Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Short-Take #1 : Woody Allen and Me

Last week, PBS' "American Masters" broadcast a new 2-part documentary about the life and work of Woody Allen. 

In my post just before the program aired (PBS Reviews the Career of Woody Allen, Nov. 20), I promised to offer my thoughts on the show, plus a few words about why Allen has been a comic and cinematic hero to me.

Allen's career spans over 50 years, and has so many facets that it would be impossible to compress it all in a 3-hour program.  Still, the show did an amazing job taking the viewer from Allen's early days as a standup,to his first attempts at filmmaking, through his tabloid years (and various love-interests), to his maturation as a writer-director. Running through it all is Allen's remarkable feat; since 1970, he has written and directed on the average of one film every year. 

Allen tells much of the story in his own voice, appearing on-camera much of the time in exclusive interviews for the program. They are active interviews: he shows us the old manual typewriter on which he still writes his screenplays; shares with us a drawer-full of slips of paper with ideas that he is constantly generating; and responds with unusual warmth and candor to his acolytes and critics alike.  He does not come off as a pseudo-intellectual, nor a sleaze.  Best of all are the many film clips that are used to illustrate and enhance his personal story, clips from scores of his well-loved classic movies.

For me, personally, Allen was a creative inspiration.  I loved to write satire as a young student, and yearned to make readers laugh as hard as Allen had made me laugh.  His book, "Without Feathers", made my sides literally ache.  Too bad they didn't mention his book in the documentary; nor did they introduce one of Allen's earlier film projects, "What's Up, Tiger Lily", an actual Japanese spy film that Allen re-edited and dubbed with devastatingly naughty dialogue, that spoke to the perennial adolescent in me. 

But I reveled in utter joy as I re-lived the pleasures of his movies, and recalled the theaters filled with laughter, and the nearly empty matinees where my romantic pain as a young man was alleviated, in the company of the likes of Diane Keaton, Louise Lasser, Diane Wiest, Mia Farrow, Mariel Hemingway, Tony Bill, John Cusack, Jeff Daniels, Michael Caine, and Allen himself.  Allen spoke directly to me, like he was a wise college senior to my awkward freshman.  His intelligence was something I could aspire to, and his awkwardness something I could identify with, and not feel ashamed. Allen said it was okay to laugh, and so, I was able to laugh at myself.

"Sleeper", "Bananas", "Love and Death", "Interiors", "Manhattan", "Hannah and Her Sisters", "The Purple Rose of Cairo", "Radio Days", "Bullets Over Broadway", and my iconic favorite, the game-changer "Annie Hall", shaped my formative movie-going years, and my attitudes as to what a film could accomplish. They let me escape, not into fantasy, but into a vaguely familiar world that I could learn to manage. The laughter was healing.  A few of them may have saved my life on one or two occasions. 

My relationship with Allen's work has mellowed over the years.  I missed some of the later titles, but found the old enchantment in edgier works like "Match Point" and "Vicki Christina Barcelona".

With "Midnight in Paris", I feel like my painful adolescent and my wiser older self have come together to enjoy Allen's most magical piece of work since Alvy and Annie took that nostalgic trip to Coney Island.

No comments:

Post a Comment