Monday, 30 October 2006

Scoop (2006)

What did you just say? I lost it in the audience laughter

A strong case could be made, I think, for the home theatre experience, especially for a film like Scoop. It is a breezy, light-hearted gem of a movie that is practically unwatchable in the cinemas. Scoop is a Woody Allen comedy starring Woody Allen, with his trademark eccentric, offbeat, strange and funny lines, punctuated with generous self-parody and a good sense of fun.

What spoils it all in the cinema will be the audience sitting around you. You see, whenever Woody Allen spouts one of his farfetched lines, the audience will burst out in laughter for the next ten seconds. Yet Allen doesn’t stop talking after delivering that funny line with his deadpan expression; the dialogue goes on, without a pause. So amidst all the guffaws in the cinema yesterday night, I could see the mouths on the screen moving, without being able to make out what everyone was saying for a good ten seconds. This wasn’t a one-off occurrence; it happened every few minutes. One imagines the audience was having so much fun they didn’t notice the missing dialogue. One would have hoped that the audience come upon the realisation by say, the middle of the movie, but they were still at it even in the end.

Let’s get this clear. There are 2 types of jokes. The stand up comic builds up the joke towards a punch line at the end, and then you laugh. On film, the dialogue stops almost entirely for a briefest moment (say, 5 seconds), and you laugh. Woody Allen’s writes comic routines that begin with plain weird and surprising funny lines that serve as a springboard for more hilarious elaboration or a jazz-like riff. It’s an opener, not a punch line – and if you do laugh right off the bat, you’ll miss the entire joke which comes after that. It’s like laughing after the first line of a Seinfeld sketch and then covering the rest of the dialogue with your laughter. Or rather, sitting in an audience that does that.

It’s not that I have a defective sense of humour – Allen writes his dialogue for people to chuckle at in the beginning, then bask in the frisson as the joke develops. You laugh at his sight gags, his oddly appropriate but very wrong choice of soundtrack music. And you, the person sitting right next to me, must definitely not repeat the funny lines word for word to your movie partner when the audience is laughing.

Don’t get me wrong, Scoop is a great movie – from what I managed to make out of the remaining dialogue. Singaporean audiences are clearly more comfortable with the Jack Neo Variety Night weekday shows, and are not ready to watch this other brand of comedy. Since they are incapable of appropriate moviegoer behaviour, I recommend everyone to skip the cinema screenings for Scoop in Singapore and just wait for the DVD. Regardless of whether you are a diehard Woody Allen fan or someone who just wants to laugh out loud and hard during a comedy.

On 21 November 2006, the DVD of Scoop will be released in the US, and hopefully shortly after in Singapore. Then, I will watch it and get all the lines, and that will be enable me to write a review of the movie. I might even watch it with a friend who laughs loudly and inappropriately, since it’ll be very easy to turn on the English subtitles.

First published at incinemas on 5 October 2006

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