This week, the title of Woody Allen’s 47th movie was announced: MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. This strikes me as too similar to MAGIC IN THE WATER, a film about a child’s relationship with a sea monster, for comfort. It does at least suggest a light, fluffy if rather forgettable musical or an exchange. ‘During the day, I look unshaven, balding, bags under the eyes.’ ‘Yes, but we have magic in the moonlight.’ ‘I was wearing sunglasses.’ I wondered how Woody Allen, who famously begins most movies without a title – he went into production of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS without knowing it was about Hannah and her sisters, how nutty is that? - chooses what his films should be called. BLUE JASMINE was a rather sensible alternative to the original, JASMINE FRENCH, so he gets it right some of the time.
Then it hit me: focus groups.
INT. COFFEE SHOP, FIRST FLOOR, WHOLE FOODS STORE, WASHINGTON SQUARE, NYC – DAY
A researcher for Gravier Productions introduces herself to a group of elderly ladies and gentlemen. The women are in floral dresses, the men are in short sleeved chequered shirts, so there’s tie-in potential with a major retailer.
RESEARCHER: Hello, my name is Navinia.
SAM: That’s a beautiful name.
DORA: Sounds like a weed.
RESEARCHER: Thank you for coming. Please help yourself to more coffee and pastries. We also have ‘erbal teas.
CLARK: Are these gonna make me run to the john?
RESEARCHER: I shouldn’t think so.
FRANK: Can you run?
AVIS: I was elected Miss Delaware in 1959.
RESEARCHER: I brought you here to get your thoughts on some titles.
FRANK: Do we get coupons? I didn’t cross two boroughs for no coupons.
RESEARCHER: We have some movie passes.
FRANK: I can’t eat those.
RESEARCHER: Take a pastry. OK, how many of you like comedies?
AVIS: I laughed during LINCOLN but then I felt dirty.
CLARK: I didn’t care for TED. A talking Teddy Bear who didn’t have an agent – I didn’t understand it.
RESEARCHER: OK. I’m going to suggest some movie titles and I want you to tell me what you think about them.
CLARK: Why isn’t Ted a millionaire? Why does John Bennet have a crappy job?
RESEARCHER: OK, titles.
CLARK: I mean there are the Muppets – Ted could walk on to the set and pull the puppeteers’ hands out of their asses!
FRANK: I’d pay to see that.
CLARK: Why wasn’t there a campaign to get Ted the right to vote? He can make mature political decisions, especially after boozing.
RESEARCHER: That’s quite enough about TED.
CLARK: Maybe they ought to make a film about Ted’s college years – how he denied John Bennet an education because he was always getting stoked.
RESEARCHER: You have very interesting opinions.
AVIS: My bunions talk to me.
RESEARCHER: OK, movie titles. Who can tell me a good movie title?
FRANK: ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’. You know what you’ll get with a picture like that.
DORA: ‘Schindler’s List’.
CLARK: ‘Seven’ – simple, it’s a number. Seven deadly sins, Seven Samurai, Seven-Eleven! Plenty of associations. What does it mean? You wanna find out.
FRANK: Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box.
AVIS: I didn’t know that was on the menu.
SAM: ‘Heaven Can Wait.’
The group stares at her
AVIS: ‘Andy Warhol’s Ishtar’?
RESEARCHER: OK. I’m going to suggest some titles and I want you to tell me what they suggest: ‘Romance in the Riviera’.
DORA: That’s like an Audrey Hepburn movie. I might watch it on television.
FRANK: The only good TV is Netflix.
CLARK: That’s not a contemporary movie. It sounds like a re-issue.
AVIS: I like the title ‘Doubt’. At least, I think I do.
CLARK: You won’t get me paying no $14 to see ‘Romance in the Riviera’.
SAM: Depends who is in it. Amy Adams – I like her, though she was awful stern in THE MASTER.
RESEARCHER: Do we have anyone in favour of ‘Romance in the Riviera’.
Blank faces in response. AVIS picks at a Pain Au Chocolat, trying to turn it into a croissant.
RESEARCHER: OK, how about ‘Bellamy’s Need’.
SAM: Wow. That sounds pretty heavy.
CLARK: Does he need the john?
DORA: Who said Bellamy is a man?
FRANK: If it’s a woman, they would use the first name: ALICE’S RESTAURANT, THELMA AND LOUISE, BABETTE’S FEAST, SOPHIE’S CHOICE. If it’s a guy, they use a surname: COOGAN’S BLUFF, SCHINDLER’S LIST, LINCOLN.
CLARK: What about DJANGO UNCHAINED or DIRTY HARRY or ROCKY?
FRANK: What I’m saying is a woman is always referred to by her first name in movie titles. But a guy, it can be his surname or his first name or even just plain KUNDUN.
AVIS: Is that a pharmaceutical company?
FRANK: It’s BONNIE AND CLYDE not what’s her name and Barrow.
CLARK: What is Bonnie’s family name?
SAM: They should remake that film with Amy Adams. She was pretty tough in THE MASTER.
RESEARCHER: Does anyone like ‘Bellamy’s Need’?
AVIS: Well, it depends what his knees are like?
CLARK: ‘Bellamy’s Knees’ sounds like a French movie. I’m not paying no $14 to see ‘Bellamy’s Knees.’
RESEARCHER: OK, ‘Magic in the Moonlight’.
SAM: Have we – did we see that movie?
FRANK: Moonlight is a myth. The moon is tiny in the night sky. What’s it going to light up, a nose hair?
AVIS: Men look very handsome with moustaches, except my ex-husband for whom it was a fly trap.
CLARK: I’m not paying no $14 to see ‘Magic in the Moonlight’.
RESEARCHER: Do you go to the movies?
CLARK: No, I prefer musical theatre.
SAM: Is Amy Adams in it?
RESEARCHER: No, actually Colin Firth.
A hubbub of approval
DORA: OK. Because I can see him as Mr Darcy, taking his shirt off in artificial moonlight, rippling on the water.
CLARK: I can definitely feel water.
FRANK: I liked Firth in that movie where he had difficulty speaking.
RESEARCHER: THE KING’S SPEECH?
FRANK: MAMMA MIA.
RESEARCHER: Oh, where he had difficulty singing.
DORA: Who else is in it?
RESEARCHER: Emma Stone.
AVIS: Why can’t the romance be age appropriate?
RESEARCHER: It’s set in the 1920’s.
FRANK: That’s just arthouse. There was no armed conflict involving American troops in the 1920’s. I’m out.
RESEARCHER: But you like the title?
FRANK: Clutching at straws.
AVIS: But this is a coffee shop.
The camera withdraws as the group descends into irrelevant conversation involving bunions, the nutritional value of pastries and whether Bullwinkle is a first name or surname. The RESEARCHER closes her note pad and sips her coffee quietly.