|Somehow I managed to miss seeing Woody Allen's SEPTEMBER (1987) when it was originally theatrically released. That's a little odd, since at that point in my film going life I made it a point to try and see everything that had Woody Allen's name on it. I watched SEPTEMBER last week and while it's an interesting film, it's far from Allen's best work.|
SEPTEMBER is a hermetic, claustrophobic piece of film making, more like a filmed play than a movie since there are only six characters in the story and all of the action takes place inside one house over a long, end-of-summer weekend.
The performers are the usual Allen suspects: Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, and Dianne Wiest, along with Denholm Elliott, Jack Warden and Elaine Stritch. The story is full of Allen's thematic concerns: the temptations of adultery, unrequited loves, the need to let go and move on with life, family secrets and unhappy endings. Needless to say, this isn't a comedy.
The plot is pretty basic. All six characters come together at Farrow's house for a weekend. Farrow is in love with Waterston, a blocked writer who rents a cottage from her. He can't seem to make progress on his novel and he's sorely tempted to write the biography of Farrow's blowzy mother (Stritch), a woman who has led a very interesting life.
Waterston is in love with Wiest, a married woman (and Farrow's best friend) who is spending the summer away from her husband and children in the city. She's sorely tempted by Waterston and the two do kiss, but the relationship doesn't go any further.
Poor Denholm Elliott is Farrow's older-man neighbor who is secretly in love with Farrow and has been for many years. He doesn't want her to sell the house (which she decides to do in the course of the film) and leave the country to return to New York City.
Stritch reveals a family secret that upsets the apple cart but not before she tries to contact the ghost of her dead first husband via a Ouija board. Warden, her current husband, is a scientist who doesn't believe in the spirit world or life after death or religion or spirituality of any kind. He believes in facts, logic and reason, all of which he gets the chance to espouse in one scene. After that, he doesn't have much to do for the rest of the film.
SEPTEMBER was deliberately filmed like a play with many long takes and very few camera effects. Allen actually shot the film twice. The first version starred Sam Shepard as Peter (Waterston) (Christopher Walken shot a few scenes in the part first but was eventually determined not right for the role). Maureen O'Sullivan played the part of Farrow's mother, Diane (Stritch) and Charles Durning played Farrow's neighbor Howard (Elliott). After editing the footage, Allen decided to re-write the screenplay, re-cast the film and shoot the whole thing again in its' entirety.
Was it worth all of that extra effort? I don't know but I do think it would have been a gas to see the uber-weird Christopher Walken as the writer instead of the buttoned down Waterston. SEPTEMBER is not a bad little film it's just not one that's easy to warm up to. I didn't really like any of the characters and I found it hard to care about what ultimately happened to them. The performances are good, the film is beautifully shot and edited but there's just not much there to sink your teeth into. For hardcore Allen fans only.