Woody Allen 1935–
(Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg) American director, actor, author, playwright, and scriptwriter.
In his films, Woody Allen has created a persona as distinct as that of Charlie Chaplin's little tramp. The Allen character is typically a maligned, confused adolescent who becomes an isolated adult; an observer who finds it difficult to participate. Sexually and emotionally inadequate, he is the quintessential schlemiel, or Jewish underdog. However, his experiences reflect aspects of everyone's lives. While Allen's earlier films are gag-oriented and reminiscent of Chaplin's tradition of a little man dealing with an overwhelming society, later works are more introspective. Initially, Allen attacked society as a whole. This attitude evolved into a more personal view of his failure to deal with emotions and intimate relationships.
Born in Brooklyn, Allen claims as his earliest memories rejection and harassment by his peers, a situation that figures prominently in his comic routines. While studying cinema at New York University, Allen mailed jokes to newspaper columnists who in turn passed them on to local celebrities. Consequently, an advertising agency hired him as a jokewriter. This led to writing for standup comedians, until he began writing and performing his own material. Allen also experimented with playwriting before turning to cinema. His first film, What's Up, Tiger Lily?, is actually a Japanese spy film that Allen re-edited and supplied with new dialogue. The result, while referred to as a "one-gimmick" film, introduced his leading character: the lovable klutz. Like the Woody Allen character that followed, he is alienated, an observer.
Take the Money and Run, the first film in which he both starred and directed, reflected the misadventures of an unsuccessful bank robber; it relied on a comic sense that compensated for any structural difficulties, as did Bananas, his next film. They consist of verbal and visual "one-liners." Both are simplistic forms of the parodies he created later. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex provided an innovative experiment for Allen. More than a comedy created from a sex manual, it not only parodied the book, but its concept and audience as well. Sleeper is a social satire as well as an amusing parody of futuristic science fiction. With this film, Allen began discussing his deprived childhood less while utilizing broader symbolism about man's blasé attitude towards life.
With Love and Death, Allen chose an even more ambitious topic: the satirization of classic Russian literature and cinema. He draws from other sources, too, reflecting in particular his great admiration for Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein. Love and Death is a black comedy of death, despair, and life in a godless universe. While still concerned with visual humor, Allen's films were developing thematic and visual sophistication.
Annie Hall is generally regarded as his masterpiece, and a landmark of his stylistic development. An autobiographical romantic comedy, Annie Hall examines Allen's failure in intimate relationships. For the first time, he consciously avoids excessive use of humor, so as not to destroy his tale's credibility. Significantly, this film was nearly called Anhedonia, meaning the inability to experience pleasure, a common failing of the Woody Allen character. By changing the name, Allen concentrates on the positive aspects of his relationship with Diane Keaton, his ex-girlfriend who costarred with him in the film, instead of emphasizing his ultimate failure. In this film, the schlemiel becomes more complex; he is beginning to search for permanence in the world, and finds it in art. Annie Hall met with resounding critical and popular success.
After the success of Annie Hall, Allen undertook his biggest challenge: writing and directing a noncomic film in which he did not appear. Although Interiors met with mixed critical receptions, some critics found it Allen's most outstanding work. An austere, somber film, it reflects his taste for Bergman. Interiors treats human frailty in much the same manner as Annie Hall; however, this time he did not have his familiar network of visual and spoken humor to fall back on. Manhattan combines elements of both Annie Hall and Interiors. The style is sparse and more confident, reflected by his use of black and white film. It is a drama with comedy, instead of a comedy with drama. While some critics labeled the film superficial, disjointed, and boring, others pronounced it Allen's most mature work to date. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)
[None] of [What's Up, Tiger Lily?] is precisely what used to be called boffo humor. No custard pies fill the air, and the climax contains no lunatic chase in break-away cars. Instead, Allen's sense of fun is at once low-keyed, far-out, and hip…. Allen's humor is without malice and without effort; and if some of his puns are terrible, there is an added fillip of fun in the realization that he is every bit as aware of it as we are.
Arthur Knight, "Fun Time," in Saturday Review (© 1966 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted with permission), Vol. XLIX, No. 5, November 5, 1966, p. 45.
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[Take the Money and Run] is a festival of [Woody Allen's] peculiar and prolific wit, a meld of ruthless satire, surrealism, and blatant absurdity…. The episodic nature of the movie is intrinsic and entirely suited to Allen's rapid-fire humor; the sight gags are numerous, unself-conscious, and are never allowed to perform as mere specula of the spoken jokes—an index of Allen's talent and promise as a director of comedy. Indeed, many of the most memorable scenes are purely visual…. The prevailing prison atmosphere in Take the Money and Run is effective, although a bit too benign and glossy…. Allen's comedy style, which is situational and considerably more sarcastic than slapstick, is a reflection of his favorite comedy films, "Seduced and Abandoned, and all of the Marx Brothers," and his highly regarded and influential stand-up colleague Mort Sahl…. [It] is altogether possible that Woody Allen will become the funniest filmmaker alive. (pp. 63-4)
Michael Shedlin, "Short Notices: 'Take the Money and Run'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1969 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXIII, No. 2, Winter, 1969–70, pp. 63-4.
