Blue Jasmine (2013): Homage and Re-Imagining

Sometimes when we see different versions of an original piece of art we tend to dismiss them as cheesy imitations, turning art into a cliche, like, the many faces and parodies of the Mona Lisa.

And sometimes, when we see a work that we know is a new version of an older masterpiece and yet we appreciate it, all because it brings us a breath of fresh air, a different perspective, new insights, a re-imagining, or offers us some new pleasures.

Here are a few examples. Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) is the auteur’s version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and movingly crafted. West Side Story (1961), we appreciate it as a different styling of Romeo and Juliet. Kurosawa’s Ran (1985), we know it to be a Japanese rendition of King Lear, and we marvel at the director’s handling of a Shakespearean classic from a different culture. A bit later, the younger generation in the 1990’s enjoyed Clueless (1995) even though they may not have noticed the resemblance to Jane Austen’s Emma. With Disturbia (2007), we see Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window making its way into the minds of teenaged viewers, and who cares that they didn’t even know it.

Woody Allen has done that many a times in his over four decade career as a director, creating different versions of the works from those he had expressed deep admiration. Call it homage, if you will, or borrowing, but we never have the impression that he’s ‘copying’. Copying is mindless triviality. But a look at Allen’s Interiors, we’ll see the deep shadow of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, the intense yet intimate styling of a chamber drama. Or Hannah and Her Sisters, an apt parallel with Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point, we see him deal with the issue of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or rather, crime and the absence of punishment. I’m sure you can think of some more examples.

Blue Jasmine Movie Poster

So here with Allen’s 48th feature Blue Jasmine, does it matter that its structure and characterization parallel Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, the Elia Kazan 1951 classic movie? Especially when we see such a finely crafted, enjoyable, and impressively performed modern version, we can only admire Allen’s imagination and creativity. I have a feeling that he (or his casting staff) gets Cate Blanchett to star as Jasmine because of her on-stage mastery of Blanche Du Bois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire performed not too long ago.

With Blue Jasmine, the 77 year-old director seems to have hit his stride yet again. Two years ago, Midnight in Paris brought him the highest opening box office gross in his career, now Blue Jasmine has surpassed that. Blue Jasmine will also be the widest screened Woody Allen movie, so far. It reaffirms the director’s talent in how he can bring out the best from his actors.

Cate Blanchett turns from blanche to blue, but just the same as she steps down the social ladder in a fragile mental state, dependent on a cocktail of alcohol and anti-depressants. She is Jasmine, a New York socialite who has to go stay with her working class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco after her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) meets the full legal consequence of his fraudulent business dealings, a definite change of course from Allen’s earlier movies Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point.

The real and imaginary in Jasmine’s mind is smoothly shifted as we see her delusional self living in the present and the past at the same time. Allen handles it very well. The non-lineal storytelling is seamless. Blanchett is superb in her lucid performance, portraying convincingly a whole spectrum of emotions and mental states, while tugging at our heartstrings as we see her try desperately to stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life. This is where Allen is best, piercing sad human situations with light and gentle humor.

Allen has plenty of materials to poke fun at and chances to deliver his social commentaries. Yes folks, there is a class system in democratic America, and the humor in the film is at the expense of both the upper class and maybe more, the menial workers. Mind the gap, for it is unbridgeable. Fact is, the fun of the film, I’m afraid, is at the expense of depicting some of the characters a bit like caricatures. Having said that, I must applaud the wonderful acting from the supporting cast. They look like they are convinced first of their character’s idiosyncrasy, making their portrayals so unabashedly natural.

Further, Allen seems to redeem himself in presenting a moralistic stance. True love can be found right there in Ginger’s circle with her devoted boyfriend Chilli (Bobby Cannavale), whom Jasmine calls a ‘loser’; the deceivers are from the upper crust, Hal (Alec Baldwin) being the prominent figure. Others who may look like a step up for Ginger could well be a mirage. The wonderful supporting cast includes Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, Louie C. K. the seemingly hopeful sound engineer, Michael Stuhlbarg, the serious man turned desperate dentist, and Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight, no doubt the parallel of Mitch (Karl Malden) in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Blanchett’s Jasmine performance has already sent out Oscar buzz, and it’s only August. She carries the film through brilliantly. An Oscar nomination should be well deserved. We are glad to find too that Allen has not missed a beat after his success with Midnight in Paris, still churning out enjoyable films on an annual basis, while sometimes a superb actor can much enhance our appreciation, as it is the case here. 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Other related posts:

Midnight In Paris

A Serious Man (Michael Stuhlbarg)

An Education (Peter Sarsgaard)

Do we need a Rebecca Remake? Another Grapes of Wrath?

Art and Cliché

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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

21 thoughts on “Blue Jasmine (2013): Homage and Re-Imagining”

  1. Arti,

    How funny that you were writing your review on “Blue Jasmine” as I was popping the question — “Have you seen it?” — under the post about a blue moon.

    Thanks for sharing your insights here. Now I know… that I MUST see this film again… and also, for the first time — Leigh and Brando in Streetcar. Why I haven’t seen this old classic before…well… I can’t say. But I will. Yes. I will.

