Woody Allen – Film By Film
Introductory Interview With Woody Allen
By Jason Solomons
Carlton Books – £25.00
”You could see Woody Allen’s out-of-time physical clowning as a corrective to our own assumptions of intellectual superiority, and there’s always humour in
seeing an inadequate Jewish man trapped within all this mechanical paraphernalia, usually trying to impress a girl. It’s a humour tinged with tragedy, of course, a crushing, absurdist comic mechanism.”
Reading this book is almost as good and enjoyable as watching Woody Allen’s films. The prime difference being, when watching his movies, you’re concentrating on
what you’re hearing and seeing: the movie itself – replete with the actors, the dialogue, the direction and naturally everything that watching movies entails.
Whereas reading Woody Allen – Film By Film, you’re fundamentally concentrating on more of the man. More of the artist. An invitation, which, if you care to think about, really is altogether fabulous, because Woody Allen doesn’t exactly show up betwixt the pages of glossy magazines every other week.
All we essentially have to go by, is the work – which is as it admittedly should be.
But within these 253 pages (excluding Index), we get a variant of inviting (colour) close-ups of Woody Allen the artist, the writer, the stand-up, the ragingly up-tight Jewish New Yorker.
Plus, dare I say it, that which makes the man tick.
So be it behind or in front of the camera, this exceedingly wonderful book brings Woody to the fore, in a way I have personally never come across before.
This is partially achieved by exploring the didactic subject matter of the work itself. From a premise might I add, that is not only surprisingly in depth, but which reflects on each and every one of us in a profoundly idiosyncratic and inadvertent manner: ”Woody Allen’s films capture the absurdity of life and love, the humour and the pain. He can somehow nail what is most modern and evolved about us and yet also skewer our most basic, primal urges. His characters take us to the abyss and yet transport us, in fits of laughter, on flights of fantasy. Alvy Singer, Fielding Mellish, Harry Block, Gil Pender – all these creations with their ties and stammers, their inadequacies, desires and thick glasses, are far removed from most of us, yet in them we see ourselves reflected.”
That we do – which probably accounts for Allen’s relentless popularity.
Indeed, through the perplexing and quite often, poignant prism of his huge body of work – the bar of which has remained uncontestedly high throughout most of his career – we the audience, are subliminally reminded of our own doubts. Our own desires. Our very own, uncontested pangs of ridicule and remorse.
Not to mention the variant short-coming(s) of comedic sexuality. Comedic, simply because, whether it’s Alvy Singer himself, or an array of other fictitious characters; we, as film-goers, readers and society, can, and do, so very strongly relate to them all. Characters whom again and again, we meet ”throughout this book, and many more, male and female, all of them prismatic reflections of both of us and their creator, Woody Allen. Can we separate these fictitious folk from his life and our lives? Can he, especially when he plays most of them, or his real-life girlfriend does? As Alvy says of writing his first, rudimentary play in Annie Hall: ”You know, you always try to get things to come out perfect in art because, uh, it’s real difficult in life…” This book will examine the career-long tussle between the two.”
Lest it be said there are a menagerie of terrific one liners scattered throughout Woody Allen – Film By Film, which is another aspect that makes flicking through the pages, ever more inviting:
”My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.”
”I believe that there’s an intelligence to the universe, except for certain parts of New Jersey.”
”I was born in the Hebrew persuasion but I converted to narcissism.”
”Drew Barrymore sings so badly, deaf people are afraid to watch her lips move.”
”My view of reality is that it’s a grim place to be… but it’s the only place you can get Chinese food.”
That said, there is, as previously mentioned, an in-depth quality to almost all of the writing contained herein; of which the following, from the chapter ‘Themes, Styles and Motifs’ is a most pertinent example: ”What typifies Woody Allen’s films is their remarkable facility for toggling between past and present, slipping into different modes with a smooth economy and narrative precision. Despite these huge leaps of logic, the audience are rarely left wondering: ”What just happened?” or ”Is this a dream sequence?” or ”Wait, how is he talking to his mother?” There is never any need for wobbly visual dissolves,special effects or Twilight Zone-style music to signal this alternate mode. And Woody can do it in any genre or tone: Midnight in Paris, Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Another Woman – in all these films, characters wonder the rooms of their past and interact with other characters to comic, philosophical or tragic effect. The weird thing is that it never, not for a second, feels weird at all.”
Compartmentalized into five specific sections, the book is made up of the five decades in which Woody Allen has been making films. Starting with the 1960s (with What’s New Pussycat in 1965) and concluding with the 2000s (by way of 2015’s Irrational Man), this nigh un-put-down-able, absolutely superb book, is a resolute MUST for any discerning, serious fan or admirer of Allen’s work.
Woody Allen – Film By Film is quite possibly the next best thing to a new release; the one difference being, you can both enjoy and refer to it, at random and at will.