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We've seen countless comedies about incompetent crooks. In fact most screen comedians have used the format at some time or other; even the gags which turn up [in Take the Money and Run]—or many of them—aren't exactly new. But the measure of Woody Allen's talent is that he can impart an aura of novelty to even the most hackneyed situation.
Take the Money and Run is a joy. It's wry and sardonic….
There are few belly-laughs. Allen's humour, except in a couple of instances, is firmly anchored in the offbeat and the sly nudge. His scene in the prison laundry, where he wrestles with the washing and drying machine, is perhaps the only concession to the more obvious humour, and is reminiscent of [Jacques] Tati or of Chaplin's classic Modern Times sequence with the forcible feeder, in its depiction of the 'little man' against the fearsome complexity of the Machine Age. But Man against Machine, a classic situation, a priceless gift to comedians, is one which, far from losing its efficacy, becomes more and more relevant by the hour. Apart from this Allen the observer can still find new things to say even when character and situation appear to have exhausted all possibilities.
Richard Davis, "Reviews: 'Take the Money and Run'" (© copyright Richard Davis 1971; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 17, No. 4, January, 1971, p. 53....
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Woody Allen is deeply fascinated and affronted by the reign of jargon. Sociologists who write about the death of the word in America must have tin ears; American wits at the moment have the antennae for details of cliché that the English have for details of vernacular. In "Bananas," which is slightly about revolution in a banana republic, the plot is ropy and can seem flailingly right-wing when it probably thinks and means something reforming; the one-liners therefore run out of steam halfway through the picture, and too many scenes tend to come out on a bit of l'esprit de l'escalier when they would work better if the person on the staircase would shut up, but the film really is funny about automated language. (pp. 127-28)
But still, for all the odd glories of the film, it has to be said that the Castro jokes are often miles out of control, that the blackout lines get lame, and perhaps that the use of a comic personality dependent on being humbly distraught and henpecked may be holding back this wit from the soaring and fearless lunacy that he can sometimes flight to. (pp. 128-29)
Penelope Gilliatt, "Woody Allen," in The New Yorker (© 1971 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLVII, No. 13, May 15, 1971, pp. 127-29.
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Woody Allen is probably the best comic talent working in American movies today, but also about the most erratic…. [Bananas] has some ideas that are so bad we may laugh simply because he's really going through with them….
Much of his humor is intentionally "stupid," intentionally sophomoric; like an irrepressible college humorist who somehow never graduated, he is always freshly enthralled by the world's absurdity, always eager to prove the power of far-out humor to take the measure of that absurdity. Occasionally his stupid jokes have a rather sneaky force if you're aware of the reality behind them….
At his best Allen mocks the dead language of television, movies, and advertising by placing the clichés in an absurd context or by gleefully exaggerating them…. Most of his ideas, however, are closer to free-flying nonsense humor, exhilarating and undisciplined, but without the aggressive force of the film's opening. One has to speak of separate ideas rather than an overall conception because Allen hasn't bothered to impose a unified style or theme on his material. Satire, burlesque, slapstick, and parody are all jumbled together. (p. 93)
Allen is so impatient that he can't sustain or develop anything, and his movie keeps darting off in odd directions or pausing demurely for little interludes. Some of the gags are linked by a kind of comic free association, and the plot … is so casual...
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Robert G. Michels
Woody Allen's movies have been so disorganized as to defy description and so hilarious as to merit them. The link between his free-associational wit and his casual manner of presentation has not been adventitious, as Play It Again, Sam, his extended excursion into nostalgia, conclusively demonstrates. Although Allen again stars in his own scenario, in leaving the directing to Herbert Ross he has chosen the wrong man at the wrong timing. Ross cannot capture Allen's humor. He can only contain it…. In Play It Again, Sam Allen has returned to gag writing. He has transferred rather than translated his play to the screen. The one-liners are integrated into a coherent story, but it suffers by comparison with the previous films, which became mired in non sequiturs whose very randomness evinced a certain fatalism…. With each successive film Allen has insisted upon specifying the ramifications of sexual frustration at the expense of developing his initial theme of social inadequacy. By doing so, he inevitably turns from contemplation of society to self, thus widening his appeal … while limiting his scope. Allen has not lost his comic vision, but he has blurred it perceptibly. The character he has created always was numbered among the walking wounded. In Play It Again, Sam the injuries seem to be self-inflicted. Of course, they remain incurable…. [To] survive is an accomplishment. To comprehend is an impossibility. It is this...
