Saturday, March 15, 2014

Woody Allen

I don't know if Woody Allen has made any great movies. His best, I thought, were Sleeper, Love & Death, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Stardust Memories. I liked Match Point. I should watch Husbands and Wives again---I've heard it mentioned as one of his best movies, and I saw it in the theater when it came out, but the handheld camera was making me seasick and I had to close my eyes a few times watching it.

There are quite a few of his movies I haven't seen----Zelig being the most notable.

I thought his worst ones were Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask and Shadows and Fog. Hollywood Ending should have been better. I thought it was marred by his filming long scenes in a single take. Allen thought The Curse of the Jade Scorpion may have been his worst.

Allen himself has said that he never made any great movies compared to Kurosawa or Ingmar Bergman. He's no Luis Bunuel or Werner Herzog. But who is?

There was Alfred Hitchcock's theory of "pure cinema", the idea that the narrative has to be presented in purely cinematic, generally visual, terms. But I think Allen's work is "pure cinema" in that what he's doing couldn't be translated into any other medium.

People have said that his early comedies didn't have strong plots and were simply disjointed collection of gags. I never thought that. They did have a definite structure. But it was almost impossible to write a coherent, detailed synopsis of the early comedies. In fact, look at Radio Days. Give me an outline.

His later movies were almost all verbal, often with voice over narration in addition to dialog. But those movies had a similar structure to the early comedies. The scenes could be regarded as disconnected. They add up to a coherent, structured movie---in fact, they make the movie seem richer---but it would be difficult to write a synopsis.

Think of the scene in Manhattan where Diane Keaton is working on a typewriter, explaining that she's doing a novelization. Try to imagine a novelization of Manhattan. The movie was almost entirely verbal, but anyone trying to turn it into a novel would be lost. 

Compare him to Italian director Nanni Moretti.

John Baxter in his biography of Allen was critical of some of his movies in ways I wouldn't have thought of. I took Shadows and Fog as an intellectual exercise, a movie about a Jewish community in Central Europe in the 1930s trying to organize in the face of a growing evil threatening them. It didn't occur to me to think of it as a straight horror movie, that anyone should actually be scared watching it. But it couldn't have been any worse if it had had some actual horror.

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