The Great Scenes: “Hide and Seek Opening” from HUSBANDS AND WIVES

The Movie: Husbands and Wives

Spoiler Level: Medium

The Setup: It’s movie gossip history at this point, but the fallout between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in the early 90’s was quite a hot topic, and went a long way in alienating the general public from the respected auteur. Much of the publicized tension pointed to this film, their last creative endeavor after a series of classics that include Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Purple Rose of Cairo. The 80’s were a creative high water mark for Woody Allen, culminating in Husbands and Wives, a stripped-down, hand-held faux documentary that watches two relationships crumble. The film boasts several fantastic scenes and at least two great ones, including the opening sequence, in which married couple Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Farrow) are shocked by an announcement by friends Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis).

Why It’s Great: Allen begins the film with a close up on a TV interview, in which nuclear physicist Nicholas Metropolis quotes Einstein: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” Allen’s Gabe quickly retorts, “No- He just plays hide and seek.”

With that the game kicks off, as we meet Gabe and his wife Judy, the camera bouncing between them. They are, from the start, separated by their scattered New York flat, and the camera struggles to place them together. Allen’s writing in the scene is phenomenal, as almost every line is a set-up for the rest of the story.  Gabe reveals his attention has been nabbed by a sexually alert student of his. Judy dismisses his comments as typical and reverts to minutiae.  The film starts in earnest when Jack and Sally enter and clinically reveal that they are splitting up. They position that this isn’t a tragedy, that “this is positive for us”.  It doesn’t take long for the news to take its toll on Judy.  She quickly turns from swearing privacy and respect to lashing out against the apparently transgressing couple, their “closest friends”.  For Judy, Jack and Sally’s relationship is a reflection of her own, and the cracks soon appear.

Every performance in this scene is perfect, which is absolutely necessary when the traditional rules of cinema are disregarded. This is proof that great performances can, and must, lead a film. My personal favorite performer in the whole film is Pollack’s Jack, whose romantic fate is the centerpiece of the other great scene of the film. Let’s not discount technical merit, however. Director of Photography Carlo DiPalma uses a selective set and practical lighting perfectly to make sure his camera never casts a shadow, and isn’t afraid to let things wander. At several points in the scene, the camera is visibly lost, holding on a column or an empty frame for a moment before finding an elusive character. The erratic focus pulls are marvelous as well; notice that Judy is left soft several times throughout the scene, before she physically exits the whole affair.

Husbands and Wives is a game of hide and seek, between people and their feelings, and between people and other people. For more, check out Roger Ebert’s great review from the time of the film’s release.