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Woody Allen is a walking compendium of a generation's concerns, comically stated. At every stage of his career he has demonstrated himself to be uncannily in touch with the things that are on the minds of the vast majority of his contemporaries. (p. 33)
"What's Up, Tiger Lily?" was … so modest that it passed very nearly without notice except among [Woody Allen's] devotees, though it is among his choicer lunacies…. There is in any of these Oriental imitations of American genre films a delicious element of unconscious parody, verging on the surreal, and thus there was a matching of visual material with the sensibility of the new soundtrack that seemed near miraculous, perhaps the best example of found art we've yet had in any medium….
[In] fooling around with this ridiculous, throwaway project Allen for the first time tapped that great mother lode of a generation's sensibility—media memory. "Tiger Lily's" immediate reference point was the Bond subgenre, but it was also, in its little way, part of what can only be termed a tradition. Our tradition: some 30 years of slumping farther and farther down on our spines while the great screen before us flickered with uncounted tales of crime and espionage. College may have made us appreciators of literary modernism, but the matinees of childhood maddened us with movies—and were first on the scene. We have known from the start that we mustn't take them seriously....
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For all the panache with which Woody Allen dashes off sight gags and cinematic puns (everything from Potemkin to Casablanca), his visual and verbal humour have always jostled for space on the screen. Allen's comedy is joke-oriented, and almost devoutly Jewish joke-oriented. His maladroit hero stumbles through life expecting social and sexual humiliation, and is usually rewarded with disaster. The world crashes about his ears with each mishap, and each gag seems to begin from scratch rather than building from previous situations.
Confessing his unfitness for survival in a constant, self-deprecating monologue, Allen's little man has neither the never-say-die spastic energy which inspired the visual contortions of Jerry Lewis' best comedies, nor the affected 'cool' of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau, skating with a certain bumbling style over the thin ice of total incompetence…. Allen is not so much a man pitting his wits against impersonal forces as a physically inept creature going down under another onslaught. His comedy has little conventional timing and acrobatic inventiveness. The styleless, graceless collision of situations is precisely the point, and in defeat the hero always retreats with humility, almost gratefully.
Visual parody and throwaway gags follow rather limply in the train of Allen's wisecracking philosophy of frustration, and the parodies and the monologue have yet to meet in a...
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Woody Allen's Sleeper is fast, inventive and delightful: a slapstick chase comedy set two centuries in the future, the better to satirize the present. (p. 126)
Sleeper has some of the acceleration and momentum of a Mack Sennett comedy. The situations and gags accumulate and snowball for stretches of ten or fifteen minutes, usually climaxed by a renewal of the chase. Then Allen seems to take a breather for a few minutes before resuming his all-out, headlong comic attack. His machine doesn't have a classic, smooth-running hum, but it gets you where you want to go, and I think the brief rest stops are necessary in feature-length slapstick.
Despite occasional lapses—Allen shortchanges a few sight gags after setting them up quite nicely—Sleeper impresses me as the most incisive and consistently funny Woody Allen comedy to date. (p. 127)
If Woody Allen continues to leave certain segments of the mass audience cold, it won't be because he's seriously deficient as a funnyman but because his sense of humor offends some conventional tastes. On his part, Allen has reached out to a large public and met it more than halfway—symbolically, by slipping on a giant banana peel. Sleeper is a hip popular comedy, uniting broad slapstick gags with a tart, satirical, up-to-date point of view. (p. 128)
Gary Arnold, "'Sleeper'," in The Washington...
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Woody Allen appears before us as the battered adolescent, scarred forever, a little too nice and much too threatened to allow himself to be aggressive. He has the city-wise effrontery of a shrimp who began by using language to protect himself and then discovered that language has a life of its own. The running war between the tame and the surreal—between Woody Allen the frightened nice guy trying to keep the peace and Woody Allen the wiseacre whose subversive fantasies keep jumping out of his mouth—has been the source of the comedy in his films. Messy, tasteless, and crazily uneven (as the best talking comedies have often been), the last two pictures he directed—Bananas and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex—had wild highs that suggested an erratic comic genius. The tension between his insecurity and his wit makes us empathize with him; we, too, are scared to show how smart we feel…. At his top, in parts of Bananas and Sex, the inexplicably funny took over; it might be grotesque, it almost always had the flippant, corny bawdiness of a frustrated sophomore running amok, but it seemed to burst out—as the most inspired comedy does—as if we had all been repressing it. We laughed as if he had let out what we couldn't hold in any longer.
The surreal is itself tamed in Woody Allen's Sleeper, the most stable and most sustained of his films. (It also has the best title.) Easily the...
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There are critics who have suggested that Woody Allen be named a national art treasure, and I certainly would pledge my support for such a designation. In America's barren wasteland of comedy, he stands out like a Coke machine in the Mojave Desert. Yet two of his latest films, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, which he wrote and directed, and Play It Again, Sam, which he wrote but Herbert Ross directed, provide an interesting contrast in exploring the strengths and weaknesses of his comic talent.
Sex, a multi-episode film, is for the most part brilliantly directed…. Sex is quite clearly the work of a talent laced with genius. Yet it is not nearly so funny as Play It Again, Sam….
