A touch of magic, part 1

At the première of Magic In The Moonlight with Woody Allen, Colin Firth, Emma Stone and Regis Philbin.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Woody Allen's Magic In The Moonlight world premiere at The Paris Theatre
Woody Allen's Magic In The Moonlight world premiere at The Paris Theatre Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

When the lights went down at New York's packed Paris Theatre for the world premiere of Woody Allen's Magic In The Moonlight, starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater and Marcia Gay Harden, a very special festive hush descended over the star-studded audience.

Among those attending the Dolce & Gabbana - Sony Pictures Classics (Michael Barker & Tom Bernard) invited screening were Audrey Tautou, John Turturro, Oliver Stone, Fed Up's Katie Couric, Danny Strong, Gina Gershon, Josh Lucas, Christina Hendricks, Dane DeHaan, Dana Delany, Mia Moretti, Julia Restoin Roitfeld, Anna Wintour, Christine Baranski, Olivia Palermo, Michael Stuhlbarg, Regis Philbin and Soon-Yi Previn.

Woody Allen on the inspiration for Magic In The Moonlight: "I read about a group of magicians around Houdini, years ago."
Woody Allen on the inspiration for Magic In The Moonlight: "I read about a group of magicians around Houdini, years ago." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Tell me, why should it be you have the power to hypnotise me?" asks the song You Do Something To Me, written by Cole Porter for his 1929 musical Fifty Million Frenchmen, that Allen chose for the opening credits.

We start in1928 Berlin, on stage with an elephant, about to be made to disappear by world famous magician Wei Ling-soo, who combines a wild array of Asiatica in his act. Stanley, the illusionist, who isn't actually Chinese, is played by Colin Firth as a disenchanted man who lives off enchanting others. “From the séance table to the Vatican - it's all fake,” he says to his childhood friend and fellow illusionist Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) who visits him backstage and suggests a trip to the Côte d'Azur to help him debunk a fake clairvoyant.

"A pretty face never hurt a cheap swindler," the two friends agree, and because Stanley's aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) lives in Provence, he agrees to help his friend. Sophie Baker, the American with special powers is played by Emma Stone in an oddly compelling mix of the young and the old-fashioned. The modulation of her voice places her 80 years in the future, the delicate costumes firmly into the present of the movie, a juxtaposition that accomplishes precisely the doubt in her powers Allen intended us and Firth's Stanley to have about her.

She is accompanied by her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), who shares function and personality with Rosemary Hoyt's mother out of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel Tender Is The Night. Dick and Nicole Diver substitutes aren't difficult to spot in George (Jeremy Shamos) and Caroline (Erica Leerhsen), who themselves were inspired by Gerald and Sara Murphy. But Allen is not interested in any one to one literary references as he was in Midnight In Paris. The mood of his 1920s is Fitzgerald. It is a safe place. Unlike in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett's worries of dignified survival in an increasingly ugly world are not at stake in Moonlight. The glamour, the charm of the landscape, the loveliness of it all, opens up the space to contemplate questions of a different caliber.

Colin Firth at the Magic In The Moonlight world premiere: "Nobody else is unhappy that I didn't sing."
Colin Firth at the Magic In The Moonlight world premiere: "Nobody else is unhappy that I didn't sing." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The oddness of the casting in Magic in the Moonlight and the overall tone of conversation indicate that this is not a love story. Allen couldn't care less about the chemistry between Firth and Stone. The topic of their age difference is like the elephant on stage at the start of the film. We all know it is there - Stanley even remarks how vanishing an elephant requires the same perfect lighting as Sophie's face. Even agreeable features are prettier at dusk.

"What is so menacing about the universe?" Emma Stone's Sophie questions with raspy voice that night in the abandoned planetarium. "The size," Firth's Stanley responds and sounds for a moment like Allen's boyhood alter ego in Radio Days (1987).

