July 29, 2006

What the new Woody Allen movie "Scoop" is really about.

The new Woody Allen movie "Scoop" -- which I saw last night -- is ostensibly about a beautiful college girl who fancies herself a reporter and sleeps with men as an investigative reporting technique. She's trying to get the scoop. We see her using this technique -- ineffectively -- in a short scene in the beginning of the movie. Then, after she gets a tip from a ghost that a certain aristocrat is a serial murderer, she applies this technique to him. Scarlett Johansson plays the woman, AKA Sondra Pransky, AKA Jade Julliard Spence. Hugh Jackman is the aristocrat, Peter Lydon. And Woody Allen plays a catalytic role as a corny old magician named Splendini, who unwittingly puts Scarlett in touch with the ghost when he pulls her out of the audience to participate in a trick. She, in turn, pulls him out of his stale magician life to investigate the serial murder with her. Along the way, she tells the aristocrats he's her father, and he plays along, becoming more involved in the investigation as she drifts into love with Peter Lydon.

Okay, that's all very well. There were some jokes that made me laugh out loud. For some reason, I thought it was hilarious when Splendini was posing as a reporter, and his interviewee asked him what paper he was from, and -- after some stuttering -- he said, "The Washington Post," and then babbled about "All the President's Men" and said that he was "the little guy."

Seeing the story this way, it seems good enough, but likely to be dismissed as fluff.

But this is not what the movie is about!

First, if you're inclined to think it's one of Allen's throwaway flicks, a light variation on the dark "Matchpoint," which also starred Johansson, you might point to the silliness of starting off the story by having a ghost giving the main character a tip about a murder. But that's no mark of frivolity. That's an allusion to "Hamlet." That's a tip for you to concentrate on the psycho-sexual details of the story.

The movie teems with sexual imagery -- and I don't just mean the frequent tableaux of a man in a boat. There is also the woman in a box -- the magician's box -- where the man -- Splendini -- "excites her molecules" -- as he puts it, more than once, during a trick where she's supposed to disappear (and where she is stunned to encounter a man who tells her something shocking). There is the locked music room, which you have to go downstairs to reach and find next to a wine rack that consists of phallic bottles stuck in holes.

You need to know the secret code to get into the room. Peter Lydon -- Peter Lie Down -- takes the woman into the room when he is trying to seduce her. The instruments all symbolize genitalia -- oboes and clarinets for the male and plenty of lutes and violins and French horns for the female. Lydon shows Sondra a Stradivarius and tells her it needs to be played. Remember her invented middle name is Juilliard.

Later, Splendini gets into the music room with Sondra, and he picks up the French horn and holds it with the fingers of one hand inside the bell and says he knows a filthy joke about how the French horn player slept with his wife. We never hear the joke, so we're forced to speculate on our own about the way the horn is like a woman's body and the position of the man's hand. Later, important clues are found hidden under the bell of that French horn.

Now, Lydon gets the girl, and he also easily knows the code to get into the music room. Splendini is denied access to her. Woody Allen displays himself as miserably old, shrunken away from any sexual vibrancy. And Sondra has designated him as her father -- giving the character the message that he can't ever be considered. And Woody Allen further humbles himself before us, because we know of his real-life humiliation as a man who had sex with a woman for whom he served as a father. Splendini's wretched age shows itself as he cannot remember the code to get into the room. The code is a series of three two-digit numbers (even though the lock is a keypad, not a combination lock), and the three numbers really seem like the ages of young women he cannot have, something like 16, 21, 23.

So I think this is Woody's elaborate meditation about sex, specifically about an old man's exclusion from sex. The scoop, which Splendini can't get, is the woman's vagina. (Dictionary definition of "scoop": "7. A hollow area; a cavity.") There are many more things I could talk about here, but I don't want to spoil the ending and I've gone on too long already.


Gahrie said...

Geez...Sounds like I'll give this one a pass. I miss the days of "Bananas" and "Sleeper".

Dave said...

Scoop is a woman's vagina?



Let me check out how much action that gets me.

"Hi, I want to see your scoop."