The humor in Sam falls into two categories: monologue and sight-gag. Woody spends a good deal of the film talking, either to himself or to his friend's wife … machine-gunning a non-stop series of Allenisms (e.g., he remembers the girl's birthday because it's the anniversary of his mother's hysterectomy). Other major comic sequences are built around slapstick type of material: an uproarious scene has him trying to act nonchalant when his friends bring him a blind date. (p. 42)
The film teeters on the edge of truth, managing to be poignantly real when it wants to be, and outrageously unreal when the situation calls for it…. (pp. 42-3)
What is it...
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For all of its borrowings from silent film and Keystone Kops harum scarum, Allen's art is often very private and parochial, emerging paradoxically out of a clearly-defined cultural context. What Allen has done then is to blend the autobiographical elements that form so great a portion of his comedy with the more accessible allusions to mass culture, the result being an engaging amalgam of parody and confession, satire and sentiment, hostility and affection.
Consider Allen's use of his Jewish middle-class origins. In three of his films we hear voices of what obviously are a New York Jewish middle-aged couple nagging and whining about their son. (pp. 51-2)
I suspect it is no accident that we never see the faces of Allen's parents, that we merely hear their nagging voices, their pained disappointment over their son's failures. Allen's portrait of them is devastating, but stops short of being malicious or cruel. Perhaps it is enough that the college drop-out has had the last word! Allen's reference to his Jewishness extends beyond these parental allusions. He seems fascinated—almost obsessed—by the rabbinate and appears to delight in mocking the solemnity and dignity of the rabbinical image. (p. 52)
[Though Allen comes] close to offensive caricature in [his] broad treatment of recognizable Jewish types, [he is] at the same time asserting the freedom to employ such ethnic material in non-ethnic...
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[Woody Allen] has encouraged a "just fun" attitude toward his films while stealthily adding more elaborate sketches to his repertory in order to invite comparison with the great comedians of the past….
But Allen's sense of his own identity is too strong and too obtrusive for him ever to successfully camouflage himself as a mechanical man, the way Chaplin does in The Circus, the way Keaton enters animistically into harmony with other organisms. Nor can he quite envision a world of "normal" people as Lewis does in The Nutty Professor. Allen clings tenaciously to the worm's-eye view which is the source of his humor and of his success, and which defines the limits of his vision. It is the humor of a stand-up comic, wit that plays off a given world, rather than inventing it. It is a verbal, parochial, ratty, ethnic, bargain-basement humor, sexist, conservative, self-centered, and the funniest lines in Sleeper are hangover lines, when the "morning after" happens to be two centuries later….
In alien territory, Allen can just about survive. He lacks the ability of a Chaplin or a Keaton to turn expediency into poetry, and his overconcrete personality—Jewish ethnic, New York—is a cross he brandishes with bravado…. In this, Allen is very much in tune with the contemporary Zeitgeist, the vision of the alien as insider, the underdog as top banana. Whereas most comedians suggested, by their...
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Woody Allen's imperially funny new picture is named "Love and Death," a coupling of big concepts that says at once where the story is set. We are obviously going to be in the land of "War and Peace," of "Crime and Punishment," of "Fathers and Sons," though we turn out to be not really so much in Russia as in Russian literature. It is a literature seen through Woody Allen's unique prism of the grandiose but hesitant, as if it were being read by a student racked by anxieties about both the afterlife and the common cold. (p. 104)
For such a recklessly funny film, the impression is weirdly serene. The feeling comes not just from the photography and the editing and the stately Prokofieff music but, more fundamentally, from the cast of Woody Allen's mind. He is the only wit alive who could manage with such easy style the skiddy topics of some of the movie's best jokes. Comedians who deal in sexual uncertainty can be dire, like comedians who trade on pretending to be cowards, because both sorts profit by affecting to have qualities that they secretly despise; but Woody Allen makes haplessness about love seem one of the conditions laid down for loving, much as he makes fear of death seem one of the conditions laid down for living. No one who wasn't petrified by mortality could make a comedy that was so palliatively funny about the straits we inhabit. God, if he exists, is described as an underachiever, presumably because of the Deity's failure...
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"Love and Death" is a curious olio of nightclub patter, revue sketches and one-liners, most of them quite funny but uneasily stitched together. What comes out resembles a movie only as something midway between a crazy quilt and a potato sack resembles a suit of clothes. Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that: like anything else, film can accommodate a great many forms or lacks of form of a madcap, one-shot, sui generis kind. But there is a grave problem with "Love and Death," hilarious as much of it may be. This sort of film wears thin too easily, laughter that is largely pointless becomes in the end exhausting. This does not necessarily happen within a single Woody Allen film, which, kept wisely short, can generally squeeze by without our realizing until later that we have been exercising our jaws in a vacuum—that we could have gotten roughly the same effect from laughing gas, sneezing powder or a mutual tickling session with a friendly prankster. (pp. 1, 15)
[For] the more discriminating viewer a certain, as it were, postcoital depression sets in even earlier: say, midway through the film. It is in the nature of gags not to be all as funny as the best of the lot: a set of perfectly matched jokes is infinitely harder to come by than a necklace of perfectly matched pearls…. What put "Sleeper" above Allen's other films so far is that it really was about something besides gags—about what was wrong with present-day...
