Tag Archive | "Woody Allen"

Cate Blanchett on Her Oscar-winning Role

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By Danny Peary; Photo by Brad Balfour

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Cate Blanchett’s selection as Best Actress was probably the least surprising moment at Sunday evening’s Academy Awards, a show full of predictability.  I knew half-way through Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine that the great actress would finally receive the Oscar that has eluded her.   How deserving she was.  Blanchett gives a tour-de-force performance as a combination of Blanche Dubois and Ruth Madoff, a brittle, selfish, self-delusional New York socialite who loses everything but her knack for pretense after her unfaithful, unscrupulous financier husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested and she comes to stay with her down-to-earth sister, Ginger (the wonderful Sally Hawkins, who got a Best Supporting Actress nomination).  Prior to the film’s New York City release, Blanchett took part in a press conference with Peter Sarsgaard (whose rich politician falls for the dishonest Jasmine), Andrew Dice Clay (Ginger’s unsophisticated husband) and Louis C.K. (one of Ginger’s suitors after her breakup). Finally I am keeping my promise to post more of the conference. Below are the questions Blanchett was asked and her responses.  I note the one question I was able to pose in the crowded room, as well as my editorial annotations.

Q: Woody Allen said this was one of the rare cases when he wrote a part with a specific actor in mind.

Cate Blanchett: Is that true? He never told me. I just got a call from my agent saying that Woody had a script he’d like me to read.  So Woody and I spoke on the phone for about twenty-five minutes and he said, “Can I send it to you?”  I said, “Yes, I’d love to read it,” and he said, “Well, call me when you finish it.”  I read it straight away and thought it was brilliant. Then we spoke for about forty-five seconds and I agreed to do the film. I met him when he started doing camera tests in San Francisco.

Q: How was it working with him once shooting started?

CB: That first day was awful, just awful.  But it bonded all of us and made us want to do better the next day.  In the end, there’s an obvious reverence for Woody and his body of work, and I think the danger of that is the set can become a sacred place where people are sort of laying their offerings at his feet. Woody’s a brilliant dramatist, apart from being a filmmaker, and much of his direction is the script itself, which allowed him to get out of the way on the set, as he likes to do.  I actually found Woody to be really forthcoming.  When you ask him a question, he will give you an answer, and when you set up that dialogue it then becomes really enjoyable.  Then he felt free to say, “That was awful,” and I felt free to say, “Okay, then what are you after?”   I might suggest something and he might then say, “We will try that.”  So he was forced to direct me!

Q: Were you worried at all?

CB: I was worried.  Woody would always say to me, “The audience has already left the theater.”

Q: He’s famous for firing people.

CB: For firing people? You just assume it’s going to happen, but you make it to day thirteen and it’s going well, and then you make it to day twenty, and then it’s the end of the movie. It was like the Disabled Olympics.

Q: To play Jasmine, did you immerse yourself in the stories of people who’d been affected by the recent economic downturn?  Or did the character come from somewhere else?

CB: It’s a contemporary fable. In part, Woody catered to the zeitgeist—and who hasn’t followed the Madoff affair and doesn’t know the epic nature of that catastrophe?  There are thousands of stories he could draw from for Jasmine. Those reference points are there to be drawn upon and that’s what we did.  But also, there’s a strong line in the film from Jasmine to women in American theater who walk along the border between fantasy and reality. Like Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire and Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  But in the end, you’re acting in a Woody Allen movie, knowing he’s created some of the most iconic characters in his previous films.  So you just play your part.

Q: Having starred in A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM, what are the similarities you see between Jasmine and Blanche Dubois?

CB: Woody never brought up Streetcar. But the other actors on set–a lot who worked in theater–were talking about the set-up [in which a broken woman comes to stay with her sister] being similar to Streetcar. There are parallels, but the texture, the tone, the rhythm, the character portrayals, and the details are quintessentially Woody Allen, not Tennessee Williams.

Danny Peary: While playing Jasmine, were you feeling sympathetic toward her and protective of her?  Or did you think, as I did, that she is deservingly—at least to a point–getting her comeuppance?