(Though, I suppose, "Hi I want to see your vagina" isn't likely to be too successful either...)

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: Be more subtle. You could say "Hey, what's the scoop?" Or "I'm looking for the scoop."

Jake said...

Woody Allen is a sick old man. He is playing out his sexual fantasies on screen. He used to get women to sleep with him for parts in his movies. But he has become too creepy for even that to work.

He is an embarrassment to his prior work.

Dave said...

"Dave: Be more subtle."

Reminds me of a conversation I had with an inebriated Brit in a bar recently, after he was rebuffed by a woman.

He yelled after her, "See you next Tuesday" to which I responded, "huh?"

He said to me: "be subtle."

Not till the next day did I figure it out.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Holy cow! Usually I think this kind of stuff is baloney but I think you're on to something. And I think I'll try the scoop line.

The question is, does Woody even know what it's about? Everything I've read about him indicates that he's the kind of genius who can write a script in an afternoon, no mistakes, no re-writes, it's all there, perfect. He doesn't really think about it. It just happens.

Oscar Madison said...

Fabulous review -- except I've stopped reading it, because now I want to see the movie, and then finish your post.

SippicanCottage said...
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garrison said...

Hmm. Perhaps Woody is just regurgitating some Freudean theory that he picked up along the way. He always stuck me as an ambitious autodydact who has skimmed a lot of great ideas and thrown them back at us on the screen. So why not Herr Doctor Freud?
Motivations are so hard to pick out. Maybe it was brought home to him that Scarlett Johnasson was out of reach (so to speak) and it inspired him. Wouldn't it be weird if it was all subconscious behavior on his part. From what I understand he has complete creative control over his projects. Who would tell Woody that he had written a lamentation to lost male potency? Who will tell Hugh Hefner that he really has seduced all those 20 somethings.

Conserve_Liberty said...

What part of Woody Allen's life and works isn't an elaborate meditation about sex?

Ron said...

Sippican -- I think it's worse for the LackofWoodman; He can hire The Scoop and the Chest that goes with it-- but just to act! Photo ops and public flirting can only go so far...


Vermont Neighbor said...

The scoop. What else could Woody mean! Hey, just his name alone is another scoop. ( a woody 'all in' )

Intriguing review. I enjoy many of his best films, and his later works are always worth a peek and a ticket just to see if he can revisit the celluloid heavens.

Scarlett Johansen is his current muse and to put it mildy, she's no Diane Keaton. But a plot without space aliens and serialized adventures, well I say, Why not Woody!

Thanks for that review, Ann.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

Sippican, yes I agree with you, but fear the acres of dead trees that film school grad students will waste on Tippy Hedren-Scarlett Johannson comparisons.
("Why A Duck?: The sublimation of the Id in the Allen-Johannson 2009 remake of 'The Birds'")

(no offense to Tippy Hedren, but Johannson! Whew!)

Dawn said...

Woody lost me after "Hannah and Her Sisters". That and the seducation of his step-daughter I find just unforgiveable.

But "Manhattan" is still one of my favorite movies. And yeah, I know, it's likely autobiographical.

Oscar Madison said...

I've seen the movie now. Boy, you give him a lot of credit. Then again, you're probably right about all or most of the symbolism. My problem with it is that most of the symbolism takes the story nowhere -- why does the story need a music room? It just sits there being symbolic. This is vintage pretentious Woody Allen: freshman creative writing for the script and film-schoolishly clunky for everything else.

By the way, a couple of corrections, though they're perfectly consistant with your analysis. It's "Peter Lyman" and the combination was even ickier if you think of it as ages of females: 16-21-12,

Ann Althouse said...

Oscar: "My problem with it is that most of the symbolism takes the story nowhere -- why does the story need a music room?"

Yeah, true. And how about the tarot cards? They were nothing at all. We never even saw a tarot card.

"By the way, a couple of corrections, though they're perfectly consistant with your analysis. It's "Peter Lyman""...

Whoops. Yeah, well, he's a man and he's lying.

"...and the combination was even ickier if you think of it as ages of females: 16-21-12..."

Ah! The scumbag!