On the red carpet before the screening, I spoke briefly with Woody Allen, Colin Firth, Emma Stone and man-about-town Regis Philbin.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Was the title of the film inspired by the song from the Esther Williams movie Bathing Beauty, Magic Is The Moonlight?

Woody Allen: No, this was inspired by a story that I read about a group of magicians around Houdini, years ago. And fraudulent spiritualists… It's hard to find a story that's got a good beginning, middle and end and that will be entertaining to people.

The actors look glamorous and relaxed in Dolce & Gabbana.

Woody Allen: Colin Firth is one of the most charming, erudite, elegant men that I've ever worked with. So to go in every morning to work and be around them - and Emma Stone is so beautiful and so gifted - so, to be around these individuals every morning, I should be the one paying for that. It's a privilege. It was great.

Woody Allen cast Emma Stone in his next movie as well.

Woody Allen and Jacki Weaver's eyes at his Magic In The Moonlight world premiere.
Woody Allen and Jacki Weaver's eyes at his Magic In The Moonlight world premiere. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

WA: Emma Stone is very beautiful and she is a very gifted actress. But more important than that is that she is right for the part. If she wasn't right for it, I would not cast her even though she knocks me out as an actress and as a person. But she happens to be very correct for Magic In The Moonlight and for the movie that I'm shooting now. It doesn't have a name, yet.

Emma Stone named her dog Alvy Singer after Allen's character in Annie Hall.

WA: You know, I'm not a great animal lover, so for me it doesn't matter. Fortunately, at least it was not a goldfish.

A colleague on the red carpet questions Allen's seemingly endless energy to make film after film. Will he forever go on making movies?

WA: It seems that way. But eventually it will run out and I'll just keel over in my room with a stroke or something.

Magic In The Moonlight takes place in the South of France in 1928 and the costume design by Sonia Grande is spectacular. The embroidery, the knits, and the delicate chokers never scream period disguise - they whisper style instead.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What did you think of the style?

Emma Stone: The whole feeling of the era really permeated the shoot. All of the costumes were great. I love my ball gown. It's beautiful.

Hamish Linklater's Brice plays the ukulele and is the only one who gets to sing a few classic hits of the time. Colin Firth's character may be open to something new but he doesn't croon.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Were you unhappy that you didn't get to sing in Magic In The Moonlight?

Emma Stone at the Magic In The Moonlight world premiere in Dolce & Gabbana
Emma Stone at the Magic In The Moonlight world premiere in Dolce & Gabbana Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Colin Firth: Were you? Nobody else is unhappy that I didn't sing.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What's your relationship to magic?

Regis Philbin quipped: Oh, I have none. That's why I'm here.

On this tender ride into Woody Allen's favorite past, he plays the invisible coachman, or the taxi driver, out of Midnight In Paris and we, if we would like that, become Owen Wilson's Gil for a spell and bathe in the beauty of this most splendid looking and sounding creation. Who stole my heart away? Who makes me dream all day? A bit of foolishness and lace is a great gift to watch in the summer 100 years after the First World War began. The cinematography by Darius Khondji holds the shimmering world in place, making Magic In The Moonlight, Woody Allen's trip on gossamer wings, one of the most elegant films of the year. Our appeal to him to "do do that voodoo that you do so well", was fully granted.

In part 2 of the Magic In The Moonlight world premiere at the Harlow after party, hosted by Sony Pictures Classics and Dolce & Gabbana, Jacki Weaver talks costumes, Lee Daniel's The Butler screenwriter Danny Strong makes a life after death connection, filmmaker/actor Alex Karpovsky tells us how much Woody Allen means to him along with the Coen brothers, Dana Delany, having also been at the Tribeca Grand Hotel premiere for Michel Gondry's Mood Indigo the evening before, points out the very different ways the two directors handle their references to Sartre and Nietzsche and Mia Moretti says what she loved about Emma Stone's performance and Aunt Vanessa's (Eileen Atkins) outfit.

Magic in the Moonlight opens in the US on July 25.

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