Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interiors (1978)

"At the centre of a sick psyche is a sick spirit."

INTERIORS was Woody Allen's first stab at drama. It is icy, murky, dark, and sick at heart. It unfolds at a glacial pace, quiet and self-absorbed, content to let silence speak louder than words.

INTERIORS has often been derided as dull, derivative, and pretentious; yet also praised for the miracle of its composition. That Allen is mired in his influences is obvious. This is his "Bergman" movie. His LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. His Chekovian familial portrait. And Allen, in the awkwardness of his first serious drama, does not adequately surpass these influences. His direction is at times heavy-handed pushing the actors into moments of unnecessary melodrama.That said, there is a hell of a lot going on here that is worthy of attention.

As mentioned above, the cinematography is breathtaking, elevating the material through deft additions of texture and mood. Particularly in the framing and lighting of scenes wherein the rooms are often sparely lit with lots of shadows and gray spaces for the actors to hide in. These stark, arresting images set the stage. Silence factors in as Allen moodily allows for sound to naturally develop. The stillness of the images coupled with the silence and natural ambient noises of creaking wood and distant breaking waves set the tone for the entire film within the first two minutes.

Allen assembles another one of his great casts and, though the cold dysfunctional family plot may be routine, gives them avenues to explore different sides of their abilities. Diane Keaton does her usual great work, pushing her character to a critical depth often unseen in many of her other comic performances. That Keaton's character is depressed and upset is often obvious despite her character's internalization. The tension between her and her husband is well-handled, commenting on its own cliches without pandering into irony. Richard Jordan hits the right notes as her alcoholic husband, though his character is underwritten making the deeper core of their misunderstandings difficult to interpret.

My favorite performance comes from Mary Beth Hurt, whose indecisive, guilt-riddled character is a throbbing ball of violent rage well-caged. When she finally unleashes her vitriol, the film comes briefly alive -- a cathartic release that Allen's been building towards the entire time. Hurt gives a well-controlled performance, building sympathy for a very unsympathetic character.

Unfortunately, the other characters never come quite into the fullness necessary to convey the impact Allen is seeking. Geraldine Page's Oscar-nominated turn as the family matriarch is sadly underwhelming. We recognize her hurt and despair but the key scenes of her mental anguish are discussed without clear demonstration. Her violent, sobbing rages are agonizing to watch but lack a grounding as the script glosses over the crucial moment that conflicts these characters and binds them altogether. Ditto for E.G. Marshall's careworn patriarch. His motivations and justifications are clear but we never get a sense of his true feelings. His stoicism feels a pose but we are not privileged to find out more.

Perhaps that's Allen aim after all. INTERIORS, as its name suggests, is a very closed film. We are on the outside looking in on a family that cannot be open. Those who do reveal themselves are quickly hurt, resealing themselves within. There is no real access and we, as an audience, are often left as adrift as they are. Despite these criticisms, INTERIORS is a film well worth watching.

INTERIORS (Allen, USA, 1978)


Doug Tilley said...

I've always been fascinated by Woody Allen's more dramatic pieces, as they seem equally revealing of his personality even when they don't quite succeed.

I've told you before that my Bergman knowledge is sadly limited, but there's something pretty amazing about a gifted filmmaker like Allen in his prime doing a filmic tribute to his influence.

I don't know the song, but apparently this Death Cab song spells out the plot to Interiors:

rasputin1963 said...

The elephant in the room, which no-one can quite muster the strength to point out... is that INTERIORS is not a very good movie. Not a soul in this film is believable, and certainly none are very attractive, save earthy "Pearl". INTERIORS also partakes of a certain 1970's form of angst which looks very pretentious, threadbare today. The problems of the rich, white and UTTERLY self-absorbed? Every one of these characters needs to get a life (and a Zoloft/Xanax cocktail), yet they begrudge the one character who does: the father, with Pearl. I don't know if we Americans can "do" Bergman; I fear only Bergman can. Woody has redeemed himself with 2013's BLUE JASMINE, which more accurately shows what happens to rich white people who are totally out-of-touch with reality.