THE MOTHERFUCKING CINEMA
OF WOODY ALLEN
There are decisions in this life that are nigh on impossible for
to make, is what The Duke has deduced from years of intense
At one time in my late-teens, for example, I lay awake for much
of a week contemplating the following; A Catholic priest can get
drunk without much being said, but he cannot wed. A Presbyterian
minister can get wed, but dare not take a drink. What the fuck
might The Duke do, then, considering that at this point in his
life he was not only engaged but also a practising drunk and,
furthermore, thinking along the lines of finding paid employment
in a religion of some nature, preferably Christian.
The predicament in question reached a suitable conclusion when
The Duke decided he couldn’t be arsed with the “clergy”, to be
Other diabolical questions not fit to be answered; One’s
favourite Gram Parsons recording. One day it’s Sin City, the next
it’s Christine’s Tune, and then before you know it you’re
guessing it’s probably Return Of The Grevious Angel, although…
Some things aren’t fit to be laid stone, is what.
But there is one thing The Duke is sure of, and that is the
answer to the question, “Who, per chance, might be your favourite
of the film directors, oh Duke?”
The answer, friends, is none other than Woody Allen, a man who
produced more works of heart-breaking beauty and gut-crushing
hilarity than any other fella or lass what you care to mention.
Even Chaplin’s filmography comes nowhere close to sustaining such
pathos and hilarity with such regularity.
The truth is simply thus; Since Woody directed his first feature,
1966’s What’s Up Tiger Lilly?, he has produced at least three of
the best features of each successive decade.
In the seventies he gave us the glories of Love And Death, Annie
Hall and Manhattan, three works what rank alongside the very best
of the time. The eighties brought fourth Zelig, Hannah And Her
Sisters and Crimes And Misdemeanours. Again, these aren’t just
“among the best of Woody’s stuff”, these are among the best
produced by anyone. These films are as good as Raging Bull, or
Withnail And I or The King Of Comedy. The nineties, a decade
often referred to as the one where “Woody lost it”, in fact
produced not only undisputed-masterpieces like Bullets Over
Broadway, Husbands And Wives and Sweet And Lowdown, but also
underrated slabs of genius like Deconstructing Harry and
He has yet to produce his three masterpieces of the 2000’s, but
he’s still got six years, man, and the rate he works at, he’ll
probably have them out before the end of the week.
Any of those nine films mentioned above are perfect “starting”
points. None of them are weaker than the others.
The greatest joy, though, perhaps lies in uncovering the quiet
masterpieces that punctuate these shining glories.
1982’s A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy is, for some inexplicable
reason, ignored by most everyone. Ironically, it is probably the
ultimate picture for when you need to shut up the kinda folks
what tell you Woody just makes the same damn film every year
with younger casts.
Midsummer… is set in a New England country retreat, telling a
tale of magical goings on in the surrounding forestry, whilst
also having a spot of the relationship trouble malarky what
Woody does better than anyone else. I mean come on, he virtually
invented the modern romantic comedy. You have Woody Allen to
thank for that motherfucker sexing a pastry, is what.
Midsummer also has Woody starring as Andrew, an eccentric
inventor of fantastic if slightly pointless gadgets. He even
flutters about on a flying bicycle, and even though ET did the
same thing one month earlier, A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy
earns the accolade of Best Flying Bicycle Film Of 1982 easily.
In addition to all this, Woody even saw fit to fling the jazz
out the damn way for ten seconds, and fills his soundtrack
instead with a load of the Mendelssohn, who previously had his
classical music shenanigans used in the 1935 Max Reinhardt
version of A Midsummer Nights Dream, and also, I believe, was
covered by Pissing Razors on their debut album.
I take notions, regarding my favourite of Woody’s films.
Manhattan usually comes out top, but that’s not to
underestimate the subversive tactics of Zelig or Love And
Death, his most consistently laugh-the-bollocks-off-oneself
bout of comedy.
Deciding upon his least worthwhile cinematic excursion is a
much simpler affair, on account of the fact that only about 3
of his 34 films to date (not counting his couple of TV
productions or his segment in 1989's otherwise abysmal New York
Stories) come anywhere close to being “crap”.
1992’s Shadows And Fog, though, gets as close as anyone would
care for him to wander. A gorgeously shot but fairly endurance-
testing slab of murder-mystery carry-ons shot in a black and
white German Expressionist manner, but the visual artistry and
impressive cast (up to and including Madonna, John Malcovich
and Donald Pleasance) do little to elevate it. It feels flat,
perhaps because most of the source narrative and chunks of the
dialogue turned up as early as 1976’s short story collection
You’ve no doubt heard about his occasional “serious” excursions
into Bergman-esque emotional drama carry-on, and you’ve most
likely heard that they’re best avoided. This, to be as
diplomatic as possible, is a shit-laced stack of the fallacy.
