Hailed as Woody Allen’s best film in years, I can only add to the general praise – and muse a bit.
First, I entered the cinema with no precise expectations. The Guardian in the UK and given it a stunning review, of which I deliberately only read the first few lines. Why know more? I like Woody Allen’s film. When he’s hot, he’s hot. And although a few years older, he is more or less of my generation. Or his fans, like me, are of a certain generation. And to hear that he has a good film out, well, it reminds me that good things have come in my time. And I feel good about that time.
Not that I felt particularly good after Blue Jasmine. I rolled out of a local multiplex cinema feeling quite shaken. I went into the men’s toilet for the usual purpose, in addition to seeking respite. A moment to let the emotions settle.
This film gets under the skin in several particular ways. One of them must have something to do with its locality, much of it shot in San Francisco. The city provides a familiar backdrop to many cinematic yarns, so even for locals like me the settings register as intended. Airy, watery vistas. Buildings, even run down ones, that look atmospherically Victorian. The latter adding much to the effect critics have noted, how the film nods to A Streetcar Named Desire. While doing more.
For the South Van Ness apartment that anchors the film, while echoing New Orleans with its period, working-class home, had another effect on me. Probably very personal. San Francisco, much like London, has jumbled socioeconomic geography in a particular way. I know the location of that apartment. A few streets away, people live in great affluence. Crowds of homeless people surround public areas near the subway station…which is regularly thronged by audiences streaming to or from the nearby civic opera house or concert hall. As for the real estate, having recently bought a home there, San Francisco’s transitional housing market…rents soaring, people with normal incomes getting squeezed out, all this is tangible to me. So I can’t help looking at Ginger in her cramped, slightly rundown flat and know that, among other things, she is probably paying a lot for the place.
Jasmine gets under the skin from the first frame by being, simply put, a compulsive talker. She seduced me with her beauty, but as soon as I understood that she was given to indiscriminate conversation…the infatuation faded. But only for a moment. She is beautiful, and her appeal keeps coming back. Intermittently we also see her disheveled and sweaty, so the effect subsides throughout the film. Then it comes back. Because this experience echoes midlife itself, Woody Allen probably gets to people of my age in a particular way.
The film is full of class struggle and class conflict. Sometimes Allen hits one over the head a bit too hard. But mostly the situation speaks for itself. Which is most insidious. The plot seems wholly plausible, and the effect of America’s recent larcenies in Gilded Age II hits home. But what really works is the class tension. It’s there anyway, between people anywhere. But I felt the discomfort acutely. For me, this is among the film’s true triumphs. Allen harnesses one of America’s underlying tensions, an area in which we as a people are particularly uncomfortable. In Britain, for reasons of history, everyone is easier with the subject of class. Here, the subject is mildly taboo. We have no overt, comfortable language for class distinctions. Somehow, it’s not supposed to be this way, yet it is, now more than ever. And the characters in Blue Jasmine who know they’ve been economically abused, they got under my skin too. For liberals like me who have experienced racial guilt, we can now add class guilt.
After today’s lunch, rolling down Santa Cruz Ave., a black woman attired for work as a nursing home assistant, at a guess, passes me on the sidewalk. I am aware that she is talking too loud, and it is a relief to see her mobile phone. Still, we don’t share conversational space in this bumptious way, not here in our haute suburb, do we?
Jasmine’s efforts to get out in the world truly made me cringe, with some sort of recognition. An expression slides across her face that might begin with ‘how dare you,’ but quickly morphs into ‘this can’t be happening’ and ‘can I endure this’ and of course, ‘I must endure this.’ We have all been there. Approaching my graduation from Berkeley in 1968, the world certainly seemed to be my oyster. After my injury, I encountered a lot of oyster shells, sharp and empty. My disappointment was tangible and constant. So I can feel Jasmine’s fall. And the way she copes, or doesn’t.
I’m very familiar with South Park, the setting for Jasmine’s final scene on the bench. In reality, the square is full of the lost. People drinking. People staring. People in between shelters. As well as people on their lunch hour chatting about venture capital. It’s all there. In short, people on a typical sunny day in South Park would hardly notice Jasmine. These days in America, we hardly notice a lot of things.