CB: I don’t think it’s particularly useful to fall in love with or detest your character. I think it’s up to the audience to have those feelings.  If you’re a bit sentimental, you’re not going to present any nuances. There are plenty of traits to be presented in Jasmine, but in the end her flaw is tragic. [Allen says her flaw is her inability to see what’s right in front of her—DP] Oedipus, for example, fucks up royally–he marries his mother, for God’s sake–but it’s a tragedy because he does it unwittingly. Jasmine is the unwitting agent of her own downfall, in a way. She is riddled with guilt and rage and fear. She’s on Xanax and drinks vodka. And then you add to that the situational aspect. Woody often places his characters in absurd situations. For instance the scene where Peter Sarsgaard’s character [Dwight] and Jasmine are in the car together is completely absurd.  But you have to play it honestly. The situation is real and the stakes are high.

Q: That’s the core of the tragedy, I think, the deception. [Each of the characters is being deceived, deceiving someone else, or deceiving themselves. It’s a dominant element in each story.-DP]

CB: That is what the film actually delves into quite deeply.  It’s what the characters choose not to see. It’s not just people on the Upper East Side, or people with unreal aspirations, but it’s also Ginger, played by Sally, who chooses not to see certain aspects of who Jasmine is. So, going back to the previous question about whether Jasmine is sympathetic or not, there are different ways of looking at A Streetcar.  So you can see that Blanche is a compulsive liar.  Or you can see that the world is set up to stamp out the poetry in her soul.  Is there something intensely dysfunctional about the world in which she finds herself?  Similarly, Jasmine doesn’t land in a San Francisco where there are a bunch of people who’ve got their shit together. Everyone has issues and everyone is fooling themselves to some degree and wanting to live fantasies that are better than their daily existences. Jasmine does this to a spectacular extent, but they all do it.

Q:  Talk about Jasmine and her reliance on fantasy and delusion.

CB: It’s interesting that there’s a level of delusion and fantasy that exists with Ginger as well as Jasmine.  They were both adopted into a lower middle-class family.  Jeanette changed her name to Jasmine, and there began the fiction.  She set about creating a fantasy world and being a princess.

Q: Talk about working with Sally Hawkins.

CB: I absolutely love Sally. She was an absolute ally, and for the first week we cried into our beers together because we thought we were really screwing this up.  She’s wonderful, wonderful actress and one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever worked with.  I don’t know if I would like to take her to a hotel and have sex with her, but many would.

Q:  Did you think about how the film will play to the slightly younger demographic that likes Frances Ha and HBO’s Girls, which both have younger anti-heroines?
CB (laughing): Younger than me, so to say?  Thanks, just rub it in.  Girls is one of my all-time favorite shows, so even though I am a geriatric, I still can connect to a younger crowd.  I think Woody’s genius is that while he seems to be writing about a particular set of people from a very particular socio-economic, intellectual background, he somehow writes them as Everyman and Everywoman. They are archetypical as well as being utterly unique and specific.  Even though his films are really personal, they resonate with a much broader audience.  That’s why people of all ages have loved his films for so many decades. Even though Blue Jasmine seems to be only about the demise or fall from grace of a privileged rich girl, there are a lot of people who have fantasized about what it means to live in America but see that it has blown apart in the last couple of years.  There’s a lot that young people can relate to.  There are people of all ages in the audience who have had to reshape their lives because of the economic circumstances that have been forced upon them.  Like Jasmine, they need to really look at who they are and what their aspirations are and decide how they are going to pit themselves against the world.

Q: Has achieving fame influenced your choice of movie roles?

CB: It doesn’t influence me. That’s why I haven’t made a movie in a while and have been out of this environment for nearly six years. That’s why I run a theater company with my husband in Sydney. I didn’t do Blue Jasmine because I was courting fame but to work with Woody and the cast.  I didn’t do it because it would get me anywhere in particular.  I did it for the experience.

Gypsy Improv: Stephane Wrembel Comes to Bridgehampton

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By Claire Walla


French guitarist Stephane Wrembel is hard to pin down.

His gypsy guitar music — steadily strum rhythms overlain with meandering guitar melodies plucked with impossibly nimble speed in the vein of the man who practically invented the genre, Django Reinhardt — not only alludes to the Paris he grew up in, it bears resemblance to the sounds of the world at large.

“What I play is not jazz,” Wrembel clarified. “My music is for everyone. What we do can be appreciated by a jazz listener, or by a rock listener, or by a world listener; by anyone, any age, any origin.”

