Saturday, January 21, 2012

Woody Allen and Uncle Al

I have no idea if Woody Allen ever studied Aleister Crowley, however I now strongly suspect he has after watching his most recent film, Midnight in Paris a few times. It comes across as a Crowley tale par excellence, a story about a writer, played by Owen Wilson - the Woody Allen character in this film - trying to connect with his true voice and live the life he feels most drawn to and aligned with. Through his good fortune and/or ability to enter into Parallel Worlds, Alternate Realities of different time frames, Wilson's character receives knowledge and conversation with Higher Intelligence, who take on the forms of his literary heros, and gets useful, practical information about his current work in progress.

The film begins with a 5 minute musical and visual love letter to the people and places, sights and jazz of Paris; then Wilson's voice in classic Woody Allen stutter opens with:

"This, is ..., is ..., unbelievable. Look at this, there's no city in the World like this, there never was..."

You soon discover he's talking about Paris yet those opening lines appear general enough to apply to the same archetypal city Crowley writes about in The City of God, A Rhapsody. It's a favorite of mine. The same archetypal City also showed up for me at the beginning of Thomas Pynchon's, Against the Day.

Some more opening dialog:

"... What did Hemingway call it, a malleable feast..." - referring to the City of Paris

"... Following down the rabbit's hole..." conjures the Qabalistic classic, Alice in Wonderland, a Crowley favorite, and presages events to follow, journeys to take in the film.

There's a mention of a James Joyce sighting and what he was eating that night. Crowley called Joyce a genius.

Later, there's a truly incredible and enlightening, slightly over the top, rap about love and death given by the Ernest Hemingway character, one of Gil's (Owen Wilson's character) bardo guides. I would post it in it's entirety if I didn't respect the Gods of Copywrite. This film is worth seeing by anyone who is a transit practitioner just for that speech.

Further on, Gertrude Stein gives some great advice to Gil about his writing, "The artist's job is not to sucumb to despair but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence. You have a clear and lively voice, don't be such a defeatist..."

Gil's adventure's with Parallel Worlds finally gives him the knowledge, experience and Will he needs to live his life genuinely as he wishes to do.

Midnight in Paris movie photo

The opening of the time travel portal in this film always occurs just after midnight. I was doing some timed breathing using the second hand of a clock while watching Midnight in Paris for the third time in preparation for this blog. One of the midnight chiming, time portal openings in the film happened exactly as my clock reached midnight. As mentioned earlier, I'm in an online group reading Pynchon's Against the Day at a rate of 4 pages/day. I just reached a part where they go into a Time Machine then attend a Time Travel Convention.

One of the most brilliant, surrealistic examples of guerilla ontology resides in the pages of God, a one-act play written by Woody Allen circa 1975. In it you'll find a line towards the end of the play that closely correspond with Crowley's statement: " There is no god but man." A subtext in that play illustrates another famous Crowley statement about God. It also cites goals of Buddhism, Qabala and some conclusions of theoretical physics. Densely information rich and extremely funny. It was meant to accompany two other one-act plays, Sex, and Death. If Allen could only refrain from writing about such trivial subjects he might have a career for himself!

Yesterday I mixed an instrumental track called City of Joy by a band from Australia and San Francisco called Beaten By Them. It was the final song of their project, Kinder Machines that combined and contrasted the organic sound of a harmonically rich and sweet acoustic guitar with electronic drum machine samples, a grand piano, cello, synthesizers,and a solid rhythm section - drums, bass, and guest percussion. After we finished, Max McCormick relayed quite an interesting story regarding the genesis of the album. He was in the Honduras some time back walking in a town when he noticed a black dog following him. This went on for an unusally long time, wherever Max went, this black dog followed even when leaving town to go hiking up a nearby hill. The dog started to follow Max up the hill until he yelled at it to shoo it away, and it stopped following him. Max went for his hike. When he returned, the black dog was waiting for him at the same spot and resumed following him back into town. As they were about to reach the town, Max looked back to see if the dog was still there and was startled to see a man where the dog had been. The black dog was nowhere to be seen, Max never saw him again. Max had the shocking impression that the black dog had shapeshifted into a man. He acknowledges the possibility that the dog took off at the same time a man quietly slipped in behind him, nonetheless the perception occurred so sudden and shocking to the point of making him want to jump out of his skin. It does sound like something a trickster or teacher would do. The next day Max saw the name "Crowley" on a shipping crate. It made him think of Aleister Crowley whom he said he knew nothing about, but he then immediately had a vision of what his next album would be - the one we just finished, and how he would go about doing it. Max said that he saw the whole thing in detail right after seeing Crowley's name on a shipping crate. He said it turned out pretty much as he envisioned it. He had no idea that I had any interest in Crowley until after he contacted me and I sent him The Oz Mix link. That was a coincidence, he said.


  1. What an artistic take on Midnight In Paris! Kudos, man. This was the best critique of that film I've yet read. I've read a lot about Woody Allen, and I would be surprised to find he'd read any Crowley; they may have been drinking from the same historical fountain, though.

    Another earlier Woody essay that must be referred to regarding this film is his late 1960s/early 70s "A Twenties Memory," collected in Getting Even. Woody remembers being in Paris, carousing with Hemingway, Picasso, Stein. Gertrude breaks his nose, boxing. His absurdist stuff seems greatly related to magical realism to me.

    O! How many movies of his do we see the hack magician who actually loses someone in a Hidden Reality? Or some crank herbalist in the East Village actually has herbs that make you invisible for awhile? That kind of comically-Kafkaesque stuff occurs a lot in his writing.

    The If God does not exist, what? problem is one he's asked often enough in his films he's now some sort of European filmmaker who used to be based in NY: his films always made more money outside the US; only a small segment of geeky Americans have ever liked him (including me: I love the guy). Crowley and Woody are preceded in this by, notably, Dostoevsky. What I love about Woody is it's always okay, in the end, if God doesn't exist, although His non-existence is always good for comically existentialist effects...

    Woody's actual life seems to me: there is no God, and Death is beckoning us all. The only thing that one can count on is Work. He's been quite candid about this, and there's a brief moment in Annie Hall when the Woody character picks up Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death and says it's his favorite book, and he almost buys it for Dianne Keaton. Woody really is impressed with Becker's book. We deny death; we have to figure out a way to deal honestly with death. For him: constant work, creativity, writing, auditioning, filming. Proof/pudding?

  2. Thanks for the comment, michael. Allen's play, "God," reads to me more like an examination of model agnosticism than atheism. To the direct question of "Is there a God?" the play gives at least 3 answers: maybe, yes, and no.

    Finnegans Wake may have been Woody's bridge to Crowley if he didn't read him first hand. All the key concepts are in it. Allen also knows Marx Bros films intimately, and some of those obviously show strong influence of the 93 current.

    Hemingway's speech that I mentioned directly confronts fear of death and gives a very life affirming solution, a solution whose theme appears in one guise or another in all of Woody's films that I've seen. However, I don't know if Allen believes one can count on anything.

  3. Forgot to mention in the review that the storyline of a hack Hollywood screenwriter trying to become a novelist allegorically describes the search for something deeper and more meaningful than superficial, surface appearance.

  4. I especially enjoyed the encounter with the surrealists in Midnight in Paris, especially Bunuel.