#329: Purple Rose of Cairo
25 September 2011
When I saw the title of this along with all the other DVDs I had in store for this list, I instantly thought of deserts in the sahara in a drama about two star crossed lovers. But eventually, after viewing Annie Hall (again) and Stardust Memories just a couple of days ago, my sister told me “you’ve got to see Purple Rose of Cairo. It’s Woody Allen’s as well. A person from a 1930’s film gets out of a film..” and then everything went blurry afterwards. The cue words were Woody Allen and 1930s.
I had planned this several days ago but only had the time this morning after a long sleep. Woody Allen writes and directs this 1985 American Comedy-drama film starring Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello, Edward Herrman, Jason Wood, and Deborah Rush. Set in the depression era, a clumsy Cecilia who works as a waitress in a local diner loves watching the movies to take her away from her unhappily married life.
One evening she watches a new film called The Purple Rose of Cairo. As she sits through the film we’re shown snipets of the film as well. It appears to be the story of a rich man playwright (Hermann) who goes to an exotic trip to Egypt along with his friends (Wood and Rush). On one of their trips in Egypt’s famous places, they meet an archaelogist Tom Baxter (Daniels) who guides them through to a few more interesting places and facts about Egypt. Tom is then invited along with them to go on a “madcap Manhattan weekend” where he falls in love with a nightclub singer Kitty Haynes (played by Karen Akers).
Cecilia returns back to her normal life the next day feeling enchanted with the film’s setting. She invites her sister to watch the film again. She tries to invite her husband who doesn’t seem to be the least interested in anything but playing dice, drinking, and giving her a “whack” afterwards. She sees the film anyway by herself several times. As the film goes into the scene wherein Tom is invited on the Manhattan suite, as he delivers his lines with a little glance here and there towards Cecilia. Later on he tells her in front of everyone “Boy, you must love this film don’t ya?” she wonders if it’s her he’s talking to. Apparently it is. “You must’ve seen this film five times!” he says and then goes out of the screen and walks up to her like a normal person.
Woody Allen makes our dreams come true in this classic, tragic hit. Tragedies are his cup of coffee and a drag of smoke as he directs Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels perfectly. I loved Mia Farrow in this film. She proved to be very irritatingly clumsy, vulnerable and impeccable. Jeff Daniels cannot be set aside as he portrays both the fictional character Tom Baxter and the real actor Gil Shepard. He kind of repeats his performance as Tom in the film Pleasantville wherein he naively explores a new world outside the fourth wall. Tom Baxter, being the character that was created as a minor character who plays an important part of continuing the story towards the next scene where they have to go to the club where he has to meet the cabaret’s singer, Kitty, whom he’ll end up marrying at the end of the film in this film, felt his breaking out as a feeling of rebellion and freedom.
As he breaks free, he invites Cecilia to come live with him and make love with him and fall in love forever. As tempting as this may sound, Cecilia makes him aware that this cannot happen as he is only fictional. My favorite part is when they kiss on a stuck carousel and Tom thinks that the lights would fade out into a different scene where they would then make love. Jeff Daniels is effective as the naive Tom, even with the way he tries to act like a 1930s tour guide character makes the film a bit sardonically funny.
As the “minor” character ends up missing from the screen, which causes a conundrum at the theater mainly because the even bigger characters need him, the theater manager can’t attempt to shut down the picture, otherwise the Tom Baxter character would disappear forever, meaning loss in sales in all the other theaters that play the film and would cause more and more insanity all over the town. And most importantly, this would make or break the career of the actor who plays the character. And so they contact Gil Shepard to come find the character in the small town, and he ends up meeting Cecilia in a local coffee shop. She confesses that she knows where the Tom Baxter character is hiding.
I liked this film so much that I enjoyed listening to its every dialogue. It enriches a cinema lover’s extreme admiration with the movies and a woman’s final attempt at redeeming her miserable life. Interesting enough, we never get to feel Woody Allen’s presence in the male lead actors, but once again he plays god in terms of making us feel the difficulty of choice. In this case of Cecilia’s, at the end of the film, she chooses as the uncertain heroine of the whole film, whether to come with Tom and live a happily predictable life, or with Gil Shepard who can give her a life she never had with her husband. In the end, she chooses a painful path that leads her going back to the movies all by herself.