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The Missing Allen Wrench
by Jan Sand
2008-02-19 09:35:59
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Cassandra's Dream
Directed by Woody Allen
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2008

I've been in love with reading and playing with words since I was about five-years-old when I stopped puzzling out what was written on outdoor billboards and Burma Shave signs and got hooked by Dr. Seuss and other very clever fellows. H. Allen Smith and Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman sucked me in later as I matured and funny writing has always been my favorite theme. The world, after all is said, is basically so absurd that it makes fine meat for the comedic appetite.

And Woody Allen was right at the top in this listing. His early funny movies were funny, not because they had stupid people doing stupid things like the Jerry Lewis and The Three Stooges productions but because there is a persistent capability of the world in general and social norms in particular to ingeniously frustrate all original attempts of an enterprising individual to work the system. This can be tragic, but, as has been repeatedly noted, the line between tragedy and comedy is merely a fragile point of view. Since those early films Allen has done both comedy and tragedy and, frankly, although some of his "straight" films have been worth watching I tend to prefer his comedy as he has a tremendously sharp and penetrating wit and a view of life that deliciously punctures the preposterously inflated idiocies of modern life.

Anybody who is intent on seeing the latest Allen film Cassandra's Dream should stop reading this right here as I would like to explain why I think it fails and I have to go into the plot to do so. My prejudiced love of comedy may have some influence here but it seems to me that there are other more basic faults with the film.

The story takes place in London. Two young men, brothers, are living lower middle class lives. One is a blue collar worker with a taste for gambling and the other is white collar guy with ambitions in real estate. As the film opens they are managing. The gambler has a run of good luck which seduces him into a card game where he ends up owing a loan shark much more than he can pay. The white collar brother sees life passing him by if he cannot invest in a promising development.

Suddenly they see hope that their problems may be solvable by a friend of the family, a wealthy American that comes for a visit. He has helped out the family before and the brothers ask him to help now. He agrees to do so on one condition. A former business associate of the American is preparing to testify in court that will destroy the American's life. He has apparently been involved in some underhanded deals and in exchange for giving the brothers funds for getting themselves out of their money troubles they must kill the man who will testify against him.

The brothers who have the standard social decencies embedded in their personalities are, at first, shocked by the request but their immanent personal troubles press them too hard and their sense of what is right soon crumbles under the pressure. By chance they encounter their victim before their plan goes into action and he turns out to be a rather ordinary non-entity of no outstanding personal character. Although this meeting is disturbing to the brothers they press ahead and get on with their project. Their first attempt is frustrated by circumstance which, to my mind, is Woody Allen's comic talent struggling to get out but he manages to suppress it and the deed is finally accomplished successfully and with no evidence to incriminate the two.

This is where a deus ex machina pops into the plot seemingly out of Allen's concept that within each of us is an inexorable inextinguishable morality that will always frustrate evil deeds. There was little if any of this preceding the murder aside from the initial reluctance of the brothers when the idea was presented to them so its emergence as a powerful force afterwards when the deed was successfully accomplished seems to me quite artificial and highly self destructive.

The blue collar brother is suddenly possessed of an explosion of conscience that threatens to expose the crime and the more logical white collar brother becomes somewhat panicked over the possibilities. The story ends in total tragedy for the two.

A couple of weeks ago I listened to a radio interview of Woody Allen about the film and he characterized the story as a classical Greek tragedy which seems to me to be off base. A Greek tragedy concerns a bad decision which leads to inevitable consequences. This seems closer to Shakespeare's Macbeth who suffers the consequence of a flawed character.

But the essential lack in the story is the paucity of depth of the central characters and the lack of appreciation of the victim of crime. The victim appears and disappears with very little fluster, merely an animated prop. The two brothers are decent ordinary people who get into a squeeze and flub getting out of it.

Hannah Arendt, in her examination of Eichmann made a noteworthy observation. He went to work, exterminated Jews, and went home to his wife where he probably had a beer before he had dinner and, like any other working man went to bed and slept well. There was nothing obviously monstrous about him.

