Video Fridays: Woody Allen

It’s been nearly two years since I featured one of my favorite filmmakers — Woody Allen — in a Video Fridays installment.

Considering how much Woody has meant to me over the years, this is a regrettable oversight, and I’m happy to make up for it today.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact Woody Allen had on me growing up, specifically considering the arc of his career, from comedy writer to stand-up comic to comic actor/filmmaker to serious film auteur. (I will leave alone the unpleasantness surrounding his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn. Rather, I prefer to see Woody as just as much a flawed, and therefore human, being as anyone else, and I like to consider his career and artistic achievements on their own merits.)

Having been raised a Jew, I’ve always been hyperaware of and sensitive about Jewish stereotypes. To many people, Woody Allen represents a number of those — neurotic, intellectual, non-athletic, whiny, etc. — and yet he did something remarkable in the face of that: he embraced those stereotypes, stepped into the spotlight, and made nearly a movie per year for over 45 years.

Woody made it OK to be smart, initially by being both smart AND funny. But, then he did a very courageous thing. Risking the alienation of his audience, the millions of people who loved him for his comedy, almost over night he switched gears and started to make more complex movies. 1977’s Annie Hall, while still decidedly a comedy, exhibited a significant reduction in sight gags, deeper character development, and dramatic undertones that gave the romance in this romantic comedy much more emotional impact. And the very next year, the comedy was gone entirely in Interiors.

While Allen would go on a few years later to make Stardust Memories, a film that directly addresses his experience of making this transition and how it affected him, he first made Manhattan, which is, in my opinion, a true masterpiece.

It could be said that Manhattan signals Woody having hit his sweet spot. It’s as if Annie Hall and Interiors were thrown into a blender and out came Manhattan, a perfect blend of comedy and drama.

I haven’t even touched on Woody Allen’s genius as a visual artist, a genius he developed in collaboration with a number of great cinematographers over the years. Nor will I have the time to address the gradual decline in consistency in his work over the last half of his career, except to say that his work has probably suffered mostly due to his insistence on making a new movie every single year.

And so I’ll conclude by getting to the point, this week’s Video Fridays clip, one of my favorite scenes from Manhattan, a scene that captures so much of Woody’s sensibilities, as well as the romanticism that has underlied all of his work.

8 thoughts on “Video Fridays: Woody Allen

  1. Great post, Howard! I also admire Woody Allen for another reason: when the Academy Awards were announced, he turned off the TV, unplugged his telephone, and only received word of his award the next morning. His artistic and intellectual focus is impervious to external stimuli, and ensures that he’s constantly re-evaluating his progress and re-inventing his ideas.

    • Yeah, the story that I’ve heard for years is that he always plays clarinet with his Dixieland jazz group at Michael’s Pub in New York the night of the Oscars and is unwilling to give that up to attend the Academy Awards.

      I had the great pleasure of seeing him perform at Michael’s Pub years ago. As if he didn’t have enough talent as a writer, director, and actor, he’s an amazing musician as well.

        • I really liked Midnight In Paris, and it made me want to live there in a big, big way.

          Of course I know that it romanticizes Paris all out of proportion, and that the real city comes with the usual urban warts, but Woody makes no apologies about romanticizing, which is one of the things that I love about him.

          In fact, that phrase “romanticizing all out of proportion” was used in the monologue at the opening of Manhattan, and I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that the opening of both films are similar. Yes, Manhattan is shot in black and white and there’s a voice over, but they are both — one gorgeous shot after another — visual love letters to their respective cities.

          P.S. “polymathical” I admit, I had to look it up, and I’m so glad that I did. It’s awesome.

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