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"Annie Hall" perfects a sort of humor that can best be described as psychoanalytic slapstick. It has a Geiger-counter ear for urban clichés…. (p. 137)
"Annie Hall" goes further than any earlier Woody Allen film in the purity of its romanticism. This is a love story told with piercing sweetness and grief, for all its funniness…. In "Annie Hall," Woody Allen technically pushes far ahead of anything he has done in the cinema before, playing with ideas in film which he has been experimenting with in prose. His ear for metropolitan speech has never been finer, his approach to character never so direct, his feeling about hypocrisy never so ringing, his sobriety never so witty. (p. 138)
Penelope Gilliatt, "Woody at His Best Yet," in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LIII, No. 10, April 25, 1977, pp. 136-38.
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Annie Hall is by far the most brilliant Woody Allen movie to date…. For the first time in his career Woody Allen has acknowledged his own power and eminence as a condition of his existence. The old Woody might have gone to a shrink, but he would not have had the wherewithal to pay for his girl friend's analysis. He would never have shown himself making hordes of people laugh. He would never have begun to reveal in himself all the ruthlessness any reasonably successful urban adult must exercise to survive. For the first time Woody Allen is telling it like it is—almost. And that almost seems to be the key to my persistent yes-but feelings about Allen.
It is nothing I can put my finger on exactly, and I have no advice to offer on the subject. It just strikes me from time to time that Allen is all nuance with very little substance, that much of what he says is not very original, and that he tries to play both ends against the middlebrow….
In years to come Annie Hall may be fondly remembered as the Romeo and Juliet of the analysands. Allen uses the most outrageously literal devices to distinguish the past from the present, the conscious from the unconscious, the physical from the spiritual, the id from the superego, the drama from the essay. He manages to be so boring on the subject of death that he makes Bergman seem lighthearted. Yet, the whole movie hangs together through the power of its...
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M. J. Sobran, Jr.
He who despises himself, Nietzsche says somewhere, nonetheless esteems the despiser within himself. Woody's soliloquies (and Annie Hall teems with them) address that despiser, trying to charm, appease, and outflank him. He treats the audience the same way, as if to anticipate its presumptive contempt for him. Why does he expect contempt? Because, apparently, he is a man of humble origins…. Sometimes he kids his anxiety by making Alvy paranoiacally touchy about antisemitism, and sometimes he indulges it by making Annie's family really antisemitic. Either way, Annie Hall expresses his own self-absorption: you never know whether you are seeing reality à clef, or Allen's perception of reality, or his perception of his perception of reality. But the jokes are funny even when it's not clear who their butt is. He traps you inside his quirky consciousness and unscrupulously tickles you to death. (p. 622)
Annie Hall is frequently funny; but not integrally funny. The slight story of a vapid affair is heavily festooned with mots and gags that run on without adding up; after a while they seem ad hoc, defensive, timid, merely tactical self-depreciations even when Woody is trying to lure us, as Alvy lures Annie, into his language-field. (pp. 622-23)
The whole movie, one feels, is his last word: it should have been called Alvy Singer. If Woody couldn't make the kind of chivalrous...
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Harry M. Geduld
[Woody Allen in Annie Hall] is—delightfully—in top form exposing the cultural stereotypes and clichés, the pretensions, fatuities, and hangups, and above all the jargon, of urban American pseudo-intellectuals…. His Alvin Singer brilliantly expresses the absurdity of a contemporary Everyman trying to enact the role of l'homme moyen sensuel in the form of an inadequate, self-deprecatory paranoid runt. ("I'm the only guy I know who suffers from penisenvy.") Woody repeatedly reminds us that the modern American male is a reductio ad absurdum quivering helplessly under the combined weights of Sigmund Freud and Women's Lib….
Annie Hall's satiric barbs lance a multiplicity of contemporary targets, but the film's essential concern is with the reworking of the old myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. At first, Annie forces a relationship with the reluctant Alvin; but gradually, despite his evident inadequacies, he assumes control and begins to transform her into an educated and self-confident woman. Soon the increasing success of the transformation produces a crucial dilemma: love or independence?…
The film offers some novel and topical variations on the old myth…. Woody Allen's "Pygmalion" is a divorcee who makes absurdly fumbling efforts to pass himself off as a latter-day worldly-wise Casanova. And while Alvin Singer is not destroyed by his "creation," his involvement with Annie Hall does,...
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In some ways, Annie Hall … is Woody Allen's first film;… his technical and narrative assurance has reached a new level, and there has never before been so much concentration on the comic's own personality, outlook and phobias….
