With feathers

Before we begin, make sure you check out Bethlehem Shoals in a special guest appearance with MJD and Danks on the Postin' Up Podcast!

I may be the only regular contributor to FreeDarko without any Jewish blood, but that shameful fact doesn't mean I am any less of a Woody Allen fanboy than the rest of the crew. Although I've seen "Annie Hall" many times, I only recently learned the story of how it went from a two hour and twenty minute examination of Allen's neuroses (proposed title: "Anhedonia") to the prototypical romantic comedy we all know and love (proposed title: "Me and My Goy"). In his book When the Shooting Stops, Ralph Rosenblum recounts how, in order to maintain a coherent narrative, he and Allen had to cut out many surrealistic scenes from the film, including one featuring five famous philosophers playing basketball against the actual New York Knicks.

Allen has been notoriously reluctant to include any deleted scenes in DVD editions of his work, so the chances of anyone getting to analyze the form on Kant's jumpshot are extremely slim. (If anyone can get this on YouTube, you will have FreeDarko's eternal gratitude and enough FD t-shirts to clothe your family for generations.) Without the film, we will have to rely on Rosenblum's memory of the play call:

Knicks ball - out of bounds - Jackson to Bradley - shot! No good! Rebound - Kirkegaard. Passes to Nietzsche - fast break to Kafka! Top of the key - it's Kafka and Alvy - all alone - they're both gripped with anxiety - and guilt - and neither can shoot! Now Earl Monroe steals it! And the Knicks have a four on two

The scene also comes up in an amazing piece on the Knicks that Allen wrote for the Guardian a few years back, which Dr. LIC recently found. He provides some explanation for how he came up with the idea and also gives the result of the game!

I was extolling the concept of the physical over the cerebral, so I wrote a fantasy basketball game in which all the great thinkers of history - Kant and Nietzsche and Kirkegaard - played against the Knicks. I cast actors who looked like those philosophers to play those roles and they played against the real Knicks. We used the players on the team at that time including Earl, Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier, and we shot it inside Madison Square Garden after the last game of the season. Of course the Knicks were smooth and beat the philosophers easily; all their cerebration was impotent against the Knicks.

The essay is full of interesting facts (he had Knicks season tickets with Diane Keaton; he named an adopted son after Moses Malone), but what struck me most was his discussion of basketball's unique appeal, which absolutely cements his status as FreeDarko precursor:

I love the showmen in basketball, the extrovert players....Basketball is a game where individual style comes into play....In basketball now, these kids learn in the schoolyard and develop their own styles and rhythms and moves....Just as Marlon Brando had this highly-individual, original style which was like no one else's and everything he did was very poetic, so Michael Jordan was something else.

Is basketball poetry? Is it method acting? Is it jazz? None of these serve as the perfect comparison, but it's clear to me and Woody that basketball is an art form unlike any other in American sport. And for that reason, I'm looking forward to a winter of watching Kevin Durant, The Warriors, and other assorted favorites. I know they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and, but uh, I guess we keep going through it...because...most of us need the eggs.


At 11/09/2007 1:37 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

The end of this post is entirely shameless. And I love it.

At 11/09/2007 1:58 AM, Blogger T. said...

I bet Woody Allen is a FreeDarko commentator. StopMikeLupica?

bhboqxee - what I had for lunch between Baton Rouge and Beaumont

At 11/09/2007 2:45 AM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

If Woody Allen can even open Outlook without setting his house on fire, I'd be very surprised, and I'm a fan.

"I see this beautiful athlete going up for a dunk, and I think 'someday he's gonna die'"- Neil Hagerty quoting Woody

wv: cuwegbx- Cant Understand Why Europeans Get Blue Cross

At 11/09/2007 10:47 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

SML... not a Jew.

I always equate basketball with dance. It is dance. It's fluid, can have solos or partners moves, and is all about footwork and getting to the right spot. One missed beat, and you done f*ck it up.

Also, the reflection of the league is in its players... when it was all white in the 50's, it moved/danced like an all white league in the 50's would dance. Then in the 70's it got funkier. It got grittier in the late 80's. Then it got blazed by hip-hop in the 90's.

Basketball is a dance with a round ball.

At 11/09/2007 10:49 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

PS: When we get a few more Argentines in the league, it's tango time!

Right now, though, we're heading towards the Reggaeton Era in the NBA.

wv: xlape: Kong

At 11/09/2007 12:20 PM, Blogger lost said...

sml- b-ball:dance analogy brings up mad reminiscences...

you don't just dance with your teammates. as an on-ball defender I always thought of a dance when a skilled ballhandler tried to get by. Picture GP in Sonic Green; beck then he used to be pressed up in so tight he could wrap an arm around the dude's waist.

