Saturday 10 February 2007

Sleeper (1973) Woody Allen

Miles Monroe plays the clarinet with the Ragtime Rascals and he owns half a health food restaurant in Greenwich Village. He's also, at the start of the movie, being woken up after 200 years in cryogenic storage, the sleeper of the title. As Monroe is played by Woody Allen and the film was made in 1973, still pre-Annie Hall, we're treated to a whole slew of sight gags before he even gets the opportunity to open his mouth. Soon he discovers that he's been brought back because the America of 2173 is controlled by a dictatorial regime and the underground needs someone unidentifiable in a world where everyone is numbered and categorised. Woody Allen naturally wouldn't have been most people's first choice as hero, making this something of a futuristic Bananas.

The obvious point of the film is of course to comment on twentieth century culture from the safe perspective of 200 years into the future, which Allen has a field day with: everyone from Norman Mailer to the Pope is fair game and this is the only science fiction film I've ever seen that doesn't believe in science. Some of the commentary is surprisingly prophetic, given my perspective of a further thirty years, but it's mostly just there for the gags, which abound.

The other point is to provide Allen with the chance to play around with slapstick. Huge parts of the film are devoted entirely to slapstick comedy, often silent, with Allen taking on various obvious personas. Buster Keaton is the most frequent inspiration, but when Monroe is dressed up as a household robot he looks more than a little like Harold Lloyd and one of the rehabilitation scenes is obviously tailored after Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. There's also plenty of Marx Brothers inspiration here, and they were slapstick comedians outside the slapstick era.

I'd heard plenty about this one and it's resonated down the years, but I have to say I was a little disappointed. It's not as consistently funny as Bananas or as out there as Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, which were his previous two films. It fits much better to my thinking with his next, Love and Death, which like this had moments of genius and moments of blah. It isn't enough to have a gag a second, they've all got to connect, and unless I'm just too much from a different time and place to get all of this one, more than a few didn't connect.

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