20 July 2006

Hannah and her Sisters: an extract

Woody Allen. Hannah and her Sisters. London, UK: Faber and Faber, 1988 [copyright Orion Pictures Corporation 1986] ISBN: 0571151175, pp. 168-173.

... the film cuts to an almost isolated path in Central Park, complete with old-fashioned streetlamps and scattered leaves. Holly and Mickey stroll into view, deep in conversation.

HOLLY (Gesturing) Gosh, you really went through a crisis, you know that? H-how did you get over it? I mean, when I ran into you, you seemed, you seemed just perfectly fine. Well, you seem fine now.

MICKEY: Well... (Chuckling) I'll tell you. (Sighing) One day about a month ago...
The film abruptly cuts to Mickey's flashback, a visual counterpoint to the story he is telling Holly. A close-up of a nervous, perspiring, and panting Mickey alone in his apartment appears on the screen as his voice is heard.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: ... I really hit bottom. You know, I just felt that in a Godless universe, I didn't want to go on living. Now I happen to own this rifle... (Coughing)
Mickey raises the barrel of a rifle to his forehead. He shuts his eyes tightly.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: ... which I loaded, believe it or not, and pressed it to my forehead. And I remember thinking, at the time, I'm gonna kill myself. Then I thought... what if I'm wrong? What if there is a God? I mean, after all, nobody really knows that.
The camera moves past the desperate Mickey to a mirror on the wall behind him. Its reflection shows his spiral staircase and some standing lamps. A clock faintly ticks.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: But then I thought, no. You know, maybe is not good enough. I want certainty or nothing. And I remember very clearly the clock was ticking, and I was sitting there frozen, with the gun to my head, debating whether to shoot.
The gun goes off with a loud bang. The mirror shatters.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: All of a sudden, the gun went off.
Mickey, holding the rifle, is seen running over to the shattered mirror. The sounds of his excited neighbors, their shouting, a knocking door, are heard as he continues his tale.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: I had been so tense, my finger had squeezed the trigger inadvertently...

NEIGHBOR #1 (Offscreen, overlapping): What's happening? Wh-wh-what's going on?

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER (Continuing): ... but I was perspiring so much, the gun had slid off my forehead and missed me.

NEIGHBOR #2 (Offscreen, overlapping): I don't know. I heard a gun. Is everything all right?
Mickey, still brandishing the rifle, runs into his sunlit living room. He looks around frantically, his shirt loose. Finally, he throws the rifle down between the sofa and the coffee table. The gun goes off a second time. Mickey, standing nearby, jumps, his hands flying to his head. The doorbell rings; the neighbors begin pounding at the door.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: And suddenly, neighbors were, were, pounding on the door, and-and I don't know, the whole scene was just pandemonium. And, uh, you know, and I-I-I-I-I ran to the door.
Mickey runs offscreen briefly to answer the door.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: I-I-I-I didn't know what to say. You know, I was, I was embarrassed and confused, and my-my-my mind was r-r-racing a mile a minute...
He returns onscreen, panting; he looks frantically once again around the living room.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: ...and I-I just knew one thing.
The film cuts to a West Side street. It's an overcast day. Mickey, walking slowly along the sidewalk, passes several other pedestrians and numerous storefronts, including Klein's Pharmacy and a "Bar-B-Q" take-out. Occasionally, he is obscured by a tree trunk on the opposite side of the street; a few taxis go by as he talks over the scene.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: I... I-I-I-I had to get out of that house. I had to just get out in the fresh air and-and clear my head. And I remember very clearly, I walked the streets. I walked and I walked. I-I didn't know what was going through my mind. It all seemed so violent and un-unreal to me. And I wandered...
The movie cuts to the exterior of the Metro movie theater, with its smoked glass entrance doors and its Art Deco feel. An old publicity photo hangs inside. Mickey's reflection is seen at the almost-transparent doors, as well as the reflection of the street and various cars whizzing by. His reflection walks towards the theater entrance; he continues his story.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: ...for a long time on the Upper West Side, you know, an-and it must have been hours! You know, my, my feet hurt. My head was, was pounding, and, and I had to sit down. I went into a movie house. I-I didn't know what was playing or anything.
Mickey walks into the movie house. He is seen through the glass doors, which still reflect the street and traffic outside. He makes his way through the lobby into the actual theater.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: I just, I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts and, and be logical, and, and put the world back into rational perspective.
The film abruptly cuts to the theater's black-and-white screen, where the Marx Brothers, in Duck Soup, play the helmets of several soldiers standing in a line like a live xylophone. The sounds of the "xylophone" are heard as the movie cuts to the darkened theater, where Mickey slowly sits down in the balcony seat. The "xylophone" music stops and changes to "Hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-ho" as sung by the Marx Brothers and ensemble in the movie. The singing continues faintly in the background as Mickey continues his tale:

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: And I went upstairs to the balcony, and I sat down (Sighing) and, you know, the movie was a-a-a film that I'd seen many times in my life since I was a kid, an-and I always u-uh, loved it. And, you know, I'm, I'm watching these people up on the screen, and I started getting hooked o-on the film, you know?
The film cuts back to the black-and-white movie screen as Mickey continues to talk. The Marx Brothers, as well as the hundred-odd other cast members in Duck Soup, are kneeling and bowing as they sing "Hidee-hidee-ho." They kick their heels up in the air. They sway back and forth, hands clasped, singing "Oh-h-h-h-h-h..."

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: ...And I started to feel how can you even think of killing yourself? I mean, isn't it so stupid? I mean, l-look at all the people up there on the screen. You know, they're real funny, and, and what if the worst is true?
The movie cuts back to Mickey, sitting almost obscured in the dark theater. The Oh-h-h-h-h-h's coming from the offscreen movie are heard as he continues to speak.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: What if there's no God, and you only go around once and that's it? Well, you know, don't you want to be part of the experience? You know, what the hell, it-i-it's not all a drag. And I'm thinking to myself, geez, I should stop ruining my life...
As Mickey talks, the film cuts back to the antics of the Marx Brothers on the black-and-white theater screen. The four brothers are now swaying and singing and strutting, their voices indistinct over Mickey's narration.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: ...searching for answers I'm never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts. And... you know...
The film is back on Mickey's dark form in the audience.

MICKEY'S VOICE-OVER: ...after, who knows? I mean, you know, maybe there is something. Nobody really knows. I know, I know "maybe" is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that's the best we have. And... then, I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself.
As Mickey continues, the film cuts back to Duck Soup on the black-and-white screen. The Marx Brothers are sitting on a judge's bench, playing banjos and singing with the other cast members. They jump down from the bench, still singing. Their voices swell.

MARX BROTHERS & COMPANY: "Oh, Freedonia / Oh, don't you cry for me / They'll be coming around the mountain..."
The Marx Brothers kneel, strumming their banjos, and the movie cuts back to Central Park...