I can still sit here at a desk and feel my feet moving underneath me, ready for a crossover, shoulder drop, jab-step. Trying to stay in position, be ready for an opportunity, and not foul dudes. The other dude trying to use screens, make space, keep dribble, get a lane. 'I dare you try to get to the hole, see if you still got the ball. Yeah, motherfucker, you ready to dance?'

maybe that's why i always seem to focus on my partner's midsection at the salsa spot?

At 11/09/2007 12:37 PM, Blogger lost said...


best depiction of 'The Glove' i could find.

my hoop idol and the source of my 'liberated fandom.' being from the east coast i knew jack shit about Oak-town. Still don't, really, but I know some people from there and I bet it smells a lot like B/more. Same goes for Seattle.

But GP and Rain Man made me a Sonics fan for a few years. old age and child support ruined all that. apparently the sonics had some problems, too.

At 11/09/2007 1:11 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

If anything in salsa your partner should be focusing on your midsection, since they are trying to keep up with you (presuming you are the leader)!

Yeah, defense is definitely a dance, too. Very much like salsa - if he goes to his left, you want to go to your right, so you both stay in the positions (i.e. you in front of your man).

wv: vbjog - The Marathon Man's boss just told him he has a very big jog for him.

At 11/09/2007 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: The title of the post is referring to Allen's [Love is a thing] "Without Feathers" , or something like that, no ?

In the piece, Allen at first refers to Dave Barnett, but then further down corrects to Dick.

Dick Barnett had a brief period of pseudo-intellectualism in which he would claimed to be reading philosophy and would use big words out of context.

A very dignified man on the whole. When the Knicks first won in '70, the first thing Howard Cosell asks him, right in the locker room , with the champaign flowing , is : "What about your being traded next season".

Barnett kept his cool, though and did not let Howard spoil the moment.

I think Marv Albert calls the Knicks v. Existentialist game.

At 11/09/2007 1:48 PM, Blogger lost said...

stop.- yeah, i'm just getting into the salsa game. I'm supposed to be leading, but don't know where I'm going.

and on the court, they guy with the ball is supposed to lead, but I was never satisfied with that. if you don't have some handles, you goin nowhere.

At 11/09/2007 2:18 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Monty Python did a similar sketch.

At 11/09/2007 2:44 PM, Blogger lost said...

Once again, Marx was right. They were offsides.

the last bit looked like the 'gynecologists v. Long John Silvers' match. a little one-sided.

At 11/09/2007 3:10 PM, Anonymous MaxwellDemon said...

This goes without saying for most of the readership, but a couple of you may not know/remember that Annie Hall still contains a scene where Woody sneaks away from an academic cocktail party to watch a Knick game in the host's bedroom. His wife doesn't understand his interest in watching a bunch of "pituitary cases try to put a ball throw a hoop"; he responds that "it's physical" and then tries to bone her. Sex. Basketball. Judaism. Television. Boom.

At 11/09/2007 4:38 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

@MD: that's actually the scene where the philosophers/knicks game was going to go, but they had to cut it out. a lot of the surrealistic stuff was riffs off of scenes that happened during the regular flow of the movie.

At 11/09/2007 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lest we all forget as well, that scene nailed one of the existential dilemmas of being a Knicks fan, their masterful (and apparently eternal) ability at blowing leads: "Two minutes ago, the Knicks are ahead fourteen points, now they're ahead two points . . ."

At 11/09/2007 5:06 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, BR, but wasn't the movie originally supposed to be a murder mystery, too?

At 11/09/2007 5:45 PM, Blogger Jerry Hinnen said...

Pretty sure the title's from Allen's response to Emily Dickinson's line that "Hope is the thing with feathers." Allen wrote that his nephew was, in fact the thing with feathers and he had to take him to "a specialist in Zurich." Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

At 11/09/2007 6:05 PM, Blogger Philip said...

you know what's funny is i spent a lot of time the other day trying to figure out how to redo tipping point as a basketball movie vs. a tennis movie.

At 11/09/2007 6:20 PM, Anonymous quick said...

