When is Woody Allen not Woody Allen: an allegory

Well, the other day I established that I’m a metaphorical guy. It goes deeper, however. I relish all literary devices and integrate them into my living existence.

I’m also an allegorical kind of guy. I am constantly watching small stories and events unfold in my daily life which are merely microcosmic allusions to large patterns of life and humanly behavior. I can watch as a fly enters a car through an open crack and as it begins flying panic-stricken, crashing into glass and upholstery, until it finally drops dead on the sweltering dashboard. In the right frame of mind, which is often, this is a symbolic narrative of life or one of its grand lessons. I’ll fill in the blanks when I’m in the mood.

I’m an allegorical guy.

Saturday, I lived an allegory. Was not part of the plan. It unfolded quietly and surreptitiously. Still, on Saturday I didn’t peg it as an allegory, but as I thought more about it yesterday, it occurred to me that the situation was rife with allegorical connotations.

The plan, as it stood initially, was to go see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris” at a late afternoon showing at a theater east of Los Angeles. The theater is in an area largely populated by an Asian and Hispanic demographic, hardly a hotbed of Wood Allen fervor. The theater which screened this movie for some inexplicable reason, only scheduled it for 3 daily viewings: morning, late afternoon, and late night. In between showings I have no idea what they were doing in the theater. There was plenty of time because the movie is only an hour and twenty-eight minutes. On Saturday we drove to the theater to catch the late afternoon showing and I was pleased to find a good parking spot and had no difficultly braving the Bad Teacher- and The Smurfs-watching riff-raff. Such is the nature and predicament of watching a Woody Allen movie in decidedly un-SWPL area. After we paid a bankrupting $12 per ticket, we walked in half an hour early and discovered we were the first ones in, which wasn’t saying much because ultimately, by the time the trailers began, there were about 6 or 7 of us pretentious art-house types occupying this large, vacant theater.

The trailers really sucked and I found it hard to believe they were showing them to this audience. The one I remember distinctly was for a movie called “Dolphin Tale,” a revolting, animal-worshiping feel-good water flick brought to us by the empty-headed creators of The Blind Side. Just when you think maybe our culture has bottomed out, there is always another Sandra Bullock cinematic diarrhea spurt to quash that last optimistic notion you might have grasped. The trailers finally ended mercifully and sitting through them put me in a very non-Woody Allen frame of mind. Simple-minded BS and when the movie finally started rolling, the opening scene opened to a black screen punctuated by the audio of a man and woman having sex and discussing placement, direction, etc. Not quite the Woody Allen I know. Woody loves sex but he doesn’t cheapen it within the context of his movies and when the scene finally broke through the black screen, we were treated to a few minutes of a man and woman, obviously not romantically attached, going at it. It was very un-PG13-like but I shrugged and continued watching because after all, we had paid to see Midnight In Paris. Perhaps Allen was broadening his horizons. Senility? A couple walked out the theater mumbling about being in the wrong theater and I thought perhaps they had fallen into a fit of Sunday afternoon Puritanism. On the screen, the man humorously asked the woman to leave and something not greatly funny was muttered by one of them and I chuckled. This was Woody Allen, after all. Eventually, the woman finally leaves and finds herself trapped in the driveway and hilarity ensues as she climbs a swinging gate in a most unfeminine manner. Then some rock music began rocking the soundtrack and stock footage of Milwaukee flooded the screen. My heart started to sink as I realized I was not sitting in a Woody Allen movie. Or Woody lost whatever final marbles he had left after his Soon-Yi affair. Then the crawl began and it was confirmed…we were watching Bridesmaids. Holy fuck. We ran out the theater but by this time the manager was running back with his handheld radio ordering the projectionist to correct the movie. He promised all 6 of us that the movie would begin immediately, without trailers. Yes please.

When I ran out the theater to complain, my anger level was rising and I was convinced the error was in the theater’s marquees…I never thought that the projectionist had simply played the wrong movie which is what turned out to be the case. I’m generally technologically savvy but I forgot that I’d recently learned that a lot of modern theaters have a central projection area which airs the movies digitally. Not the old-fashioned solitary projection booth where the projectionist airs the films from beginning to end. Midnight In Paris began as planned and all was well again.

I was a little ashamed to acknowledge that the entire fiasco had escaped my perception. I gave it a pass…I let it slide. At one point during the opening sequence, I noticed Relativity was listed as the studio which struck me as odd but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Nor did I bother to think about it. It wasn’t until the real movie began that I noticed the subdued music and hallmark Woody Allen font during the opening credits and the Sony logo. Yes, it all made sense now! This was the Woody Allen experience I knew so well but which failed to trigger recognition (or not) when watching the beginning of Bridesmaids which had no Woody Allen trademark imagery. Even the trailers were a sign. Instead I shrugged aside all the suspect data because I was told I was in the right place by the theater.

I recalled how I laughed at a couple of the lame Bridesmaids jokes as well, merely because I was deluded into thinking this was Woody Allen. What alarmed me most was the degree to which I had allowed myself to be tooled. I was a tool who expected a certain classification of movie and blindly accepted that’s what I was watching (thought it was obviously not, in retrospect) because the theater’s marquee had blindly and authoritatively established for me. This was not a contest, it was not a puzzle. It was a movie and I accepted what I was told, especially when I paid $12 for it. We tend to endow capability with that which is expensive. I was fed a lie and I laughed and happily accepted the lie because the context of the situation dictated that there was no reason anyone would lie to me. I distorted my doubts and lucid perceptions in order to manipulate the experience into that which I believed I was experiencing. Laughing at unfunny shit just because you like the writer who you thought wrote the joke is the ultimate definition of tool. If the opening credits never said “Bridesmaids,” I might have sat through the entire movie and convinced myself Woody Allen’s new venture was unusual and hilarious. I would have raved about smart appeal to the blue-collar, prole audiences, and his ability to reinvent his genius.

I would have thought it curious that he suddenly injected aggressive scenes of sexual intercourse into his movies.

Observe how readily I assuaged self-doubt because the context of the event was granted enormous levels of perceived accuracy and trust on my part, to the point of blind faith. This was a major theater chain. What they tell me is on the screen is what is on. No need to doubt that possibility. Niggling little annoying intuitions and signs were pushed aside and if I had slowed down and contemplated them and bothered to grant my suspicions an ounce of respect, I might have realized early on that this was not the movie I was promised.

We are at the mercy of context because we can never know enough to question the details. Back to my previous example. If the movie had aired completely without the title, I might have convinced myself this was Woody Allen because that is what I was told it is. A name and the quality we grant something is only as accurate as what we are fed. We suspend as much disbelief as is convenient. As we invest more of ourselves in this reality, it is convenient to accept and believe everything in it. Only when we are signaled (the title credit) do we feel compelled to complain. If we never have a clear indicator, we’ll sit through a whole movie we’ve been told is the movie we want to watch because the convenience of believing outweighs the inconvenience of doubting and actively seeking the truth.