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"A plethora of people have written about Woody Allen", John Lahr said

"and they either like him or dislike him. But no one has yet managed, I

think, to interpret him." Woody Allen has been revered as one of the

brilliant artists of the twentieth century and at the same time called

a pervert. His works have been called jokes but also masterpieces. Many

critics have tried to explain why Allen writes the things he writes but

not one has had success. The drive and brilliance of Allen has not

been understood yet. Seeing his movies gives us two opposing views. One

is the screwball comedian who is obsessed with death and sex while the

other is the serious artist commenting on and criticizing our society.

The latter view is more difficult to grasp but is nonetheless there.

Through different film techniques Allen mocks our society and film

industry without us even realizing. His most widely used technique to

do this is the film within a film. In movies such as The Purple Rose of

Cairo, Play It Again Sam and Hannah and Her Sisters Allen uses this

technique to show us his opinion on a particular subject, and also uses

it as a driving force behind his movies.The most notable use of film

within a film in Allen?s movies occurs in, The Purple Rose of Cairo.

The time is The Depression and the scene a small town. Cecilia (Mia

Farrow) is the central figure in the movie. She is married to an

abusive gambler and heavy drinker. To cope and escape her problems,

Cecilia constantly goes to a nearby movie theater called The Jewel.

There she spends hours on end watching movies, sometimes the same one

more than three times. When she gets fired one day from her job, she

goes to The Jewel and watches a movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo

"at least five times" (Blake 117). On her fifth time watching the

movie, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) jumps out from the movie and enters

the theater telling Cecilia that he has noted her faithful presence and

is attracted to her. As they leave the theater together, the actors in

the movie aimlessly wonder around bewildered by what had just

transpired. Deeply concerned is the real life actor of Tom Baxter, Gil

Shephard because this misfortune could "wreck his blossoming

career"(Kauffmann 37). To add to the trouble, other cities have

reported that the Baxter character has stepped out of The Purple Rose

of Cairo in various theaters and has disappeared. Why would Woody Allen

create such a unrealistic movie critics called "the most innovative

single film during his period of startling originality"? (Blake 116)

Well, in his own words he wanted to show, "the difference between

fantasy and reality and how seductive fantasy is and how,

unfortunately, we must live with reality, and how painful that can be"

(Girgus 70). In making The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen wanted to show

us the way film influences our opinion of real life experiences. This

is portrayed through one of Allen?s major themes: "the sovereignty of

fantasy even in the humblest". (Kauffmann 38). Cecilia?s desire and

imagination are so strong that they penetrate the boundary of fantasy

and reality to withdraw Tom Baxter from his cinematic world into our

real one. "Like a modern-day Pinocchio, Tom is brought to life by the

loneliness and suffering of another" (Lee 178). Her imagination is so

strong that when Baxter comes out from the screen, he comes out

complete, affecting everyone. He doesn?t come out as some ghost leaving

his shell on the screen. Nor can only Cecilia hear or see him. More,

her fantasy affects the lives of other people including the audience,

the manager, the producer and the original actor of the film role. Even

more than fantasy, Allen focuses on the power of movies to create an

escape from the real world. It is no wonder Allen picked one of the

hardest times to live in American history as a setting to the movie.

The power of movies, Allen is saying, is so powerful that it can

obliterate the pain associated with something as distressing as The

Great Depression, even if only temporarily. As a child, Allen would cut

school and spend hours in the movie house lost in the magical world of

movies. ?I lived in Brooklyn, and on these hot, hazy summer days when

it was humid andy you couldn?t move and nobody had anything to do,

there were thousands of movie houses around, and you could walk in for

25 cents. Suddenly it was cool and air-conditioned and dark, and there

was candy and popcorn. You could sit down and there would be two

features. And you would see pirates and you would be on the sea. And

then you would be in a penthouse in Manhattan with beautiful people.

The next day you?d go to another movie house, and you?d be in a battle

with the Nazis and in the second feature you?d be together with the

Marx Brothers. It was just a total, total joy! The greatest kind of

tranquilizer and embalmment you could think of. (Bjorkman 149) Cecilia

parallels this in The Purple Rose of Cairo. We constantly see her

trying to find an extra minute to sneak into the theater. At work, she

is screamed at by the customers and her boss because she is either

daydreaming or fantasizing about movies with her sister . We get the

sense that work is an impediment to her movie going. "She is an addict

using Hollywood as a substitute for her miserable life" (Girgus 75). At

the theater, Cecilia thoroughly concentrates on the task at hand, the

movie. Mesmerized by the movie, only the motion of her hand from her

popcorn basket to her mouth gives us evidence that she is still alive.

The movie theater is a sanctuary for her not only because it?s an

escape but also because it gives her hope (Bjorkman 51). When Cecilia

sat at the movies, she did not consider what happens to be fictional.