    Janell

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    1. Janell,

      Yes, me neither… until I saw Blue Jasmine. But oh how much more enjoyable this newer version is. The old classic is great too, Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, but the b/w makes it deeply intense and serious. This summer for the first time I saw James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, impressive classics. Also Henry Fonda in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath… all in preparation for the new film version. We’re all the more enriched by a good re-make I think.

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      1. Hmmm… didn’t Leigh receive the “Best Actress” Oscar that year for her portrayal of Blanche? Seems like she did…

        I’ll try to remember to come back and share my thoughts on the two films after watching them both…

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  2. Hi, we have seen it here in Delft, The Netherlands last thursday. We loved it very much, all good actors, especially Cate, and her sister. My son was angry that there was no ending, and I explaned that the ending we saw was her end, although it was not the ending we wanted for her, it was her end and we had to accept it as it was. So a great movie and I hope they win some oscars.

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    1. Robin,

      Welcome! Glad you’ve had the chance to see this movie in Delft and enjoyed it.

      About the ending, I was going to write this in and then forgot. I think the ending here in Blue Jasmine reminds me of the ending of the British film directed by Mike Leigh, Another Year (2010). At the end, we see the character Mary (Lesley Manville) staring into space with a most poignant, lonely and despondent face. Then the screen fades to black.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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  3. This is one on my list. So many on the list. When I’m retired, I’ll get to see more of them! I’ve heard wonderful things about this, but what I really appreciate is your connection to homage. I don’t know how Woody does it. And I don’t care, as long as he keeps on!

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    1. Jeanie,

      After you’ve seen it, do come back to share with us your thoughts. It’s been on my summer viewing list, and not until now does it screen in my city. I’m glad to announce that I’ve seen all that I’ve wanted to see on my list and some more. That’s another post. 😉

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  4. Thank you Arti!
    I went to see the film last week, and was almost surprised by how good it was, in my opinion the best Allen movie in years.
    In my book this film scores high on all factors, but most of all I was taken by how Jasmine’s delusional self came to stage. She is presented as a very sophisticated, elite kind of woman, but even so her misery has a universal quality. Like in a classical tragedy one recognizes oneself in her fall. No doubt Blanchett is essential for carrying it all through – her performance is fantastic!

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    1. Sigrun,

      That’s a good point. One post is too limited to explore thoroughly all relevant elements, and that’s why I treasure the comments. You’re absolutely right to note ‘her misery has a universal quality.’ Well, at least when facing mental illness, there’s no class difference. We’re all vulnerable. Thanks for stopping by the pond to throw in your two pebbles. 😉

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  5. It’s been ages since I’ve read “A Streetcar Named Desire”, but it’s going on the list pronto, along with “Blue Jasmine”. In the end, I was happy with what I wrote about “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, and this has the same appeal – the personal connection both to Tennessee Williams and to the “Moon Lake Casino” Blanche DuBois refers to in “Streetcar”. I’ve stayed there! and would love to go back, not only for the literary history, but also because grandpa David Crowley began his Civil War career near there, taking part in the ill-fated Yazoo Expedition.

    Faulkner and Williams used to meet at the Moon Lake Club to drink – and Williams grandfather took him there as a child. I can’t go everywhere, but I can get there, and now you’ve given me a reason to go back. I’m really rather excited to think about it. But first – the play and the film.

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    1. Linda,

      I’m sure you’ll find it interesting to see them back to back. While I admire the classic film its cast, director, and original writer, I appreciate the modern version which is purely an imaginary creation of its brilliant writer/director, and I must say I’ve enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s performance even more than Leigh’s. Be sure to come back and share with us your take. BTW, I’m in Toronto now at TIFF. The city core is just booming with excitement and activities. Watch for my tweets. 😉

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  6. I love-love-love-love-LOVED this movie. I was already in love with Cate Blanchett from such films as The Lord of the Rings and her portrayal as Queen Elizabeth I, but Blue Jasmine really hit home for me the capacity of her talent. I seriously hope she gets nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal in this role, because I want her to win so terribly much.

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  7. Finally saw Blue Jasmine last week. But silly me, I didn’t pick the Streetcar remake. I’ve seen the film but decades ago. The story didn’t seem particularly new, and perhaps that’s why! I thought Blanchett was great. And I love your point about class in America, and about “true love”. I thought Sally Hawkins was wonderful too – still in “thrall” to her sister while being a more stable person really. Still finding her way, but you feel she’ll do it.

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    1. WG,

      I saw ASCND right after BJ, and found them to be parallel story in plot, characterization and setting. But you know WA, he likes to pay homage to his ‘heroes’. Who knows, maybe TW or EK or MB … among them. Thanks for stopping by the pond and throwing in your two pebbles. Sorry for the delay in replying.

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  8. Thanks for a great review of Blue Jasmine, another Woody Allen’s masterpiece.

    Cate Blanchett will definitely get an Oscar normination &possibly taking home the Best Actress Award. Yes, can’t agree with you more, what a great cast.

    Like

    1. MM,

      Yes, BJ so far has broken all box offices records of WA’s own films. So, hopefully it will bring CB to the Oscars once again. But she’ll have strong competitors though.

      Like

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