The Purple Rose of Cairo is the 13th film written and directed by Woody Allen, first released in 1985.
This film holds a special place in Woody Allen’s filmography. It is Woody Allen’s own favourite of his films, whilst he consistently rags on just about every other one he’s ever made. Even now, he claims it is the film that is closest to his original vision. From it, we can see what it is that Allen the filmmaker really wants to do. Beloved by critics if not so much by audiences – not only is it great, it’s the kind of film that only Woody Allen can make. That wonderful mix of American and European, comedy and tragedy, realism and magic.
Mia Farrow stars as Cecilia, a down and out waitress in the depression era Jersey. She’s married to a man who beats her and she is poor and unhappy. Her only escape is the cinema, and she sees every film at the local cinema. Black and white, dramatic, sophisticated escapades, such as ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’. Just as her life hits bottom, one of the characters in the film leaps off the screen to whisk her away.
Welcome to the Woody Allen Pages Podcast, by me, the creator of the Woody Allen Pages website. This week, episode 14, we look at 1985’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. How it was conceived, how it was made, and how Allen doesn’t hate this one. Spoilers are everywhere so watch the film first, then come back.
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Another great episode, full of interesting details, little known facts, and fascinating insights into the film. As is often the case many of your opinions and feelings echo my own. It’s reassuring in a way to have some of my thoughts almost validated as it were. There is one point on which I have to disagree with you, though. You say in the episode that you feel the scene in the brothel is unnecessary, doesn’t go anywhere, and is unresolved. I feel quite the opposite. I’d go as far as to say say this is a key scene in the movie. When I first saw Purple Rose I sat and watched it, I was enjoying it, a very pleasant, clever, witty and romantic comedy. Greatly enjoying it. Then came the brothel scene, and Tom Baxter’s line – “I can’t sleep with you, I’m in love with Celia”. (Paraphrasing). Suddenly, the whole film opened up for me. I got it. I saw the hidden depths in what was on the surface a light and frothy film. I suddenly got what Woody was saying about us, about people, about society. The gulf between what we are and what we aspire to be. And I saw how these classic old films, however corny and cliched and unrealistically glamorous they might be, tried to show us the kind of person we could and should be. Tried to hold up for us some old-fashioned values that possibly never really existed. All this came from that one line in that one scene, and it caused a ripple effect that instantly took me back through everything I’d just seen in Purple Rose and it elevated the entire film to something much more than I’d realised. Forgive the hyperbole. But your podcast just reminded me of all this and took me back to that moment in the cinema when I first watched Purple Rose and had it reinforced for me just what a special, special talent Woody Allen is. Many thanks.