2015-08-06 / Front Page

Allen's 'Newport' Film Debuts at Pickens

By James Merolla


Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in a scene from "Irrational Man." Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in a scene from "Irrational Man." “And I fell in love with Newport. If I ever get a summer house, it will be there.” –Woody Allen, on page six of the New York Post.

Director Woody Allen’s true summer house is the Jane Pickens Theater, outside of which many scenes of his latest film, “Irrational Man,” were shot last summer around Washington Square.

Allen’s latest dip into his own mantra of film-imitating-life-imitating art comes full circle on Friday, Aug. 7, when the Pickens will make its own international debut with “Irrational” consequences.

If you see the film, you will recognize stars Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix strolling past the movie house, and in scenes shot at Salve Regina University (doubling as the fictional R.I. liberal arts Graylin College), The Fastnet Pub, Franklin Spa, Busker’s Pub, Spring Street shops, Ocean Drive, the rocks that sprawl there, and more.


Woody Allen's 50th year in film. (Photo by Bob Weaver) Woody Allen's 50th year in film. (Photo by Bob Weaver) “There is an easily recognizable scene in front of the Pickens that features Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix leaving a film festival and walking across Washington Square,” said Kathy Staab, proprietor of the Jane Pickens Theater, which is offering a slew of screenings of the film over the next week, as art imitates life.

Crews were in Newport for about six weeks, with trailers positioned at various locations around town, Equality Park and a dawn to dusk filming on Greenough Place and Ayrault Street, for a nighttime rain scene using water from the fire hydrants.

“We were able to watch Woody in action as he directed the actors outside our building,” said Staab. “Whenever a film is made in Rhode Island, it is good for our business.”

The last previous filming of a major movie in Newport was Wes Anderson’s 2012 “Moonrise Kingdom.”

It is rare for Allen to film anything outside his beloved New York – the site of a dozen of his films, including his great city trilogy, “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” and “Hannah and Her Sisters,” as well as “Broadway Danny Rose,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” the first half of “Bananas,” and others.

In fact, the only appearance Allen ever made at the Academy Awards in Hollywood during the last half-century of filmmaking was to urge directors in L.A. to film movies in New York after the ravages of 9/11.

“We are honored to be opening Woody Allen’s ‘Irrational Man’ this week,” said Staab. “Thursday night we will be hosting the first screening in Rhode Island as a private by invitation-only event where the Rhode Island Film Office will show the film to the people who worked on producing it.”

“Irrational Man” is familiar Allen territory. It tells the story of a tormented philosophy professor who finds a will to live when he commits an existential act (re: murder) after sleeping with students half his age, an affair with a fellow professor, and the stale musings of dead philosophers no longer cut it for him.

Long past the years where he was merely trying to entertain, Allen uses his international social platform of film to ferret out the meaning of life, art, relationships, sex, and death. We have seen variations of an unfulfilled, misunderstood middle-aged man, who commits an outrageous act out of character, in virtually all of Allen’s films: “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Match Point,” “Manhattan,” “Scoop,” even going way back to when Allen was strictly out for laughs (remember that guy?), in “Love and Death.”

Allen used to play the nebbish lead in his movies. But he started to appear too grandfatherly in romantic roles next to his mostly blond ingénues as early as two decades ago. When his own life began to mirror controversial attachments to very young household members, he let more age-appropriate actors, such as John Cusack take over.

Allen has written, directed and/ or starred in more than 60 films, dating back to 1965.

In “Irrational Man,” the professor with two love interests and a plan to prove the joy of irrational existentialism, (what would have been the Allen role) is played by a potbellied Joaquin Phoenix.

If you are a fan of Woody Allen, seeing this film is a priority. If you are a Newporter, it is a must. Whether you enjoy it or not, you will leave humming the familiar scenery.

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