So here are two reimaginings of some earlier material from the fifties or something, making them about ½ as old as the inspirations. This really doesn’t mean anything, just, ya know, facts to show some similarity between them.
They really aren’t though; couldn’t be further from each other actually.
On one hand, in Another Woman, an established filmmaker sets out on a new path, a quest for serious artistic acceptance perhaps, or simply an attempt to pay homage to his own artistic inspirations. Allen, ever in love with the upper west side cultural elites, gives the Wild Strawberries treatment to a younger, though no less accomplished, nor emotionally ignorant subject. In some ways, he sets Marion Post, the protagonist, beautifully played by Gena Rowlands, up for ridicule. The film launches with an soon to be ever present voice over… in a journey of self-awareness, it would seem this is an inevitable device… assessing her life to the point of our introduction. In fact, the script actually begins…” a tad on the nose given the myriad implication of the title. From there, we (and she) overhear a very incongruous conversation from the psychiatrists next door about a man who cannot get over his first encounter with another man and how his thoughts stray during work or masturbation. Kind of odd that. Again… is this randomly out of context piece meant to be comedic? After a brief interlude, however, the next conversation overheard provides the inciting incident that triggers the forward momentum of the plot, such as it is, to induce Marion’s slow awakening. Abbruptly transitioning to a 50th birthday party, again sexual proclivities are the talk of the educated bourgeoisie. The story related involves a working class plumber who walks in on friends of Marion’s (Mark & Lydia) “in flagrante delicto.” Mark comes up with a witticism that he is quite proud of and the plumber turns red from embarrassment and crosses himself. Lydia’s sole commentary is “sad.”
It’s clear at this point, not 10 minutes into the film, that Allen is indeed lampooning his subjects, though the tone is certainly not light or playful. This tonal dissonance walks hand in hand with the more Brechtian segments of the dramatic structure. Taking more from Bergman than just a theme, he uses the Swedish master’s cameraman, Sven Nykvist to affect the technique. During a scene where Marion looks thru some old photos (with a few condescending words to her former nanny), the images are played out as silent, pastoral vignettes with that ever present voice-over. These beautiful early autumn, sepia tone moments reflect the memories of Marion, but turn out to just be part of her self-delusion. The final scene reveals some of the back story hinted at earlier about the reasons Paul, her brother, despises her. This moment is not, however, part of the memory. Marion – the older version, not the flashback version – appears and asks the younger Paul what the matter is. He responds by telling her that both of them (Marion and her father) live in their own world and don’t care about his dreams. Rowlands also plays Marion in a much younger version of herself in a scene with her first husband and watches, in a dream, on a sparsely staged play detailing her current marital issues.
The effect of all this Artistry can be a bit off-putting. The intent of this film is confrontational, and successfully accomplishes that goal, but the technique is on the heavy handed side. It’s a blatantly accusatorial tone struck toward the character(s) of this economic and social milieu and in the end, Marion may have made a few strides toward accepting her own shortcomings but one gets the impression that she is about to settle right back into her delusion. Allen allows small moments, in the form of an ex-lover and a former student, as reinforcement that her current path has some merit, despite the massive pile of evidence against it. Each of these scenes follows with a close-up of Marion with a look brimming with self-satisfaction. This cold and loveless person will likely move onto a similar fate as Bergman’s own doctor 20 or 30 years down the line.
The other side of this bracket presents genre filmmaker around the height of his power dipping into creature feature territory. The Thing isn’t really a remake of the 1951 version but culled from the same 1938 novella and, if the internet is to be believed, more faithful to that story. Unlike Woman, there is no need to parse plot details for evidence of merit… there really isn’t any to be found there. This film succeeds because of the atmosphere created by John Carpenter. This is a strong piece of paranoid horror. The cast is solid, especially Russel, David and Brimley. The practical effects, when they work, work really well, though occasionally evince over the top, cheesy 80s gore. The eerie yet propulsive score from Ennio Morricone1
, on the other hand is nothing but perfectly effective, flooding the ears with all the tension and dread that the eyes are shown onscreen. There are typical horror issues with the film: a few too many characters are there simply as fodder and some questionable decision making and/or leaps in logic to move the plot forward or set-up conflict. However there are several great scenes – the test scene in particular is so wonderfully unnerving, you can ALMOST ignore the god-awful faulty the flame thrower pack!
Overall, what holds the film back the most is the inevitable comparison to its far superior predecessor. Coming 3 years prior to The Thing, Ridley Scott’s incomparable Alien, contains a more enveloping atmosphere, better creature effects and better execution in those key tension and dread segments. The Thing, while a very good film, just can’t compete with that precedent.
So now left with the choice. In one telling moment of psychiatric counseling, the next door doc advises, “Don’t worry about humanity all the time, get your own life in order,”
.1Razzie Nominee for Worst Score of 1982!