by Jaime Grijalba.
You have to give it to Woody Allen, he is an infatigable director, he always manages to have one movie a year, most of the time decent, some times great, very rarely bad, and that’s something we should admire in him, even if he doesn’t think much of himself, as he has always repeated in interviews and his own writing, that he has never done any masterpiece and that he will always be forgotten when looking at the history of cinema on the light of filmmakers like Fellini or Bergman (two of his favorites), that also happen to be two of the most revered directors of all time… so, Woody, you don’t think you’ll ever be put side to side next to those two directors… well, I don’t think anyone would ever imagine to put Woody Allen on a list of the best 10 directors of the history of filmmaking, I mean, as much as you love him, you must admit that it’s always his screenwriting labor that takes place above all in his films. But I wouldn’t hesitate one bit to put him in a list of the best comedy directors of all time alongside Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton, and it is with those two that he found his biggest inspiration for this particular film, that was always planned and envisioned (in its initial stages) as a silent film that took place in the future (he was going to say that people weren’t allowed to talk due to an oppresive regime, and so giving it a reason for it to be a silent comedy), and even if that idea didn’t actually realize, the spirit of both is present in many ways that you can feel as the biggest and most beautiful tribute, as well as one of the most visually attractive films from the entire career of Woody Allen.
Rewatching the film recently I realized really how much of the performance from Woody Allen as the criogenized Miles Monroe is silent. You have to think about all the time he is on a slab, waiting to be reanimated, then all the time he spends with his brain a bit frozen due to its inactivity after 200 years of hibernation (due to a minor operation that started to go wrong, he was put in the freezer until they could find a solution to the problem… they seem to have forgotten him after a while), and then all the time that he is spending fleeing those who hunt him down (because he was illegally defrosted) is practically silent most of the time, there are funny gags and sequences that feature no dialogue, and then there’s the funniest parts of the whole film, when he passes himself as one of the robots, and to become one of them he must put a metal ball inside of his mouth, so he is unable to talk (he just utters his name once he gets into the house of Luna, played by Diane Keaton) for a long stretch of the film. During the time that he is unable to speak, most of the time the acting reminizes that of Buster Keaton in the way of the faces he is making (specially in the robot sections) and to Charles Chaplin in the actual movements that he is making, being flexible, falling down and standing up, moving and even acting as Chaplin always did when he was in love, but this time applied to Miles when he was completely brain dead, running over guard’s feet with a mini-car that he finds inside the lab in which he was defrosted just recently. There are also some gags that remind you of specific films from these silent comedy geniuses, like when Woody Allen’s character is finding some food and he comes across a transgenic farm with giant vegetables and fruits, and when he looks into the distance he comes across the farmer and a giant chicken… his only reaction is saying:
‘That’s a big chicken!’
Obviously, the giant chicken is a visual quote to ‘The Gold Rush’ and the scene in which Chaplin’s companion starts to envision our poor fella as a giant chicken, including maybe the most incredible depiction of ‘doing the chicken’ by the favorite silent comedian of many people from around the globe. The nods of the head, winks of the eye and tips of the hat towards those two comedians don’t stop there, but actually mentioning them one by one would be a demeaning factor of a review, as I would just spend time praising these already highly praised directors and performers, when I’m trying to write a piece about how great this particular movie is incredibly funny and important on its own, without the need of you actually knowing the source of the references (even though, for some, it might get funnier when you know them). But here comes the last thing I’ll say about the subject, I think… Woody Allen had never worked so hard in a movie than in this one, and this is just an estimate that I’m giving just by myself, not guiding me by actual interviews or experiences of Woody Allen made into a book, or confessions from the hairdresser, it’s not at all like that, but it is to say that this is the Woody Allen film with most credits to Woody Allen himself in his entire film career to this day, including his latest film with a starring role. In this he was director, screenwriter, main performer and score composer, and he also played the clarinet in the actual recordings of it. That is impressive and reminds you of the later films of Charles Chaplin, in which he played all those roles, composing one of the most beautiful scores on film even though he was also giving us the most welcomed and heart-warming comedies from those years. And the score for ‘Sleeper’ is not bad at all, it’s actually pretty good to be the only work he ever did in this department so far.
I said that this is one of the most visually impressive films of his career, and while Allen was just starting his road as a film director, I think that there are few films that top this very early effort (this one is in my actual top 10 of the films he has directed, and it’s one of my 100 favorite comedies… in that case, it just fell short of 60 in the list, hence it won’t show up in the final rundown) as it is one of the best examples of whenever he is told that his ‘early funny ones’ where one of the best work he put out, I mean, personally, this one and ‘Love and Death’ are better than… let’s say… ‘Annie Hall’ or ‘Hannah and her Sisters’, but that just may be me, because I’m a bit brainless in the inside part of the head. It just takes a look at the cost-effective and low budget art direction to see how much visual invention was had at the hands of the craftsmen that had the task of making a future world with a budget under 2 million dollars, it is also thanks to the script that explained much of the cleanliness of the world by certain characters that signifie the future experience as one where the social experience and touch is very limited when it’s regarding the sexual life, and also how the ordinate and white state of the interiors of the houses, government buildings, and other installations due to the orwellian characteristics of the government that looks for a vigilant reign over the ones that are under it, with the glorification of a leader, including into the plot the existence of a resistence towards the state of how things are, one that can easily relate to our confused criogenized main character, due to the simmilarities in their goals and views for the society, opposed to the lack of touch in the sexual act or many other elements that will come into place once the resistance forms a plan to attack the leader in a singular way.
The film does go into silly places sometimes, but it is understandable into the logic of a film that most of its humour is divided between the usual funny dialogue and acting performance from Woody Allen, as well as the slapstick elements taken from the silent comedies (oh crap, I mentioned them again, did I?), and even though we don’t actually believe that the nose of someone would be enough to make someone live, or that a flying japanese contraption like the one in which Allen flies… would, you know, actually fly him away from danger… or that a car from the 1950′s would still have some gasoline inside of it to make it work through the countryside, but we actually have no problems with it, we just marvel and admire Allen for getting away with things like that, because he is very intelligent and he has made a science fiction comedy, where anything can happen, and the jokes regarding our present time can be really date the film, but also manages to give it some kind of vision of the future and actually surprise us with some accurate predictions, for example there’s a scene in which Nixon is shown and told that he made something really horrific so no record of his presidency is to be found… but he resigned just in August 1974, and this film was released in 1973, so there’s a bit of hindsight in there, and a chuckle to be had by us, the future viewers. There are many scenes that stand out in this film, so I’ll give you my two favorites in video form, two that actually show the two ways in which the humour of the film is achieved:
How Sleeper made the Top 100:
No. 23 Peter M.
No. 32 Samuel Wilson
No. 48 Pierre de Plume
No. 56 Jon Warner
((No. 71 Jaime Grijalba, but this doesn’t count since it’s below no. 60, but I wanted to say that it just fell out at a last moment shift))