The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents April 2011 Return to Table of Contents
Hanna
Post Focus
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
All the Presidents
Sound of Music
Tall Dark Stranger
ASC Close-Up
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Blu-ray Edition
1.78:1 (High Definition 1080p)
DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $38.96



Writer-director Woody Allen has long been one of the American cinema’s most reliable chroniclers of romantic folly, having explored the subject with approaches ranging from broadly comic (Love and Death) to horrifyingly tragic (Match Point). You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger falls somewhere in between as it addresses many of Allen’s darker themes (betrayal, aging, the absence of God and justice), but with a light comic touch that makes it his funniest film in years. Like another recent Allen gem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it is a seamless integration of the director’s greatest strengths, both comedic and dramatic, and proves that Allen’s work is as vital and relevant as ever.

The film adopts the ensemble structure of Allen’s great Hannah and Her Sisters as it follows a group of characters desperately seeking romantic and professional fulfillment, mostly with disastrous results. Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) leaves his wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), after 40 years of marriage and falls for a young prostitute named Charmaine (Lucy Punch). Helena, meanwhile, looks for meaning in alcohol and the advice of her psychic as her daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), pines for her married boss (Antonio Banderas). It is no wonder, given that Sally’s husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), is a cranky, unsuccessful writer obsessed with his sexy neighbor, Dia (Freida Pinto). All of these characters move through life vainly trying to improve their circumstances with little or no awareness of the impact their actions have on others.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is the third and best collaboration between Allen and Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, following Melinda and Melinda (2004) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007). Like Cassandra’s Dream, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger takes place in London, but where the earlier film — a pitch-black film noir — was intentionally gloomy and haunting, Allen and Zsigmond’s latest offering is a gorgeous love letter to the city in which it takes place. Shot entirely on location, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger largely eschews Allen’s usual fear of sunlight (ironic, given London’s reputation as a gray, rainy city) in favor of a delicate, radiant, sunlit look that softens the harshness of the characters’ cruelty to themselves and each other. On a thematic level, the behavior is nearly as dark as that in Cassandra’s Dream or Allen’s London-set masterpiece, Match Point, yet Zsigmond’s romantic lighting (aptly described as “ethereal” by Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times) allows us to see the characters’ ruthlessly self-interested actions as more comic than tragic.

The sprightly comic tone is aided by a slightly more diverse compositional and cutting style than one might associate with Allen; whereas his reputation is for shooting nearly everything in long masters with minimal editing and close-ups, in recent years (ever since he moved his productions primarily to European locations), Allen has become a bit more flexible in his technique. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is right in line with this trajectory, with a faster cutting style than Allen’s earlier work and more singles, a style that generates much comedic energy. Yet Allen has not left his beloved long takes behind; in one bravura sequence, Zsigmond’s Steadicam (operated by Peter Cavacuiti) follows Helena, Sally and Roy in and out of various rooms as they argue, picking up each character at exactly the right moment for maximum dramatic and visual emphasis. Where Zsigmond put his lights in this shot is a complete mystery, given that nearly every inch of the apartment seems to be covered by the roving camera.     

Allen has always tended toward a warm palette in his films, and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is no exception. Pleasing orange and sepia tones predominate, with occasional vivid bursts of color in the form of Dia’s bright red dresses and beautiful purple flowers — not to mention a hilariously antiseptic home Alfie and Charmaine move into that is decorated entirely with white-on-white. The 1080p transfer captures both the muted and the more striking tones perfectly, with grain that consistently and accurately mimics the look of Stranger’s theatrical release prints. The sharp detail in the image is most welcome, given Allen and Zsigmond’s preponderance of deep-focus compositions, and the 3.0 sound mix is crystal clear. Strangely for a contemporary film (though, again, typical of Allen), the soundtrack makes no use of the rear channels, but given the film’s dialogue-heavy approach to storytelling, this is not a major drawback. The speech and music sound great spread across the front three channels. As is usually the case with Allen DVDs, there are no extra features here, aside from a trailer.

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