Friday, December 15, 2023

Review: Woody Allen's "SLEEPER" is Comedy Gold and a Sci-Fi Classic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 53 of 2023 (No. 1942) by Leroy Douresseaux

Sleeper (1973)
Running time:  87 minutes (1 hour, 27 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Woody Allen
WRITERS:  Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
PRODUCER:  Jack Grossberg
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  David M. Walsh (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Ralph Rosenblum, O. Nicholas Brown, and Ron Kalish
COMPOSER: Woody Allen


Starring:  Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Mary Gregory, Don Keefer, John McLiam, Bartlett Robinson, Chris Forbes, Mews Small, Peter Hobbs, and John Cannon (voice)

Sleeper is a 1973 science fiction-comedy film directed by Woody Allen.  The film focuses on a store owner who is revived from a cryogenic state into a future world in which the United States has been transformed into an oppressive government that forces its citizens happy and content.

Sleeper opens in the year 2173.  The American Federation, a police state (of sorts), has replaced the United States of America, which was destroyed long ago.  The government is oppressive, but it keeps its citizens happy by giving them good jobs, plenty of food, mood-altering drugs, happiness via mind alteration, and a device called the “orgasmatron” to keep them sexual satisfied.

There is, however, an underground rebellion determined to take down the government and its mysterious “Leader.”  Towards that end, the rebels revive Miles Monroe (Woody Allen), a jazz musician who also owned of the “Happy Carrot” health food restaurant.  In 1973, Miles went in for a routine operation, which managed to go wrong, and the result was that he was cryogenically frozen.  The rebels illegally revive Miles and plan to use him as spy to infiltrate and derail the government because he would be the only member of this society without a known “biometric identity.”

As someone from the distant past, Miles is considered by the current government to be an “alien.”  If caught by the police, he will be brainwashed into a complacent member of society.  The success of Miles' spy mission and his hope of remaining free of brainwashing rest in an idle socialite and poet, Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton), who may be too self-indulgent to become a rebel.

Coup de chance, the film Woody Allen says will likely be his final directorial effort, was released in France in September (2023).  Because of the controversies surrounding Allen the last few decades, especially the last five years, the film may not get a U.S. theatrical release.  In anticipation of somehow seeing Coup de chance, I have decided to watch the recent Woody Allen films that I missed, such as the 2015 film, Irrational Man.

I also decided to review Allen's 1973 classic film, Sleeper, because this year (2023) is the fiftieth anniversary of its original theatrical release (specifically December 17, 1973).  I have seen the film twice before, but I have previously not written a review of it.

Because Woody Allen has become such a controversial and, in recent years, such a toxic figure in American cinema and culture, people may have forgotten what a charming cinematic figure he was for at least three decades.  They may also be unaware that Allen is also an accomplished clarinetist as one can discover in Sleeper's lively Dixieland-style jazz soundtrack, which features Allen performing with “The Preservation Hall Jazz Band” and “The New Orleans Funeral Ragtime Orchestra.”

Sleeper is certainly an excellent parody of the science fiction films of its time, and it is a sharp satire of pseudo-intellectuals, pretentious artists and their patrons, self-indulgent poets, and other assorted poseurs.  The film expertly references such then current science fiction films as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and THX 1138 (1971).  [Douglas Rain, who provided the voice of “HAL 9000” in 2001: A Space Odyssey, also provided the voice of the medical computer in Sleeper.]

However, Sleeper is a showcase of Wood Allen's immense comedic talents, both as writer and as an actor possessing impeccable comic timing.  His skill at physical comedy is also quite impressive and reveals the influence of great performers such as Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, and Groucho Marx, and I would add the work of the great master of silent films, Buster Keaton.  Allen uses facial expressions and the rapid delivery of dialogue, which transforms this slightly built man into a comedy force of nature.  Allen uses his body like a prop, something to abused so long as it stirs a the barrel of laughs.  The result is a winning and lovable character in Miles Monroe.

Sleeper also proves (at least for me) that Diane Keaton is the perfect comic foil and partner for Woody Allen.  Obviously, she has serious dramatic chops, but Keaton is also pure magic and sparkly delight as a comedic actress.  I could watch another hour of her and Allen in this scenario.  Sleeper may seem a bit dated in some aspects, but its leads are eternally pleasing.  Sleeper is a clever satire as well as a witty spin on dystopian science fiction.  Other than Mike Judge's 2006 satirical sci-fi comedy, Idiocracy, there is nothing like it.  Still, the treat in Sleeper is an energetic Woody Allen and an equally smart and savvy Diane Keaton.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Friday, December 15, 2023

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