Perhaps this was what Allen was after but the wrench of the psyche evoked by horror and heart felt tragedy never appeared. At least in me.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-02-19 13:01:14
The key to understanding “Cassandra's Dream" may be in its title which is inspired by Greek mythology; namely the tragedy of seeing the future and being unable or incapable of changing it.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-19 13:06:54
Or it could be found in Aristotle's Poetics:

“A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language with pleasure accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions…there are three forms of Plot to be avoided. (1) A good man must not be seen passing from happiness to misery, or (2) a bad man from misery to happiness. The first situation is not fear-inspiring or piteous, but simply odious to us. The second is the most untragic that can be; it has not one of the requisites of Tragedy; it does not appeal either to the human feeling in us, or to our pity, or to our fears. Nor, on the other hand, should (3) and extremely bad man be seen falling from happiness into misery. Such a story may arouse the human feeling in us, but it will not move us to either pity of fear; pity is occasioned by undeserved misfortune, and fear by that of one like ourselves; so that there will be nothing either piteous or fear-inspiring in the situation. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-19 13:08:12
There remains, then, the intermediate kind of personage, a man not pre-eminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is brought upon him not by vice and depravity but by some error of judgment, of the number of those in the enjoyment of great reputation and prosperity; e.g., Oedipus, Thyestes, and the men of not of similar families. The perfect Plot accordingly, must have a singe, and not (as some tell us) a double issue; the change in the hero’s fortunes must be not from misery to happiness, but on the contrary from happiness to misery; and the cause of it must lie not in any depravity, but in some great error n his part; the man himself being either such as we have described , or better, not worse, than that.

The tragic fear and pity may be aroused by the Spectacle, but they may also be aroused by the very structure and incidents of the play—which is the better way and shows the better poet. The Plot in fact should be so framed that, even without seeing the things take place, he who simply hears the account of them shall be filled with horror and pity at the incidents; which is jus the effect that the mere recital of the story in Oedipus would have on one…Those who make use of the Spectacle to put before us that which is merely monstrous and not productive of fear, are wholly out of touch with Tragedy; not every kind of pleasure should be required of a tragedy, but only its own proper pleasure.

The tragic pleasure is that of pity and fear, and the poet has to produce it by a work of imitation; it is clear, therefore, that the causes should be included in the incidents of his story."
--Aristotle: The Poetics

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-19 13:12:12
Or perhaps in Plato's Apology (paraphresing):

The issue gentlemen is not whether I live or die,we all die, but corruption which runs faster than death, and once it has caught up with you, it may be leary of letting you go from its grip.

Sand2008-02-19 13:54:31
Lectures on ancient generalities aside, the film didn't make it with me.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-19 18:46:52
Fortunately those so called “ancient generalities” of Aristotle’s Poetics have not been consigned to the bonfire yet, as those who peddle current generalities might prefer, and are still in all respectable libraries and studied in the best Drama schools in the world. Undoubtedly Woody Allen is aware of them.

Sand2008-02-19 19:14:57
Since you seem so positive that Woody Allen is well versed in your dusty experts how could he possibly have produced such an inferior product? Unless their principles are somehow faulty - or are you merely pontificating as usual without having seen the film?

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-19 19:33:39

The above link will help you umburden yourself of your ignorance on Woody Allen knowledged of Aristostle's Poetics, those "dusy experts" you'd not think twice in consigning to the bonfire. The title: Woody Allen as a Greek. It ends thus:

"If only Woody Allen was alive in the time of the ancient Greeks the Greek chorus and Greek plays in general would be much better. Mighty Aphrodite added several aspects to the chorus, it added comedic relief from the chorus, more interaction with the main character, and a song where the chorus could be individualized. The movie also displayed how the Greek chorus has been transformed into the singing body that it is today. Woody Allen displays his knowledge of the Greek chorus and his visions of what he would like it to have been. Maybe there is a place for the Greek chorus in modern cinematography. One might even compare Woody Allen's' Mighty Aphrodite to Aristotle's Poetics as they both can be seen as guidelines for Greek drama, both ancient and modern."

(C) 1995 Franco's Writings

Sand2008-02-19 19:43:14
Throwing in a fat quote with no relevance to my question does nothing to answer my query. Are you trying to hide your ignorance of the actual film under a mass of words that does not explain why the film does not work? Or are you, in your standard ploy, merely trying to turn attention away from your ignorance of the film under discussion?

Emanuel L. Paparella2008-02-20 18:18:58
Your answer would have been answered a long time ago and the missing Allen rench would have been found too, if you had taken the trouble to as much as glance and attempt to understand that excerpt from Aristotle's Poetics.

Sand2008-02-20 18:53:44
Since you are familiar with how Woody Allen misinterpreted Aristotle and evidently have seen the movie so you are well aware of all the factors involving the rench or stench or bench or clench or quench or trench or wench or perhaps even wrench it should be no trouble at all to tell me the big secret instead of sending me off on a wild goose chase through antique literature. But I know you are fond of obscure games. I suggest you be direct or go play with yourself.