On the contrary, she considered movies as the life of other people,

luckier people, people that live far from her poor hometown in New

Jersey. This nativity explains her decision at the end by choosing Gil

Sheperd over Tom Baxter. By picking reality over fiction, she expected

to live with a man in reality, though a fictional life. This new choice

brings up another theme in The Purple Rose of Cairo, fiction versus

reality. Not only does this theme require that the two mediums coexist

but also that they oppose and contest each other. Cecilia wants to live

in the fantasy world while Tom wants to come to the real world. When

Tom Baxter comes off the screen, he acts with the same personality as

he does in the movie. This makes Tom a nave, childlike character. In a

scene when Gil Shepard confronts Tom, Tom expresses his opinion about

realism. "I don?t want to be in film anymore, I love Cecilia". When

Cecilia reciprocates Tom?s feelings, Gil responds to Cecilia, "How can

you love him, he?s not real." "I can learn to be real", Tom says,

defending himself. "You can?t learn to be real", Gil Shepard says,

"like you can?t learn to be a midget. Some of us are real, some are

not." Like Tom, Cecilia dreams of being on the other side of the

screen. At one point, Tom decides to take her on a date into the movie

with him. "The first words that come out of her mouth as she enters the

screen are, "I feel like I?m walking on fluffy air." The plot of the

inner movie resumes, temporarily, with Cecilia now a part of it. But

shortly after Cecilia enters, Tom decides to forget about the plot and

take her for a night on the town. At the end of the night, while

they?re at Tom?s apartment, Gil shows up at The Jewel. Cecilia exits

the movie world to join Gil while Tom follows her. Gil proclaims

something new to Cecilia: he has fallen in love with her. Now Cecilia

is confused. A week ago, she led a loveless life but now, two men love

her, "and they?re both the same person" (Cecilia, The Purple Rose of

Cairo). Everyone, including the movie cast, agree that Cecilia must

choose either Gil or Tom. Tom says, "I?m honest, dependable,

courageous, romantic and a great kisser." Gil simply responds, "Yeah,

but I?m real." Cecilia sides with the latter. She now understands that

she does not belong in the movie world just as Tom does not belong in

the real one. She comforts Tom by saying, "In your world, things have a

way of working out right." At those words, Tom sadly stumbles into the

movie while Cecilia goes packing for Hollywood. On her return, she

finds that Gil left without her. Betrayed, she goes back to her abusive

life and relationship. The final betrayal is Woody?s comment on his

view of reality. I think what it boils down to, really, is that I hate

reality. And, you know, unfortunately it?s the only place where we can

get a good steak dinner. It?s very seductive, fantasy, but we can?t

live there permanently. (Bjorkman 50) The last and most intriguing

point that Allen wants us to grasp is hard to detect and yet the whole

movie is based on it. It is the mystical fact that an actor?s

performance in a film, with his personality and voice, has a life

completely independent of the actor?s own personality and voice that

gave it being (Kauffmann 38). This is true with no other art except TV,

which is basically film itself. The idea of a character rebelling

against and threatening his creator, who is himself identical in every

physical way, is more appalling than any other science fiction story of

look alike humanoids because the mystery is part of our lives and

around us everyday. The first sign of an actor having a distinct

personality is when Tom Baxter talks to Cecilia. Seeing the movie five

times, Cecilia know what the order of events should be. That is why she

is completely surprised when Tom looks up from the screen and looks at

her. "My god, you must really like this picture. You?ve been here all

day and I?ve seen you here at least twice before. This is the fifth

time you?re seeing this movie." At this moment, we realize that Tom has

watched Cecilia throughout his performances and this fact is later

reassured to us when Tom tells Cecilia he has observed her from the

corner of his eye. During the next scene, Tom complains to Cecilia that

he is hungry and in response, Cecilia give him a bag of popcorn. "So

that?s what popcorn tastes like", says Tom. "I?ve been watching people

eat it for all those performances. They rattle those bags. That really

annoys me." This is a very important quote for it tells us that not

only can Tom see the audience, he can also hear them. Even though Tom

is the first one to show his personality, he?s not the only one. The

other characters in the movie also come to life although they can?t

escape their world. When Tom leaves the screen, the characters are left

to bicker and fight. They develop individual personalities and carry on

conversation with the audience. More, when Cecilia enters the movie and

goes to dinner with Tom and his friends, the Maitre De and the woman

Tom is supposed to marry recognize that Cecilia is not in the plot.

When Tom takes Cecilia out on the town and announces to the other

characters that they don?t have to follow the plot anymore, the Maitre

De yells for the band to "hit it" and starts tap dancing across the

floor. He explains that it has always been his ambition to dance and

not to wait on people. This ambition certainly demonstrates that the

Maitre De has a very unique personality that is different from the

character he portrays. The greatest testament to this final theme

occurs in a scene where the movie manager is talking to the characters

onscreen. As the characters on the screen start fighting about who has

a more important role, someone in the audience suggest to the manager

that he just turn the projector off. A wild look crosses the

character?s faces. One remarks, "No, don?t turn the projector off. It

gets black and we disappear? You don?t understand what it?s like to

disappear, to be nothing, to be annihilated. Don?t turn the projector

off." Here, Woody is equating fictional figures with one of life?s

ultimate events, death. Of course if the characters were totally

fictional, as we first thought of them to be, they would be in a sense

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