As much as I want to agree with you guys that basketball is poetic and fluid and graceful and the true "joga bonita," I just can't do it. As anyone who has played at a level beyond high school can tell you, basketball is also a physical, brutal, and tough contact sport, which is why the Ronny Turiafs and Brian Cardinals and Shaquille O'neals of the world will always find a spot on a roster. It's that violence coupled with the fluid, the grace and athleticism that makes basketball so unique. I've dabbled in mixed martial arts, and my experience in basketball was the perfect precursor to that hobby--yes, you have to have great footwork, balance and grace, but you gotta be able to take a punch too.
No doubt there is a certain art to the game, an ebb and flow, but it's tempered with constant physical contact, which is why, at the age of 28, I've given up on playing. It's too hard on my body.
It's also why I respect AI so much, that guy takes a beating day in and day out, and keeps doing his thing. What he does is not easy.
Oh yeah, Woody Allen...Match Point was pretty good, and Crimes and Misdemeanors was a fantastic movie. I'm from the Third Coast, though, so I'm out of my element when talking about NY culture.

At 11/09/2007 7:09 PM, Anonymous MaxwellDemon said...

Quick--no doubt, but most art also takes a toll on your body. The best dancers punish themselves; playing most musical instruments is very physical; painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling must have been a real bitch. Poets, of course, bruise on the inside.

At 11/09/2007 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...we're heading towards the Reggaeton Era in the NBA."

Dunleavy shoots but the ball bounces like a tip in a tin drum...

God I hope not.

At 11/09/2007 9:37 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

@quick: many art forms are physical, brutal, and violent, including basketball, method acting, jazz, and even poetry. that's part of the beauty.

@ty keenan: originally, it was supposed to be a murder mystery, but that idea was nixed before they finished the screenplay and started shooting. some elements later surfaced in "manhattan murder mystery."

@jerry: yeah, the title references that, among other things, like the original air jordan logo.

At 11/09/2007 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there anything more awesome than 250 + million people worldwide watching a November Bucks/ Rockets game?

At 11/10/2007 4:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On that note, am I confused about Yi's name? Isn't Yi his last name? How come Ming comes second and Yi first? Is the NBA just being inconsistent?

At 11/10/2007 1:41 PM, Blogger rebar said...

i think yao ming just allowed them to change the order of his name on the jersey. perhaps yi is more obstinate than yao, the stone-faced commissar to yao's smiling global image. i think it'd be pretty cool if you could get your first name/a nickname on the back of a jersey (imagine baron wearing "boom dizzle" or KB24 just wearing "Kobe")

the greeks were definitely offsides.

wv fosxzrbw: first of the season, zydrunas receives his birthday wish

At 11/10/2007 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In both cases (Yao and Yi) the family name is on the jersey.

At 11/12/2007 11:03 AM, Blogger lost said...

one of the existential dilemmas of being a Knicks fan, their masterful (and apparently eternal) ability at blowing leads

I was in francophone africa for the 99 finals. Canal+ used to mercilessly and indiscriminately cut up the games.

The Knicks blew a 14-point(?) lead, which my eyes saw happen literally instantaneously. I was not at all perturbed and at first failed to even notice that no time had passed.

Somehow my mind, the mind of a Knick fan, was adroitly able to elide the gap between impending victory and miserable failure.

At 11/13/2007 12:38 AM, Anonymous pierrot said...

@ Brown Recluse, Esq.

Very true about poetry. I can still remember, vividly, the first time I opened Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." I wound up in the hospital with a concussion and two broken ribs.

At 11/13/2007 11:43 AM, Anonymous quick said...


Your point is well taken, but my point is that basketball is more brutal and physical than people give it credit for; violence can be art, sure, but would anyone label Bill Lambeer or Dennis Rodman's style of play as "art"? There is an art to it, but the art is in controlling the level of violence in order to manipulate your opponent. A means to an end, more pragmatic than artistic. And the more graceful players, the Dr. Js and T-Macs and AIs, the art in their game is being able to create beauty in the midst of so much chaos and violence. Basketball is different than jazz and poetry, because unlike (good) jazz and poetry, which has "ugly" moments to juxtapose the "pretty" moments, sometimes basketball is just downright ugly, mean and tough. Even at the highest levels. And I don't mean in a good way. I mean in a "change the channel and see who's on Dancing With the Stars" kind of way.
Never would I say that basketball does not have artistic merit; in fact, I think the line between sport and art is so blurred as to actually render the two inseperable. But to downplay the physicality, or say that the violence always adds to the art, would be a mistake. Why do you think Bowen gets such a bad rap? Because his game ain't pretty.

Fantastic blog, by the way. I don't mean to sound like an upstart or a naysayer; this is exciting stuff and I just hope to add to the discussion.

At 11/14/2007 12:39 PM, Blogger jerry said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Allen had partially stolen the idea of the Knicks-philosophers game from Monty Python's soccer game between Greek and German philosophers.

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