There are a myriad of reasons to watch Scoop, now out on DVD after the many critical pans following its summer ’06 theatrical release. One reason to check it out is for the director himself, the most famous phobic filmmaker, Mr. Woody Allen. He can attract an audience based solely on his name - a crowd of aficionados who have seen everything he has churned out since his directorial debut of What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. These are the people who clinked their glasses to classics like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters and withered the gloomy hours of his less successful Small Time Crooks and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Scoop, offers another opportunity to bask in the born-again comic energy of Woody Allen, inspired by the witty contributions of America’s most beautiful and talented Hollywood starlet, Ms. Scarlett Johansson.
If you are an Allen fan, you have probably already seen Scoop, but for those who are not, think of his movies like successive chapters in comic wonder (or blunder) released annually for your entertainment. Allen is a storyteller and comedian constantly in flux, and has released a film almost every year since 1966 to prove it. Almost 30 years after the acclaim of what might be his most famous film, Annie Hall his neurotic humor is revived in this caper which is set entirely in London, and adorned with lines like “I don't need to work out. My anxiety acts as aerobics.” Even beyond the borders of the 5 boroughs and across the pond his absurdist humor still amuses while he takes us on a walking tour of London and the English countryside.
English-speaking Britain is a foreign land compared to his native New York, a place he could never reside, he says, because of the “language problem.” Allen is “The Great Splendini,” or Sid Waterman when the magician’s cape is off. Cards shoot from a top hat, a bouquet of cheap fabric flowers explode from his palm. There is one trick, not up his sleeve, but in his “dematerializer” booth, which Ms. Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) enters and meets the ghost of a persistent investigative journalist, Joe Strombel (Ian McShane). Strombel has learned that society man Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is London’s notorious “Tarot Card Killer.” He pursues the story from the grave in the only way he can, through Sondra, who follows the scoop with Sid disguised as her father—the requisite dysfunctional relationship in any Allen film, that surprises us with comic chemistry unmatched since the days of Annie (Diane Keaton) and Alvy (Allen) in the aforementioned Annie Hall
The movie’s characters play their own kinds of tricks on one another—Sondra pretends her name is Jade, and that Sid is her father (and vice-versa for Sid). Likewise, Peter keeps his fingers deceptively crossed behind his back when he tells “Jade” how sensual she is and hints at love at first sight. None of the characters are who they say they are, their relationships are based on false identities. Their deceptions are bound to catch up with them, but watching Sid and Sondra riff on one another’s idiosyncrasies is half the fun of the story. Take the scene with the pair’s impromptu plan for Sondra to stage her own drowning in the private pool where Peter takes laps. For Sondra the introduction is embarrassing enough, but the scene doesn’t crescendo until Sid re-enters the pool area, stumbling over his phony reaction to the near tragedy, “I was in the lounge, I heard you drowning. I finished my tea and scones and came immediately!”
There is a real energy between Allen and Johansson that makes it fun to watch a Woody Allen comedy again. The director is in his 70s now so it is unlikely that audiences have much more than a decade left to enjoy his antics. My hope is that Allen has come full-circle. Hopefully Scoop is a happy hint of what lies ahead in the conclusion of his career, his witty pleasure and liveliness that’s now forty-years-old.
There are no DVD extras for Scoop. My guess is this is because Allen prefers his movies to stand on their own feet, without hindsight observations or explanations that expand the story’s meaning. As fast as his turnover is between films, in practical terms he probably doesn’t have time to dub a commentary track anyway; his next film is already in post-production and set for release in 2007. In Woody Allen terms, the best extra to hold out for is next year’s film, the next small chapter in his rather prolific filmmaking career.
The details of the disk are as simple as it gets. The picture is formatted on widescreen, so none of the original framing of the film is lost and we get the whole picture as it was originally seen in theaters. The picture quality and sound are crystal-clear and clean, so despite the lack of any bonus features, the DVD is a pristine picture and a nice addition for any Woody Allen fan’s collection.
The DVD is indeed intended for the “fan’s” collection. You won’t find any plush toy or figurine of the movie’s characters attached to the packaging. No miniature hologram movie poster is included in the case. The Allen Empire is content to market to their fans without any gimmick. Just the same, it is always exciting to hear Woody Allen speak, and I for one would be glued to any commentary track he would provide. Perhaps in the future fans can anticipate a DVD package replete with all of his original movie trailers, and interviews with his actors. Historically, features like these are important because they give us an understanding of his influences, of the filmmakers and writers before him that helped shape the form of his work. Essentially, extras like these create a legacy for the director as a person. Not a bad gift for Mr. Allen, who today, December 1st, celebrates his 71st birthday.