Sunday, November 14, 2010


Manhattan, the last of Woody Allen's movies to be made in the seventies, is probably my favorite. It is a gorgeous film to watch. I've probably seen that movie more often than any of his others. But when I watch it, some things bother me about the plot.

The first line of the movie is given by Allen's friend, Yale: "I think the essence of art is to produce a kind of working through-situation so that you can get in touch with feelings you didn't know you had."

What feelings does Woody Allen have? Is there any new ground being covered here?

The plot is basically that Woody Allen is dating a 17 year old girl for reasons unknown. He continually discourages her, which makes you wonder why he started seeing her in the first place. And then his friend introduces him to his mistress played by Diane Keaton. At first she seems to be annoying, snobbish and opinionated. Which makes her a perfect mate for Allen. They start seeing each other. And then things fall apart.

Allen breaks up with the seventeen year old but then Diane Keaton and Yale get back together and Allen regrets having left the seventeen year old and goes after her. I mean, it is really easy to write this off as neuroses. Allen has problems. He likes younger women. We'll see it over and over in the future, not only in his films but real life.

There is this wonderful scene towards the end where he is giving a list of all of the things that make life worth living. And this time around, when I watched it, I picked up on the opening phrase that got him talking about that stuff. He's recording himself, taking notes for a short story idea. And he says that it is about how people invent neuroses to keep themselves from facing life's larger problems. And maybe that is what Woody is doing. But if that is what he is doing, you'd think he'd be cured by now.

Another big scene of the movie takes place a little earlier where he confronts Yale. Yale is accusing Allen of being too perfect, like a saint. But Allen is saying that all he wants is to be thought well of. Which I don't get from him at all. I don't buy that he is a generally moral person and I don't beleive that he does either. He is a hedonist. He thinks with his body and whatever works, to borrow from a later film, he will do to give himself pleasure.

So, having said all of this, why do I like this movie? Or, to take the focus off myself, what is the redeeming quality? I don't know. It's more than just a beautiful film with a great soundtrack. It has something to do with the ending, probably. He's just realized he's ruined a perfectly good relationship and runs (literally) after Mariel Hemingway and when he sees her in the doorway, "She's Not For Me" by Gershwin starts playing. And it is so sad because Allen has started this pattern in his movies where he does not get the girl.

But, he's looking almost straight at the camera when Mariel gives the last line of the movie: "You have to have a little faith in people."

Thursday, November 11, 2010


After Annie Hall, Woody Allen delved even further into the dramatic by getting rid of all humor whatsoever. To achieve this, he's even taken himself out of the picture and painted an internal, drab world of a single family.

The first two and a half minutes are silent, punctuated by the father's words: "I had dropped out of law school when I met Eve [his wife]." And thereafter, changes would be marked by a break of the film's rules. The first external shot occurs after the mother attempts suicide. The first person to wear any kind of color (and it's a bright red) is the father's new lover. And the first sound of music to be heard is after the father remarries. At the end of the movie, after the mother walks into the ocean, the film returns to the beginning. It is silent for almost five minutes, the scenes are indoors and everyone (even the father's new wife) is wearing black.

Woody Allen seems to be at a crossroads. He wants to change and challenge himself. You sense that he is speaking through his characters when they say things like, "These feelings of futility in relation to my work, I mean, just what am I striving to create anyway? To what end? For what purpose? What goal? " and, "I feel a real need to express something, but I don't know what it is I want to express. Or how to express it."

Unfortunately, I don't think this film is the answer. It tries too hard. It is over the top. Everyone is expressing exactly what they are thinking and feeling. Maybe it was cathartic for Allen to make the movie, but it was depressing to watch.

Annie Hall

Annie Hall is the quintessential Woody Allen movie. One might argue that it is the first Woody Allen movie. Here, I'll argue it.

When I say it is the first Woody Allen movie, it is like saying a story by Kafka is Kafkaesque. It goes beyond the mere fact that it was made by the person and instead indicates that it has all the inherent aspects of everything we have come to know about them and their worldview. Annie Hall is the archetype from which the rest of Woody Allen's career will flow. It has the sucessful urban intellectual, the failed romance with a younger female, the male confidant. For the first time he is taking himself, his material and filmmaking seriously. Of course, his previous movies were good. But they felt like jokes. Even Love and Death, which was really well-made, at times felt more like a vehicle for laughs. Annie Hall is a funny movie. I think it's usually found in the comedy section. But I think of it more as a drama. Because the jokes are services to the plot and not the other way around. I think the people at the Academy Awards must have known these things even then, because Annie Hall is Woody Allen's only Oscar best picture win.

Despite all of the above, I don't like it as much as everyone else seems to. I felt it lost steam about the time Paul Simon comes on the screen and never regains it.

At the end of the movie, Alvie Singer (Woody Allen's character) has just lost what was probably his one true love. He writes an autobiographical play about it and at the end of the play the two main characters make up and stay together. "You're always trying to get things to come out perfectly in art, because it's real difficult in life," Allen says. Which is strange because Annie Hall is Woody Allen's art form but he doesn't make it end up with the traditionally perfect ending of boy gets girl.

I think that ideally, Annie Hall is a really good movie, maybe a perfect movie. I just prefer watching some of his other ones.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Love and Death

Boris is in love with his cousin when France declares war on Russia. It gives Woody Allen and Diane Keaton an opportunity to wax philosophically about God, morality, and wheat.

In case you didn't know, Woody Allen loves Ingmar Bergman. There are at least two allusions to Bergman films in Love and Death. It makes sense as the great Swede also plummed the depths of religious quanderies such as God's silence.

But L&D is also an immaculate period piece. Sure, it's peppered with jokes. But, like Allen said in Sleeper, it's a defence mechanism. Who can look death in the face without a joke or two?

I give this movie somewhere between four and four and a half stars.

Here is an example of how watching a movie is different from remembering it. Because I think watching Love and Death is perhaps a better experience than Sleeper. Although, when I reflect on both, I like Sleeper better. Sleeper's high points are higher than Love and Death's, whereas Love and Death is more consistently fine.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The opening sequence is beginning to look more like Allen's signature with jazz and stark white credits on a black screen.

Miles Monroe, a health food store owner and clarinetist, is cryogenically frozen after complications getting an ulcer removed and is awoken 200 years later.

This is one of my favorite Woody Allen movies of this era, complete with robots, flying packs, orgasmatrons and the debut of Diane Keaton.

Sleeper is sort of similar to Bananas in that the hero travels far (in this case, through time) and winds up working on the behalf of underground rebels to overthrow a government.

I wonder what exactly Allen had in mind. Because at the end of the movie Diane Keaton says something like "You don't believe in science or political systems. You don't believe in God. What do you believe in?"

To which Allen replies, "Sex and death." Which is the perfect segue into his next movie.

Everything You Wanted to Kow about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Sort of maybe based loosely on the book of the same name, Woody illustrates the answers to common sex questions with vignettes. Questions include: do aphrodisiacs work, what happens during erection and what is sodomy?

Occasionally humorous, this movie does more to solidify Woody's obsession with sex as nature's ameliorator. Probably the only thing this movie is known for is him dressed as a sperm.