September, in particular, is a beautiful character-study
affair, shot once and abandoned, then reshot with most of the
original cast, with the exception of Maureen O'Sullivan,
Charles Durning and Sam Shepard. Shepard, in fact, had
originally replaced Christopher Walken, who had played the role
for a couple days before Woody decided he was doing it all
wrong, man, and sent him off for to be The Prince Of New York
or some shit with the fella what did The Driller Killer.
Interesting Psychoanalytical toss is to be uncovered with much
more reward in 1980’s Stardust Memories, what tells the tale of
a one-time comedy director what has grown up and got all
“serious”, attending a retrospective of his own work. It’s
Woody’s most Felini-esque flick to date (closely followed by
98's Celebrity), and was even filmed under the working title
Woody Allen’s No.4. “I’m not even half of the Felini of 8 ½”,
he explained. Woody claims that it’s one of the two films made
by himself what he deems to be worthy of praise, alongside
Purple Rose Of Cairo. But then what the hell would he know? He
hasn’t saw the damn thing since 1980.
Woody, y’see, doesn’t like to watch his own films. Anyone who
sat down for to view Woody Allen - Scene By Scene on BBC2 a
couple years ago will, of course, know all about that
particular eccentricity. As Marc Cousins played scenes from the
likes of Manhattan and Sweet And Lowdown, a visibly
uncomfortable Woody stared the other direction. “I made my
first film, Take The Money And Run, in 1969”, he said. “I
haven't saw a single frame of it since then.”
I don’t mean to be pedantic, Woody, but really, although you
might like to think Take The Money was indeed your first flick,
we all know it wasn’t. I mean, sure, Scorsese can yack that
Mean Streets was his first ever film, but motherfuckers like
The Duke are always gonna be there for to say (cough) Boxcar
Bertha (cough ) Who’s That Knocking At My Door? (cough).
Radio Days and Broadway Danny Rose also instil an unbridled
glee in the Guts De Duke, being a nostalgic bout of gorgeous
whimsy and a spoof caper about a theatrical agent,
respectively. Radio Days plays host to several of the Best
Woody Moments Ever, and in fact, during that aforementioned
televisual chat with Marc Cousins, he revealed that the opening
sequence, wherein two burglars answer a phone in a house they
are busy ransacking only to find that it is in fact a radio
quiz show on the other end, was one of his personal favourites
as far as the “moments” go.
And what moments there are, man, amidst that shimmering
filmography. My personal favourite may be all the predictable
in the world, but I just gotta say, that dawn-light scene in
Manhattan where Woody and Diane Keaton are sitting by the Queen
Anne Bridge, that’s just about enough to make me gooey as a
nostril plucked fresh from a swimming bath. The first time I
saw it I was riddled with insomnia and watching it unfold just
as the real dawn rose outside. I felt the tuggin on the heart,
man, and even though The Duke is a stone-cold sonnabitch with a
thirst for vengeance, I still feel that sensation when I see
that flick about the New York City.
There have been other notable New York films,
like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Part 2 – The
Secret Of The Ooze, or Hercules In New York,
or New York, New York, or New York Ripper, but
ain’t no motherfucker ever made it seem so
Incidentally, the crew supplied their own
bench for the couple to sit on, since there
weren’t actually any benches in the area.
Manhattan also has the best opening five minutes in all of cinema,
when Woody narrates passages from his work-in-progress novel as we
see shots of the city and hear Gershwin’s spellbindingly evocative
Rhapsody In Blue.
Granted, Takeshi Miike managed to cram lap dancers, a suicide, a
fella getting shot in the guts and covering the floor in pasta and
intestines, and a shoot-out into the first five minutes of Dead Or
Alive, but still, I think Woody’s got the Upper Hand, or the Who’s
The Boss, which was, I believe, the American version.
Other favourite Woody moments include the brief shot of Woody
walking horizontally along hospital walls in Zelig; the scenes in
Everyone Says I Love You when he fools Julia Roberts into thinking
he’s her soul-mate when really he’s just been getting his daughter
to listen in on the big-lipped lass’s therapy sessions; the bit in
Hannah And Her Sisters when he’s about to shoot himself but sweats
so much with anxiety that the gun slides off his forehead and
blows a hole in the wall; the extended skit in Deconstructing
Harry wherein Robin Williams goes out-of-focus for a time.
