Director is quick to sing praises of 'Early Woody'

March 10, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

He doesn't duck it. He doesn't fade, evade, slide, drop, shuffle, shuck or jive.

"Woody Allen, yes," says David Frankel, who wrote and directed "Miami Rhapsody," in which many critics have noted certain, uh, similarities to Woody Allen's films.

"If you get a chance to do any work," Frankel, 35, says stoutly, "it's got to be something you would like to see. You never know if you're going to get to make another one. I asked myself, what kind of films do I like? And the answer: Early Woody."

So Frankel, armed with a contract from the Disney studio as a consequence of his successful TV series "Grapevine," set out to make a new Early Woody, without Woody. But, uh . . . Mia Farrow was available.

"I looked very carefully at the films I loved so much," he says from his current home in -- no surprise -- Miami. "What I learned was not to be afraid to make it funny. Get the best actors and let them work. Use lots of long masters."

That last item is a specific stylistic of Allen, who famously shoots the longest masters in the business: that is, a single camera shot held for an entire scene.

"It gives you a feeling of reality. You get to see the reactions live -- there's no cutting to reactions. There's a much more heightened sense of reality. I would estimate that maybe as much as 80 percent of 'Miami Rhapsody' is done in master takes. But the camera does move and you get a feeling for close-ups when it moves in."

But it was more than the technical.

"Allen teaches us that nothing's funny without weight. Unless you really feel for the characters, it's not funny. What we watch in the movie is people dealing with it. It's not easy to show a family of adulterers and get the audience to feel for them."

Key question: Any word from the Woodman himself?

"No. Nothing," Frankel says. "But I'm always thrilled when people compare the film to Woody's."

The film follows an Allenesque character observing modern marriage in Miami and finding a festival of hypocrisy and adultery. One major difference from the canon: Although the central figure is quick with the wisecracks, has a severe case of high anxiety, and frequently turns to the camera to make an aside, he's a she.

"It occurred to me," says Frankel, "that in my circle of friends the women were just as anxious about marriage as were the men. That was a viewpoint that hadn't been in films, so there was an opportunistic aspect to it. I thought I could get a movie like that made. Plus I might get some terrific actresses to work with me.

"I really found out that women's point of view on marriage was not that different."

Frankel says that he's a member of the "no-hard-knocks school of filmmaking."

"I'm almost ashamed to say how easy it was. . . I was contacted by [then Disney executive] Jeffrey Katzenberg and asked to come up with a movie. I wrote the film in three or four months and sent it in on a Saturday. Jeffrey called me on Sunday and six months later we were shooting. I told them I'd shoot it quickly and it would be the lowest-budget film Disney ever released."

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