Monday, December 21, 2009

The Curious Case of Woody Allen

Maybe he already gets enough credit for this, and I'm just not thinking all the way through on this one.  But when I think of Woody Allen, I think of the funny-looking guy who makes funny movies.   What I don't immediately think of is Woody Allen as one of the most innovative and experimental directors working in American cinema.  For some reason, I forget about all the unconventional techniques in Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo.  And Robin Williams being literally "out of focus" in Deconstructing Harry.  And what American director has made more movies in black-and-white in the last thirty-five years?

Just got around to watching Broadway Danny Rose for the first time. How have I  missed this one for all these years?  I loved it.  And I guess the consolation here is that occasionally I'll still discover an older film that excites, inspires, and reminds me of why I give so much of my time and energy to movies.   BDR is another black-and-white Woody, with an incredibly well-realized, typically Woody Allen densely structured script.  It also boasts my favorite Mia Farrow performance so far, and of course at least one excellent scene of experimentation.  You have to see it.  But we'll just call it the "helium scene".


  1. So, so, so true. Woody seems to have fallen out of favor with a lot of people, despite flashes of critical enthusiasm for movies like Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (well-deserved at least in the latter case). But he's a remarkable director with a surprisingly rich body of work behind him. Broadway Danny Rose makes me laugh like few other films, especially the helium scene; it's one of my favorites. And as you point out, his filmography also boasts plenty of departures and experiments that belie his reputation as a simple, workmanlike director of comedies. Celebrity is a fantastic satire that almost never gets any respect: its cinematography is simply gorgeous and it has some great performances, especially Kenneth Branagh taking the characteristic neurotic Woody persona to much darker territory than usual, and Charlize Theron in a jaw-droppingly funny bit part. In VCB, there is a series of dissolves between two characters that, with very simple cinematic language, creates an aching, emotionally moving moment. Woody doesn't get enough credit as a filmmaker for stuff like this, for his aesthetic skill and the oft-surprising depth of his characters and themes.

  2. Ed, so well put! I actually haven't seen Celebrity but will definitely grab it when I do my "Favorites of My Favorites" piece on Woody. And now that you mention it, I remember thinking how evocative those dissolves were in VCB.

    Thanks so much for your wonderful insight here!