Archive for the ‘film’ Category

The history of unemployment

January 20, 2016


My cell phone rant

January 25, 2011


I watched Woody Allen’s Manhattan again the other night.  I’ve watched my favorite Woody Allen movies so often that I can, and do, recite passages of dialogue, an attribute that categorizes me as the least desirable movie companion unless you too have memorized dialogue.

Although Annie Hall is my favorite, Manhattan is the more completely realized of the two.  In Annie Hall, Allen’s misogyny is undercut by Diane Keaton’s sweetly daffy portrayal.  What she does with what was probably a really nasty portrait of an ex-girlfriend proves that she really can be a great actress.  But she can’t break out of Allen’s grip in Manhattan.  Like the woman she plays in the movie squeezed between two men, Keaton has nowhere else to go other than the path Allen has drawn for her – a tightly wrapped intellectual even more neurotic and unsympathetic than Allen’s character Isaac.  Only Mariel Hemingway gets a break.  In the first film where Allen’s creepy liaisons with women young enough to be his daughter receives mention, Hemingway is lighted so lovingly that it makes an aging woman like me (who back in the day used to be mistaken for Hemingway) continue to envy her.

Because I’ve been thinking about technology of late, a shot maybe halfway through the film with a long line of public telephone stands caught my attention.  As someone who refuses to get a cell phone,  I could measure how far we’ve traveled from the end of the 1970s to today, when public telephones are practically extinct.  But the shot isn’t merely atmospheric:  telephone conversations are integral to the entire movie.  You begin to see how the characters are calling each other, talking to each other, but aren’t connecting.  The scene where Diane is talking to her analyst, dealing with her married lover and trying to quiet her hyperactive dog Waffles is hilarious.

The shot also sets up the ending, which is entirely dependent on the technology of the late 70s.  When Woody Allen’s  Isaac dials Mariel Hemingway’s character on the phone, there’s a strange beeping which it took a few seconds for me to recognize. How long has it been since you heard a busy signal?   Because he can’t reach her, either from his apartment or the phone booths along the way, he runs across town to talk in person.  “You have to have a little faith in people,” she tells him before she flies off to London, to which Isaac, disappointed by his best friend, his former lover, and maybe even himself, responds with a tentative but definite smile.

Today lovers phone each other’s cells, text, e-mail, facebook, what-have-you, the minute they’ve separated.  Because we’re so technologically over-connected, it obscures even further the question of whether we’re truly communicating. Now’s my chance to relate my cell phone story.  In the late 1980s, I went on a date with a man employed at Motorola.  As men will do, he tried to impress me by talking about how Motorola was in the process of perfecting the technology to allow not merely portable phones but mobile ones.  I was not impressed.  “Who wants to talk more on the telephone?” I asked.  “No one has anything interesting to say as it is.”

Okay, avoid my advice when it comes to tech stock decisions.  But I think my point is still valid.  None of these new ways to connect have improved our ability to know ourselves, speak from our hearts, and listen to others.  For that to happen, only hard work and a little faith will suffice.