Allen's concerns and comic apparatus have been drastically simplified. The elaborate parody mechanisms of Sleeper and Love and Death are here abandoned…. The setting in Annie Hall is largely Manhattan, its apartments, sidewalks, bookshops, tennis clubs, analysts' offices, restaurants, park benches and cinemas—all of which provide mainly neutral backgrounds for the verbal gymnastics of the leading couple…. Outside Manhattan, however, the environments are seen through more satirical eyes: Alvy's Brooklyn home, beneath a roller-coaster; Annie's home in Wisconsin, straight from a Norman Rockwell painting; and, especially, the scenes in Los Angeles. 'It's like living in Munchkinland!' Alvy tells his friend and manager Rob…. And so it seems all is fakery and sunbaked glitter….
There is a simple reason for these changes in treatment: Manhattan is the home ground of Allen's humour, and under its inspiration the verbal gags completely dominate over the visual. The topics, however, are all as before: like his forerunners Alvy is haunted by love and death, depression and psychoanalysis, the fact of being a Jew, the importance of literature and learning …, the...
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Owen S. Rachleff
Woody Allen's somber Interiors is unlike any other of his films and accordingly does not poke fun at Jewishness. It may, nevertheless, concern modern Jewish dynamics evident in the lives of a very urbane, arty family that forms the nucleus of this film. Theirs is the kind of supposed Jewish struggle with sexuality, venality, creativity, and psychoneurosis that appears in specifically Jewish characters described by Roth, Potok, and Bellow. (p. 59)
[The] almost stereotypical characters, usually grist for Woody Allen's pulverizing mill, are in no way reduced to the usual antics. Although it owes much to Ingmar Bergman, something to Chekhov, and a great deal more to Woody Allen's untapped sensitivities, the film does not belong in any way to the comedian's well-known satirical genre. As some have lamented, indeed, there are no jokes in the entire picture…. In fact, there is a great deal to mark this movie as a beautiful landmark, particularly in the way Allen—like a spider spinning a web—captures the fragile truth of the psychoanalytical seventies. True, there may be no jokes (there are some laughs, to be sure), but there are enough droplets of brilliance … to give the web a shimmering as well as delicate appearance. And there are subtle undercurrents as well, one of which, the possible Jewishness of the characters, still intrigues me.
Woody Allen is obviously very much affected by his Jewishness; it is an...
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For two years, reviewing theatre and cinema, I've managed to avoid the use of the word 'Art', because I believe that the word has come to signify little more than some vague cultural blessing and that there are other more specific criteria by which we can judge what any particular play or film is actually doing. But there's no avoiding Art with Woody Allen's new film Interiors…. After moving from the first phase of satiric farce with the poignant comedy of Annie Hall, Allen now strips off the joker's mask completely and reveals the face of the tortured artist beneath. But the face is not Woody Allen's, but Ingmar Bergman's. The debt to Bergman shows not only in the film's formal qualities, its austere composition and self-conscious elegance, but in its themes of personal isolation and death, and crucially in its attitude to art, which is seen as something refined, exquisite and in a sense inhuman. The story concerns a well-heeled WASP family in New England…. Arthur is a quiet, decent, responsible sort of man, while Eve is the perfect wife and mother—a little tense and introverted, perhaps, but then she's an artist. If Arthur provides the loot, she provides the aesthetic sense that makes their home a model of gracious affluence. (pp. 38-9)
The contrast between Eve and the new wife, Pearl … is at the heart of the film, Pearl is described by Joey as a 'vulgarian', and I suppose she is in the sense that her responses...
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The increasing directorial ambition evinced by Sleeper and Love and Death probably made it only to be expected that Woody Allen would seek to direct a movie not centred on himself as performer, and the elements of psychodrama in Annie Hall similarly made predictable a venture outside the realms of comedy. The evidence of Interiors …, however, may call into question his wisdom in attempting both aims at once.
As the title implies, Interiors is chamber drama…. The film's essentially theatrical construction … heightens the suspicion that the condition to which Interiors aspires is that of Long Island Chekhov, and that the three sisters at the heart of the picture represent a Chekhovian legacy as much as did the trio in Cries and Whispers. But where Bergman is able to use this as a starting point for his own inimitable concerns, it is by no means certain where Allen is headed (though it is clearly not in the direction of laughter). (p. 60)
Dramatically and thematically, it is with our response to Renata and Joey that the essential stumbling block to the movie presents itself. Involvement with them is crucially hindered by the fact that the family background is not elaborated in enough detail to let us judge for ourselves the validity of, for instance, Renata's claim that Joey feels guilty for rejecting her mother, or Joey's that Renata is wary of her (Joey) as a...
