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Thursday 20 April 2017

Review: Chris Wade's Comprehensive Woody Allen On Screen Overview

Woody Allen is seemingly fixated on the end. He has little truck for the long haul that leads up to his inevitable demise. Life to him, like film making, is "'a different kind of pain."

Chris Wade, in his book Woody Allen On Screen, does us all a favour by dispensing with the "'did he, didn't he"'tittle-tattle of Allen"s much raked over personal life. 

What we get instead is an exhaustive and fascinating journey through the fifty-plus year career of the iconic master"s film related activities.

It is a career based on a foundation of comedy, but also built upon layers of an intricate understanding of the human condition, that gives it the depth and momentum that uncovers the truths and anxieties which concern and consume us all. 

There's a career cut-off point. There's pre-1975 when Allen was slowly edging towards complete control over his films. And post-1975 when he was able to stamp his personality ….

Allen"s first forays into film - What's New Pussycat? (1965) and  What's Up Tiger Lilly? (1966) - were neither a success nor did they give any inkling of the unique all round talent to come.

He then took the reigns for Take the Money and Run (1969): as the director, writer and lead actor.

Of the movie Wade says: "Even nearly fifty years on, Take the Money and Run is an exceptional comedy, and as a first proper directorial effort it's not lost an ounce of its boldness and vitality."

The crossroads came with Love and Death. In Wade's view the 1975 movie is Allen's first "serious" movie, and by that he means in its stylistic approach and also the themes it deals with." 

The author also feels that by the mid-seventies "Allen had become his own man, and though he had channelled Chaplin, Hope and the Marx Brothers, their influences were merely stepping stones to his own equally iconic persona and movie style."

Then the stylistic and artistic leaps just kept on coming. The populist Annie Hall (1977),  the more intense and questioning Interiors (1978), and the beauty of the black and white reels of Manhattan (1979).

Then the public were bemused by Stardust Memories (1980). Having thought they had Allen figured out as being akin to the characters he portrayed on screen, suddenly he presented them with what many saw as his most "difficult, destructive and non-commercial picture", 

Wade disagrees and believes the picture is "a complex, deep and fascinating study of egotistical self importance." 

But disproving the theory that Woody only makes movies for himself, he returned in 1982 with the more delicate and palatable A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.

Space dictates that from 1982 to the present day I can only report that Allen"s cinematic career has produced all the highs and lows and hits and diminishing returns you'd expect from one man conceiving and committing to film almost a movie a year.

Wade concludes that the main thing he admires about Woody is "his productivity and his refusal to grow old like millions of other fogeys have done around the world. 

"Whether you like all his new movies or not, it's irrelevant, for Woody is expressing himself in as many varied and splendid ways as he can with cinema; keeping himself fresh, energetic and young at heart. 

"But perhaps most importantly for Allen, he's avoiding staring death in the face."

Woody Allen On Screen by Chris Wade is available now by CLICKING HERE. For info on Wade"s books, magazines, music making and film work CLICK HERE.

by: Mike Cobley


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