Thursday, August 08, 2013
Sweet and Lowdown
Written and directed by Woody Allen, Sweet and Lowdown is the story about a 1930s jazz guitarist who prides himself in being the second-best guitarist in the world as he falls for a mute woman as he hopes to rise to the top. While it’s a largely fictional film, the film moves back-and-forth from a dramatic narrative to a documentary where Allen and many jazz experts talk about this man. Starring Sean Penn, Samantha Morton, Uma Thurman, Anthony LaPaglia, Gretchen Mol, Brad Garrett, and John Waters. Sweet and Lowdown is a remarkable film from Woody Allen.
The film explores the life of a musician named Emmet Ray (Sean Penn) who was considered the greatest jazz guitarist in the early 20th Century, aside from Django Reinhardt whom Ray idolizes. Told by Woody Allen, filmmaker Douglas McGrath, and other experts in the world of jazz in a documentary format of sorts, they all talk about the legend of Ray and his exploits where he falls for a mute woman named Hattie (Samantha Morton) and deals with his role as an artist. For all of his gifts as a guitarist, he’s also very selfish as he gambles his money, cheats on women, and do all sorts of things. Throughout the entirety of the film, Allen and others talk about Ray’s story as it is told in a dramatic format where the character ventures into many moments in his life including a failed marriage and a relationship with this mute woman who loves him but he claims that he can’t fall in love with her because he’s an artist.
While Allen’s screenplay helps structure the story from documentary form to dramatic, it’s his direction that gives the film a sense of style in the way the story is told. Many of the interviews with Allen and the others are shot in a very straight, slight close-up while the rest of the film in the dramatic re-telling of Ray’s story is given a lot of style. Notably as Allen uses a lot of close-ups, wide shots, and some gorgeous compositions to play up that world of the 1930s including scenes set in New York and New Jersey. Even as Allen creates one notable sequences about a moment where Ray tries to confront his cheating wife Blanche (Uma Thurman) as it’s told in multiple versions depending on how real it might be. It would all play to some of the humor and drama that Allen wanted to create as the overall result is a truly enchanting and witty film about a great jazz guitarist and the selfishness that would play into his faults.
Cinematographer Zhao Fei does exquisite with the film‘s very colorful and vibrant cinematography from the look of the daytime exterior locations to the use of lights for some of the film‘s interiors in day and night. Editor Alisa Lepselter does nice work with the editing from the use of a few montages to some stylish dissolves to help play into some of the film‘s emotions. Production designer Santo Loquasto, with set decorator Jessica Lanier and art director Tom Warren, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the clubs and places Ray and the other characters go to as well as the crescent moon chair that Ray tried to arrive in for one disastrous show.
Costume designer Laura Bauer does brilliant work with the costumes from the suits that Ray wears to the different array of clothes that Hattie wears. Sound editor Robert Hein does terrific work with the sound from the atmosphere of the shows to the crazier moments in some of Ray‘s antics. Music arranger Dick Hyman creates an amazing soundtrack filled with many jazz pieces to play up the feel of the time while many of the guitar work is performed by Howard Alden.
The casting by Laura Rosenthal and Juliet Taylor is superb for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable appearances from filmmaker Douglas McGrath and jazz experts Ben Duncan and Nate Hentoff talking about the legend of Emmet Ray. Other noteworthy small performances include John Waters as a hotel owner, Brad Garrett as a mob leader, Gretchen Mol as a date of Ray late in the film, and Brian Markainson as Ray’s drummer Bill Shields. Anthony LaPaglia is excellent as mobster whom Blanche falls for and cheats on Ray while Uma Thurman is wonderful as Ray’s wife Blanche who is intrigued by his gift as she marries him while coming up with ideas for a novel.
Samantha Morton is phenomenal as Hattie where Morton doesn’t say a word throughout the film yet lets her facial expressions and body language do the acting as she brings a nice innocence to her character as well as how much she really means to Ray despite his selfishness. Finally, there’s Sean Penn in a magnificent performance as Emmet Ray as Penn brings a nice sense of wit and charm to his role as someone who proclaims himself to be an artist. Penn’s approach to comedy as well as drama allows Ray to be a very complex individual no matter how despicable he can be at times while Penn also shows he can mimic playing guitar very well in what is certainly is one of his great performances.
Sweet and Lowdown is an outstanding film from Woody Allen that features incredible performances from Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. The film is definitely one of Allen’s most touching and entertaining films as well as a unique piece into the world of jazz. It’s also a film that plays into the world of the artist and how they can fall into their own egos and let the good things in life pass them by. In the end, Sweet and Lowdown is a sensational film from Woody Allen.
Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows and Fog - Husbands and Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Bullets Over Broadway - Don't Drink the Water - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)
The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4
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