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Woody Allen, since 1971, if no farther back, had thirsted to make what he thought of as a "European" film, preferably in the monastic style of Ingmar Bergman. Finally he has made it, and contingently it resembles (at least in outline) the particular Bergman number [Autumn Sonata] which arrived almost at the same hour of release. (p. 60)
Impressed by the austerity of Bergman's style and by what he reads as Bergman's tragic view of life, he endangered his project at the outset; he was faced with the problem of imposing a Swedish ethos on urban American material. Bergman, since The Virgin Spring, has as often as possible shut out not only the world of nature but also the world of things and the world of society at large, so that his agonists can battle nakedly with each other (or with a surrogate God), undistracted by the alternative points of view or the cultural frivolities which tempt the commonality of mankind. Allen's film is far more populous than Autumn Sonata or any late film of Bergman; our comprehension of it is not delayed by a level of symbolic reference; it can be summarized as a story line that holds together. Motivation, however, is another matter. If Autumn Sonata is ambivalent because Bergman is playing a game with appearances, Interiors is eventually ambiguous because the calamities represented are in excess of the cause alleged.
Interiors should have been the...
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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Allen's association with [Interiors] has distracted the critics. We read essays wondering why a great comedian should make a movie without a laugh in it or why a Jew should make a drama about a WASP family. All this is surely irrelevant. Interiors deserves, like any other movie, to be considered on its intrinsic merits.
Let us therefore purge Woody Allen from our minds and approach Interiors as if it had been written by the unknown but gifted X. For the real test is what one would say about it if one never knew that Woody Allen had any connection with it. And the first point a reviewer might well make is that it is a movie about a divorce….
Interiors is certainly the first in a long time to take a hard, close look at this nerve-wracking chapter in so many American lives….
The movie is occasionally too pat, as when the most hostile daughter is saved from drowning by her stepmother's kiss of life. But it is generally superb in its exactness of observation and its breadth of sympathy. I have seen no movie that explores the impact of divorce with such sensitivity to the dilemmas of everyone involved….
Nor has Woody Allen—that name can't be excluded altogether—lost his satiric touch. The pseudo-intellectual cant he has used before to comic effect he uses to dramatic effect here, and his ear is as precise and devastating as ever. Of course his...
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Woody Allen's Manhattan has materialized out of the void as the one truly great American film of the '70s. It tops Annie Hall in brilliance, wit, feeling, and articulation, though it is less of a throbbing valentine to a lost love, and more of a meditation on an overexamined life. As a carnival of the sexes, it can be mentioned in the same breath with such previous masterpieces as Max Ophuls's Madame de …, Jean Renoir's La Regle du Jeu, Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night, and Preston Sturges's The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story….
Manhattan is comparable to such epiphanies of my movie-reviewing career as Luis Buñuel's Viridiana in 1962, Richard Lester's and the Beatles's A Hard Day's Night in 1964, and Eric Rohmer's My Night at Maud's in 1970. At a time when even the most discerning film critics seem to be mesmerized by gaudy, growly, weepy, inarticulate firework displays masquerading as movies, Allen has returned us to square one with an authentic talking picture about recognizably motivated human beings. I now suspect that Interiors, far from being a detour, was a necessary step in Allen's artistic progression from Annie Hall to Manhattan. Never in Manhattan does Allen compromise his mise-en-scene by enslaving it to a transient and thus ultimately disorienting sight gag. Instead, an ironic counterpoint is established...
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Like most gagmen who earn their living by making fun of people, Woody Allen can recognize the ridiculous in everyone but himself….
Allen's strained seriousness and inadvertent humor are … on display in his latest film, Manhattan…. As always, his writing and directing are aimed at marketing his own virtue, or rather that of his familiar persona, here christened Isaac Davis….
Allen's persona was appealing in the past because he was such a loser; he reassured audiences about their own inadequacies—that nothing succeeds like failure. Beginning with Annie Hall, however, the filmmaker—perhaps sensitive to the declining status of "losers" and "victims" in our egocentric age—changed his formula. Now, winning seems to be all there is for his one-time schlemiel, who is unchanged in other respects. (p. 21)
[Davis scores with Mary Wilke] …, the on-again off-again mistress of his married best friend…. Because Isaac and Mary hate each other at first sight, we know they will presently fall in love. The reasons for their initial dislike, though, are an important clue to the hidden message of Manhattan.
When they first meet at an art gallery, Mary—a vaguely "literary" journalist—derides Isaac's preference for plexiglass sculptures she considers "purely derivative"; she also praises some minimalist steel cubes that he had found incomprehensible, expounding...
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Manhattan is ice cold—on the rocks rather than straight up. It is a movie about cruelty and betrayal among contemporary urban intellectuals, but I've yet to meet a c.u.i. who has flinched at any of it. And it is a movie that is flinchable or nothing; Woody Allen is incapable of the sculptural precision and timing which justify emotional distance in Dreyer or Bresson or even Lubitsch. Allen means to confront us with unpleasant truths—but there is no confrontation, only exposition.
Other recent c.u.i. films have succeeded where Allen fails. There were moments so raw and real in Mazursky's Blume in Love and Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage that friends of mine had to escape to the lobby for a few minutes. Yet watching Manhattan, not once are we moved to look away from the screen. To take one example: Has anyone who's ever broken with a best friend over a mutual lover experienced the matter as bloodlessly as Woody Allen and Michael Murphy do? Here is a film about passion which is wholly devoid of it….
