Movies in Frames: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Crimes and Misdemeanors is easily one of Woody Allen‘s finest achievements.  I’ll go further and say that I think it is his finest film.  I recently viewed every single one of his films again, a task which was truly mammoth considering his famously prolific output.  The journey though his work yielded some fascinating insights.  I am now convinced that Crimes and Misdemeanors possesses something truly special.  It is a paragon of  the powerful capability of and marvelous flexibility of the cinema.  It contains the full gamut of human emotions.  As a viewer you experience joy, anger, despair, fear, horror, hope, sadness, wonder and a little anxiety.  All this and the film is hilarious to boot.  The film gracefully oscillates between the two seemingly unrelated but equally captivating plot lines and leads us to an unexpected conclusion that showcases Woody Allen’s peerless artistic integrity and refusal to follow Hollywood conventions.

So what do I think puts this film above Manhattan, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Stardust Memories and Match Point?  Intellectual explanations won’t really help illuminate the reasons.  All I can be sure of is that the film feels truly satisfying and complete, almost perfect.  A feat for a film that by traditional writing standards avoids conclusion and resolution altogether and instead forces us to examine the inescapable realities of the world we live in.   Crimes and Misdemeanors shows us that chaos is the default state of the universe.  The film shows that good intentions mean nothing, that love is not fair nor true and that the only punishment is the one inflicted upon ourselves by the god of our choosing.

What I have attempted to illustrate in my Movies in Frames piece is how Woody Allen masterfully fuses Judah and Cliff’s stories together using films.  This simple device serves to show us Cliff’s warm relationship with his niece and to offer counterpoint and comment to Judah’s murder thread.  He visually reminds us of how Hollywood has traditionally dealt with murder and its consequences.  He successfully uses 80 years of Hollywood conventions against us because even after showing us that murder is a much more complex beast than we thought, we still expect Judah to be duly punished for his ‘crimes’.

I can’t wait to see the film again.  I leave you with the great Alan Alda!

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