Sand2008-02-21 06:33:41
What is most characteristic about you, Paparella, is your robotic reaction mechanism which makes you most decidedly more like Google than a live thinking human being. Amusingly you have fabricated an automatic standard response vociferatingly denying you are a robot or, as the term I have donated to your standard vocabulary and which you unceasingly deny, a humbot. Nevertheless the repetitive standard responses my posts elicit from you are characteristically robotic.

When I request a clear simple answer to a question your mechanism is unable to reply with a simple direct response assembled through consideration of my proposal so you dig into your armory of standard references. Mostly based on an antiquated and preferably Italian database and regurgitate an aphorism or a paragraph or two of some so-called absolute authority that most frequently has little or no relationship to the question at hand. And it is absolutely forbidden to question these authorities since any doubts proposed are immediately (and irrelevantly) characterized by and smeared with Nazi book burning which seems to be your ultimate epithet. This ploy is, of course, meant to arouse emotional camouflage to disguise your inability to exhibit independent thought and reason, a typical robotic characteristic. As in this specific discussion, when you are asked to explain all the attempts to divert direct discussion you try to send someone off into the jungle of massive vaguely relevant literature instead of specifically citing just those points which might carry the discussion forward. Because you are not, obviously, desirous of carrying the discussion forward. Your whole motivation is not clarification but pontifical obfuscation to muddle the whole discussion with obscure and supposedly learned references and divert the basic points to exhibit your familiarity with your data base.

You have, unfortunately, failed the Turing test.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-21 09:22:27
May I assume that the voices in your head or perhaps the FSM have advised you to duly consign Aristotle's Poetics to the bonfire? No surprises there! You ought to familiarize yourself with some of the monsters exhibited in Dante's Inferno. I assure you, they make the FSM of your church of the FSM look like a cuddling darling in comparison, meatballs and all. That is, if you have not consigned Dante too to the bonfire.

Sand2008-02-21 09:39:05
Right on schedule you ignite your favorite image of Nazi book burning to evoke a false implication that I would destroy whatever value Aristotle could contribute to civilization by merely questioning whether Woody Allen was attentive to what Aristotle may have proposed. Typical rabble rouser tactics to cover that you had nothing worthwhile to directly contribute to the conversation nor feel obligated to make specific points to the film under discussion which I suspect you have not even seen. And, of course, I am expected to grovel before the mere mention of Aristotle which you whip out from your monstrous pile of moldering authorities as an icon of irrefutable intellect.

Your incessant insistence that I am somehow a worshiper of an idiotically amusing god again re-enforces your adherence to the concept that a mind cannot exist without some sort of abeyance to a theological monster since you seem to be irretrievable constituted in that manner.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-21 09:56:56
Is that you or the voices ranting? Perhaps the better question may be: "is the self still home?"

Sand2008-02-21 10:03:26
That question from a robotically driven program is uniquely and simultaneously comic and tragic.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-21 10:08:29

P.S. By the way if the voices have told you otherwise don't you believe them, in fact the "idiotic amusing god" that you now renounce to worship was enthusiastically propagandized as a sort of masterpiece in this very magazine by none other than yourself, even if it was culled from the church of the FSM and heretically misinterpreted his "meatballs." See above link, should memory not help any longer...

Sand2008-02-21 10:14:44
Again a total misrepresentation of the article, a habit of your program that, to say the least, if not particularly clever, is consistent.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-21 15:01:00
That is why the link was included, so that readers watiching the Punch and Judy show can make up their mind about the honesty or deviousness of the intellectual tricks being employed. A well known and habit of rationalists, even the old farts among them, when challenged with irony is to respond by pretending to be five year olds once more with no grasp of irony taking everything literally. Most people older than five can see through that. Those with a similiar frame of mind will of course offer high-fives.

Sand2008-02-21 16:33:29
Even that much blather doesn't smother a lie.

Sand2008-02-22 07:40:59
What is particularly peculiar about Paparella's unjustified attacks on me is his total unresponsiveness to my repeated declaration of not having any religious beliefs. Once his one dimensional mind seizes upon a concept, false from the beginning, it never lets go even in the light of absolute evidence to the contrary. It does confirm his rigid petrified state of mind which is so characteristic of robotic behavior.