Manhattan's "liberalism" functions only so long as that word is defined along traditional lines, which have come to include "equal rights for women." In the ways that seem important to me in 1979, Manhattan is a profoundly conservative movie. In its sexual politics, it is shockingly conservative. In its understanding of women, in its view of the possibilities of...
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Manhattan is a profoundly and multifariously dishonest picture. It can be read in both directions, as if it were written simultaneously in English and Hebrew. As Manhattan, it is the story of a decent little fellow who shakes off TV commercialism, moves into a more modest apartment, and tries to authenticate his life as an artist….
Read backward, however—and the continuous flip humor demands that it be read thus—Nattahnam is all tongue-in-cheek cynicism. Isaac is a bit of a shnook, redeemed only partially by his wisecracks; Mary, though dazzling, is also a fool and a sickie; Tracy has previously had three affairs with boys and is, for all her extolled precocious perspicacity, also childishly uncomprehending—as when she comments about aging TV performers with face-lifts, "Why can't they just age naturally?" Jill and Connie are clever, cold women, obviously created during a milk-of-human-kindness strike; Emily is a cipher—of the kind, incidentally, that no true artist would allow in his film….
Look at that closing speech of Tracy's, in response to Isaac's fear that she will lose her innocence and her love for him: "Six months isn't so long." Very sensible. "Everybody gets corrupted." Is that to be taken at face value—truth from an angel: Tracy's kind of corruption would be merely a civilizing old-world polish on her honesty and wisdom? Or as wry irony: even the cherub looks forward to...
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Self-absorption is general, as is self-doubt. In the large coastal cities of the United States this summer many people wanted to be dressed in "real linen," cut by Calvin Klein to wrinkle, which implies real money. In the large coastal cities of the United States this summer many people wanted to be served the perfect vegetable terrine. It was a summer in which only have-nots wanted a cigarette or a vodka-and-tonic or a charcoal-broiled steak. It was a summer in which the more hopeful members of the society wanted roller skates, and stood in line to see Woody Allen's Manhattan, a picture in which, toward the end, the Woody Allen character makes a list of reasons to stay alive. "Groucho Marx" is one reason, and "Willie Mays" is another. The second movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. Louis Armstrong's "Potato Head Blues." Flaubert's A Sentimental Education. This list is modishly eclectic, a trace wry, definitely OK with real linen; and notable, as raisons d'etre go, in that every experience it evokes is essentially passive. This list of Woody Allen's is the ultimate consumer report, and the extent to which it has been quoted approvingly suggests a new class in America, a subworld of people rigid with apprehension that they will die wearing the wrong sneaker, naming the wrong symphony, preferring Madame Bovary.
What is arresting about these recent "serious" pictures of Woody Allen's, about Annie...
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As a filmmaker, Woody Allen has had to confront many of the same problems as Mel Brooks. There has been an element of spoofery in all his films except Annie Hall. In general, he's been able to keep it under better control. His films are about people and ideas as well as movies. Like Brooks, too, he has had to deal with his own comedian's persona. But he started as an actor, and he has appeared in all his films so far (except What's Up Tiger Lily?, a success, and Interiors, a failure). As a result, his films are not only more cohesive than Brooks's but also—at least in my view—more authentic. (p. 240)
His first directorial outing was Take the Money and Run (1969), in which he played the archetypal Allen bungler as crook. The film had a fresh, semidocumentary approach which set it immediately apart from the general comedic stream. Allen's films still benefit from this visual realism, much richer and more engaging than Brooks's glossy, glassy set constructions. Take the Money and Run worked as a showcase for the Allen comedy with which audiences had become familiar through his television appearances, but he was just beginning to discover how to translate the monologist's style into cinematic language. Again, the difference is between telling and seeing. During a prison sequence in Take the Money, our hero is sadistically sentenced to three days in a sweatbox, with an insurance salesman....
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[What's Up, Tiger Lily?] abounds with clichés about Orientalism that relate to Allen's Jewish, sex, and loser jokes. All four patterns constitute a central theme: a narrow perspective is being imposed on an alien reality. (p. 116)
[Two] jokes converge when Wing Fat and Shepherd Wong argue over whether Wong looks Chinese or Japanese: the tradition of "But you don't look Jewish," and the Occidental's inability to distinguish among Orientals. All these Western-bias jokes about the East emphasize the fact that this film imposes an outsider's perspective on the action, and that such a perspective can only distort its material.
As though further to distort perspective, the film often refers to the fact that it is a film by offering film parodies. For example, Cobra Man not only speaks in a Peter Lorre voice but at one point complains, "Oh, my throat. This Peter Lorre imitation is killing me."…
This formal self-consciousness works in several ways. It is another example of the film's disjunction. Just as the soundtrack is always at madcap odds with the action, so the film references undercut any lingering pretense to realism. Furthermore, the obvious disparity between character and role is a variation on the basic point of the film's structure, which is the imposition of an Occidental viewpoint on the Oriental world. (p. 117)
Allen stands apart from the material which he...
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