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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Woodman in the Raw. Great Stuff. A bit strong., May 17, 2005
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This review is from: Deconstructing Harry (DVD)
`Deconstructing Harry', written and directed by Woody Allen, may set the record for famous name cameos in Allen's pictures, with the added twist that you have famous actors playing the parts of other famous name actors in the same movie, as when, for example, Kirsty Ally, one of the Allen character wives, is played by Demi Moore in a playing out of one of the pieces of fiction represented in the movie.

I have often touted the virtue of rewatchability in almost all of Allen's movies. After all, why buy a DVD or tape of a movie if there is no value in watching it more than once. With this movie, it is absolutely essential that you watch it at least three times to understand what is going on, as the movie freely, and with relatively little warning, switches back and forth between cinema reality and Harry's (the Allen character) fiction. In some movies, having trouble keeping track of the plot threads means this is simply a bad movie. There are things in this movie that may have been done poorly, but the parallel thread lines between reality and fiction is not one of them.

This is certainly one of Allen's two or three most highly biographical movies, the others being `Stardust Memories' and `Radio Days'. It is not even a big stretch to make the Allen surrogate character a writer rather than a film maker (as in `Stardust Memories') since Allen did a lot of short story writing for the `New Yorker' before film making took all of his time. All of Allen's favorite subjects, primarily love, sex, death, Judaism, parents, and creativity are here. Books have been written about the themes in Allen's movies. `Deconstructing Harry' could easily take a book or at least a long monograph in itself to explicate all the ideas going on in the real and fictional threads.

Allen even brings in parodies of classic fiction in his references to both Dante's `Divine Comedy' and Milton's `Paradise Lost'. For good measure, there is a short riff on Bergman's grim reaper character in a reprise from his appearance in `Love and Death'. I will not give Allen too much credit for such an obscure reference, but his visit to Hell (borrowed from Greek mythology) makes Hell seem almost like a fun place to be, even for the damned, if the damned subjects happen to have a yen for a little sweaty bondage. The reference I speak of is to the etched illustrations of Dante's `Inferno' done, I believe by a 19th century artist which provided a lot of guilty pleasures as an adolescent in the grownup library stacks.

While this movie is a thoroughly Woody Allen piece, I did get some sense that more than a little influence from Kevin Smith seems to have crept into the dialogue, as the frequency of strong four letter words is dramatically higher than in any other Allen movie. This is improbable, as Smith's first movie, `Clerks' I think just came out shortly before the release of `Deconstructing Harry'. But, the cuss a minute dialogue does remind one of Smith's favorite character, Jay of `Jay and Silent Bob' fame.

The quality of the filming and editing in this movie makes one wonder whether some of the sloppy transitions within and between scenes were not intentional. One can easily imagine that the shooting schedule was such that you only had Robin Williams or Richard Benjamin or Demi Moore or Billy Crystal for a day or a half a day, so if you didn't get perfect shots of them on that day, Allen and his editor possibly did the best they could with what they had. There is a kind of choppyness I simply have never seen in any of Allen's movies before or since this one. One thing which makes me think this obviously choppy editing is intentional is the opening scene behind the credits where the Judy Davis character is seen repeatedly leaving her cab at Harry's apartment in order to beat on him for including their marriage in his latest published piece of fiction. The differences in the 5 or 6 times this sequence is shown are almost random, parodying, in a way, the opening to `Manhattan' where the Allen character's voice over is working through various drafts of an opening line to a piece of fiction. So, instead of literally quoting `Manhattan', Allen shows multiple attempts at editing the same scene. Another intentional effect that suggests the choppy editing is intentional is the riff that makes the actor character played by Robin Williams to literally go out of focus.

The story is really not quite as neat as the two other biographical movies, even though `Stardust Memories' does contain a lot of ambiguity between the cinematic and the real. It is also clearly not as polished as most of his other movies, especially the high gloss works such as `Crimes and Misdemeanors' and `Hannah and Her Sisters'. In some ways, it has the same manic quality of his very early movies such as `Take the Money and Run' and `Bananas'.

And yet, it is easily one of the most interesting about which to spin theories on Allen's sources and his messages. I would only recommend this movie to someone who is fond of Allen's movies already. I would certainly not recommend it to anyone who has never seen or never liked a Woody Allen movie. But, for the faithful, this is pure gold, and funny to boot!
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Location: Bethlehem, PA United States

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