Such flexibility is perhaps to be expected from a guitarist whose musical career began at an early age with an undying devotion to Pink Floyd (which remains just as powerful to this day—he saw Roger Waters perform “The Wall” 12 times last year); then expanded with his study of contemporary jazz, Indian, African and Middle Eastern music; and most recently earned him professional praise from filmmaker Woody Allen, himself an accomplished jazz clarinetist, who has used Wrembel’s songs in two of his films.

“I don’t project anything,” Wrembel explained. “I just do music and whatever comes, comes.”

As it turns out, next on the docket is a performance at the annual Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. Now in its 28th season here on the East End, the event has showcased dozens of world-renowned, classically trained musicians who — prior to playing the East End — have filled such famed chambers as the Royal Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall with their renditions of classical standards by the likes of Bach and Mozart.

Which might make you wonder: where does gypsy guitar fit in? It took the Bridgehampton program’s founder and artistic director Marya Martin a minute to figure it out, too.

Martin first learned of Wrembel about a year ago while finishing the final mastering of a CD with sound engineer Adam Abeshouse in New York City. As it happened, Abeshouse had just finished producing a record for Wrembel and he played a sample for Martin.

“I thought, that’s wonderful!” Martin relayed enthusiastically. “But I couldn’t imagine how I could make a program around jazz , gypsy-fusion guitar,” the classically trained flutist conceded, noting the obvious: “We play Brahms!”

But the idea stuck with her. Martin eventually spoke to Wrembel, and subsequently began listening to music by Django Reinhardt and the gypsy guitarist’s long-time accomplice, jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, both of whom greatly influenced Wrembel’s work. Soon enough, Martin’s research led her back to the music she knew so well.

“Brahm’s Piano Quartet in G Minor is a gypsy march,” she revealed. “It’s completely ethnic and wonderful. So, the more I started researching that, I had four programs of classical music inspired in some way by gypsy music of the ages, and I thought: We could make this work.”

Martin and Wrembel will collaborate with eight other artists on Friday, August 12 at Channing Daughters Winery for the annual Sm. Brian Little concert, where they will perform the fourth movement of Brahm’s Piano Quartet No. 1 (known as “Gypsy Rondo”), Osvaldo Golijov’s “Lulluby and Doina,” as well as song’s by Django Reinhardt and original works by Wrembel.

In the end, whether played by gypsy guitar or classical flute, as Wrembel effortlessly put it, “It’s all the same thing.”

At least for the most part.

Friday night’s orchestra will be playing a song composed by Wrembel called “Big Brother,” which was used to score the second half of Woody Allen’s 2008 Oscar-winning film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” But, in order for Martin and the handful of other musicians to learn the music, Martin said she had to find someone to copy the sounds onto sheet music. Wrembel didn’t have it. “He said, Marya, I don’t read music. I don’t write anything down… we just do it!” Martin explained.

“It’s very different from us,” she continued. “We’re taught to respect the score and play one note as beautifully as we can. With jazz, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s improvising, being free, going off on a tangent that at least has some tie to the original [melody]… They spend a lot of time going over and over [a song] and it just becomes part of them. It’s a very different way of learning or composing.”

When Wrembel was asked to produce a song for Woody Allen’s current film, “Midnight in Paris,” the writer/director commissioned the Parisian guitarist to — without any prior knowledge of the film’s story — simply compose a song about the famed French city.

“I just stepped out and recorded kind of a standard. I recorded the rhythm guitar, then the melody just came to me,” Wrembel began. “I don’t know how to explain it, it’s really weird. I just sat down with my guitar and the melody came. That was it. It just poured out of me, I don’t know why.”

He didn’t draw inspiration from a collection of gathered images, or meticulously outlined chord progressions. “It’s more like, Paris is my town. It’s where I’m from. So, the song was just a dream about Paris. I could feel it, because it’s like home,” Wrembel continued. “When you think about home, wherever you are, you know the vibe of it.”

This will be the first time Martin will be playing with another musician so strongly bent on improvisation. She said she and the other musicians will practice with sheet music the day before their performance with Wrembel.

“We will certainly be playing with some notes,” she admitted. “But, it will certainly be a collaboration.”

Stephane Wrembel’s performance at the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival will be Friday, August 12 at the Channing Sculpture Garden. Wine-tasting and appetizers will be served at 6 p.m. The concert begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $100.