Directed by Woody Allen. 1978.
Starring Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, Geraldine Page, Sam Waterston, Richard Jordan, E.G Marshall, Kristin Griffiths and Maureen Stapleton. 91 mins. Released individually on Blu-ray; also available as part of the Woody Allen: Six Films 1971 -1978 by Arrow Films
And so we must, because it can not be put off for any longer, come to the first of his serious films. Arrow released the box set of his early films last month but have decided to delay the standalone release of Interiors for a month. If Annie Hall was the fine dining experience, then Interiors is the bill, the price you have to pay. And it is steep. So steep you will go back over it to check the figure and wonder when and why exactly we ordered so much wine.
Allen's first “serious” film is a horrendous hotchpotch of Chekhov and Bergman, but it does at least have a great title. Interiors refers to the profession of the troubled mother (Page), the fact that the film is made up almost entirely of interiors (the beach is sometimes walked along, but in this film the sea is primarily something to think about throwing yourself into) and that the drama is about the interior life of its characters, and their existential struggles with the challenges of creativity.
It is also deeply ironic, because these characters have no interior life, nobody can open their mouth without blurting out their deepest innermost fears and feelings. I put this down to Woody spending too much time watching all that bloody theatre nonsense. But even there I'm pretty sure that this is not the way you're supposed to do it, that you're supposed to let the audience work out the inner mechanics of the characters without having it spelt out for them. Watching a Woody Allen drama is liking having a book of crossword puzzle where the answers are printed where the clues should be.
The plot is basically Hannah and Her Sisters, (Hurt seems to have been costumed and made up to resemble Mia Farrow) without the Woody Allen comedy side strand and without the lightening presence of Michael Caine. He gave his character a buffoonish nature that made you believe that he might be inclined to say out loud everything that came into this head. Everybody here takes the high seriousness at face value. There are three sisters: Keaton an acclaimed poet living with an increasingly less acclaimed novelist (Jordan); Griffith an actress who works on TV movies and Hurt who was daddy's favourite but hasn't amounted to anything and lives with a documentary film maker (Waterston.) In the aftermath of their parents (Marshall and Page) separating they re-evaluate their lives.
Well, you can't fault it for seriousness. There is no soundtrack music, no visual warmth, and no levity whatsoever. When the father decides to remarry with a woman (Stapleton) described as a “vulgarian” because she isn't a writer, performer or interior designer, she becomes the hero of the piece, just because she has a bit of life in her.
To be fair, the film is beautifully photographed by Gordon Willis (The Godfather) and the cast are all strong and Page is magnificent as the mother. You can see why critics, and audiences, were impressed by it when it came out. Back then it would be easy for it to be taken as an austere look at a family which has sucked the life out of each other, to see this as a searing look at sterile people who can only communicate with each other through self satisfied intellectual chat and self analysis. That was before we knew that this would be Woody's approach to all dramatic writing.
The film is his dramatisation of his frequently expressed view that comedy is inferior to drama, that comedy sits at a lower table to drama. In the film everybody feels insecure about the value of their work, wants it to be more serious and wonders it it ultimately has any point.. Except the father who decides to dump them all and have a little bit of fun, and is then condemned as being shallow.