But what is equally interesting is his continual reference to "voices in my head" which I thereby assume indicates he is denied the capability of internally analyzing and discussing concepts. This is a severe lack in any human mind and, in effect, makes him an intellectual cripple. If he therefore does not possess the capability of internal discussion he really does deserve great pity and it reveals to a great extent why he is so subservient to huge stores of aphorisms and quotations which seems to be the main constituent of his communications.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-22 17:24:37

If you take the trouble to reflect on the above with an open rather than dogmatic petrified mind you may begin to realize that you missed the point about "the voices" the FSM, the shadow and the naked emperor.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-22 17:29:53
P.S. I suppose the therapeutic philosophy of victimhood is so pervasive nowadays that it is accepted as normal. Pity.

Sand2008-02-22 17:33:29
The voices and the Flying Spaghetti Monster were perfectly clear and if you are so totally befuddled as to not being able make it any clearer, I have to mark it up to your incompetent writing The shadow and the naked emperor seem to be total figments of your deluded imagination insofar as this discussion is concerned.

Sand2008-02-22 18:07:39
That your pathetic idiotic comments could persuade me to be a victim is one of the funnier ideas that you inflate yourself with.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-23 05:10:52
It has always been perfectly clear what your hidden agenda is. It is certainly not that of discussing issues and ideas, if it were there would be no need to descend to food fights and slander. And as Shaw as quoted by yourself said: the pig loves it... I suppose it is part of its nature.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-23 06:04:40
This week's column section of Global Spriral has a column by a fellow column writer, Jeremy Sherman, whose title is The Other Golden Rule. Here is an apt excerp (the end of the column):

"just read Mistakes Were Made: But Not by Me, a new book about the ways we all naturally hold double standards, cutting ourselves far more slack than we cut for others. The book attributes this tendency primarily to a universal human need to reduce cognitive dissonance. You invest in some activity that doesn’t go right. You’re confronted with your failure. You can’t stand the dissonance between the hope you had for that activity and disappointment of its failure, so you side with hope, denying that you made a mistake.

We don’t experience cognitive dissonance about other people’s mistakes, so we blame them far more readily. We can be scathingly exacting in our criticism of others while granting ourselves all sorts of immunities.

A useful counterbalance to the Golden Rule, then, would be one that countervails against our tendency to do unto ourselves differently from what we do unto others. Instead of just fantasizing about the special treatment we would have others do unto us and then trying unsuccessfully to give them the same royal treatment, we should look at what we really do to other people, and mete out to ourselves the same in return—no special treatment at all."

This excerpt may perhaps motivate some in this forum to read the whole column.

Sand2008-02-23 07:00:08
If you consider my agenda hidden it is only because your perceptive capabilities are so withered as to be unable to perceive the obvious. Let me reveal what you consider hidden. I intensely dislike fakery disguised by authority to promote adherence to ignorant malevolent beliefs. It is a technique beloved by scoundrels and incompetent individuals preoccupied with their overinflated estimation of themselves. You fit very snugly into that class and my quite obvious agenda is to indicate where your lies conflict with reality.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-24 20:24:39
The first sign of a cultural philistine is indeed his belief that an argumentum ad hominem is the equivalent of an intelligent solution to a thorny issue. Since you have exhibited that trait from the very beginning of my writing in this forum, it would appear that you too fit rather smugly in that category. Of course you would not agree, you are too full of yourself to understand that simple syllogism.

Sand2008-02-26 19:03:29
You are consistent in never engaging me directly but merely issue general statements about some peculiar class of individuals and expect me to accept that I am a member of that disreputable class. There is no question that you place yourself on an exalted pedestal and gaze with contempt on anyone with the temerity to question your twisted facts and cloud cuckoo land view of reality. You are so thoroughly constipated with dessicated ancient nonsense that there is no way I can discuss your proposals on any reasonable level. When I present a solid accepted fact that contradicts what you say you immediately start squealing about cultural philistines and bonfires of literature or anything else that would divert the discussion from the issues and then pompously remark about standing on the shoulders of giants. The metaphor originated with Bernard of Chartres and was appropriately used by Isaac Newton who had the vision of a genius. But when a cockroach stands on the shoulder of a giant it merely sees what a cockroach can see and that is a reasonable evaluation of your status. But I doubt you can follow that syllogism.

Emanuel Paparella2008-02-29 06:42:31
Can you hear the gods laughing? They may well turn out to be the same voices in your head who urge you to bash and to slander. Stop listening to them; they are up to no good.

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