonderland of pensive latte-sipping and meaningful strolls through Central Park. The city looked crisp, exquisite. The citizens lived like simple millionaires. Our principals were a lonely man and a lonely woman, each with a buffoonish, homely sidekick who would have been thought attractive in real life, and a fascinating, but finally unfulfilling – because there was nobody to “share it all with” – career. They sought each other, missed each other, at cocktail parties, in train terminals, at flower shops, their fin de siècle Nokias gaining symbolic power with each scene. Sucked into the vortex of high formula, a slow sob rose in my body. Just like porn or bang-bang, this was pure stuff, concocted for the baser circuits, the lizard board.
from The Ask by Sam Lipsyte.
21 May 2014