Deconstructing Harry also features one of The Duke’s favourite
Woody is trying to convince frustrated wife Kirstie Allie that he
hasn’t been unfaithful. “I swear to God!” he protests.
“You’re an atheist, Harry.”
“Hey, we’re alone in the universe, you gonna blame that on me too?”
Recent Woody output has been worryingly slight, from the uneven
Small Time Crooks to The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion which, whilst
blessed with a cut-throat wit, failed to leave any serious lasting
Anything Else, with The Fella What Sexed A Pastry and Wednesday
Adams seemed to be a step in the right direction, harking back to
the human observations of Hannah And Her Sisters and, most
notably, Annie Hall. Melinda And Melinda, starring Will Ferrell,
is due for release later this year. Who the hell knows how it’ll
It’s a shame Woody’s so damn afraid of the DVD, to be honest. I
have most of his stuff on the shiny disc, and whilst the films are
more than worth the asking price, it’d be nice to have some extra
treats on there. The original cut of Annie Hall was three hours
long, man. And what about the original version of September? What
gives, Woody Allen?
There are a couple of flicks which, whilst not directed by Woody,
are worthy also of your attention. Antz, for example, being a CGI
tale about the tiny sons a bitches what steal your picnic baskets
and bite the hell out of a man’s ankles, features the voices of
Woody (in the starring role, no less) and also Sylvester Stallone,
marking the first time they’ve both appeared in the credits since
Bananas way back in 71. The cruel irony of it all is that in
Bananas, Woody and Stallone shared the screen, but didn’t swap any
lines (the scene was a Chaplin-esque silent affair), and here they
swap lines but don’t technically share the screen. Also, Antz is a
better film than Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, end of motherfucking
Sharon Stone also supplied a dose of the vocals for Antz, and she
paired up with Monsieur Allen again in 2000 for Alfonso Arau’s
Picking Up The Pieces. The film is a bizarre, quirky, low-key
affair about Woody cuts his wife to pieces and then someone finds
one of her hands and assumes it to be a miraculous relic of some
nature, even though it’s got red nail-varnish and all.
I wouldn’t go worshiping no Sharon Stone hand if I were you,
Catholics. I mean, come on, didn’t you see Base Instincts or
whatever? You saw where those digits were, man. Come on,
Catholics, what’s with the sudden lapse in moral standards?
Wild Man Blues, directed by Barbara Kopple in 1997, stemmed from a
proposed warts n’ all documentary that eventually became a less
controversial but utterly compelling study of Woody the Jazz-
musician as he trundles around on a European tour, accompanied by
“The notorious Soon-Yi Previn” and playing to packed theatres
filled with people who wait in the street all day to meet him but
“wouldn’t pay two dollars to see one of my movies”.
Also worth checking out is 1976’s The Front, about Woody serves as
a clerk who, fittingly enough, acts as a “front” for Blacklisted
writers. They bring their scripts to him, he takes them to the
producers. It’s also something of a transitory affair, marking the
cross-over between the screwball malarkey of Bananas and Sleeper
with the more conscientious carry-ons.
Although how much more conscientious can a fella be than when,
at the height of the Watergate debacle, claiming The White House
hid the cutlery when Richard Nixon came to stay.
Woody Allen has influenced more films and genres that anybody
would ever think about assuming. Everything from When Harry Met
Sally to Forrest Gump owes a debt to this skinny fella with the
spectacles. There are few filmmakers working today who so
acutely combine the laugh-out-loud with the “deeper” musings,
and it’s hard to imagine, say, The Farelley Brothers creating
something like Love And Death, at once a ridiculous farce that
also serves as a satire of 18th century Russian Literature,
European filmmaking and religious doctrine.
Kevin Smith, perhaps, is the closest there is to a contemporary
Woody Allen what isn’t the real Woody Allen, although the ever-
so-considerate Empire Magazine once quipped; “Smith may have
Woody Allen’s funny bone, but his directing skills would shame
Woody from Cheers.”
Allen, though, has the wit, the visual flair and the directorial
genius required to ensure that his films stand up under any
scrutiny, be it thematic, aesthetic or philosophical.
In other words, that Woody Allen is one prodigious motherfucker,
is what, and The Motherfucking Cinema Of Woody Allen is among
the finest one could ever hope to encounter. European in
sensibility yet distinctly American in subject matter, no one
has ever articulated the unspoken with such damn gut-shredding
The Motherfucking Cinema Of Kirsten Dunst
The Motherfucking Cinema Of Pier Palo Pasolini
Drop The Duke A Line Via Electronical Email