September 29th, 2004
Woody Allen Summer Project (2005) (filming)
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Anything Else (2003)
Hollywood Ending (2002)
Sounds From a Town I Love (2001)
Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The (2001)
Small Time Crooks (2000)
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Don't Drink the Water (1994)
Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Shadows and Fog (1992)
Somebody or The Rise and Fall of Philosophy (1989)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
New York Stories (1989)
Another Woman (1988)
Radio Days (1987)
Meetin' WA (1986)
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Purple Rose of Cairo, The (1985)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, A (1982)
Stardust Memories (1980)
Annie Hall (1977)
Love and Death (1975)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)
Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971)
Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970)
Don't Drink the Water (1969)
Take the Money and Run (1969)
What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)
What's New, Pussycat (1965)
"Sid Caesar Show, The" (1963) TV Series
Laughmaker, The (1962)
"Candid Camera" (1960/I) TV Series
"Garry Moore Show, The" (1958) TV Series
"Stanley" (1956) TV Series
"Tonight Show, The" (1954) TV Series
"Caesar's Hour" (1954) TV Series
"Colgate Comedy Hour, The" (1950) TV Series
"Your Show of Shows" (1950) TV Series
Woody Allen is one of a handful of American filmmakers who can rightly be labeled as an auteur. His films, be they dramas or comedies, are remarkably personal and are permeated with Allen's preoccupation with art, religion and love. While the comedies are generally upbeat and the dramas rich in detail, most of his films are fiercely personal, betraying a yearning for physical beauty, a traditional sense of machismo, intellectual and professional acceptance and knowledge. Allen's obsessions with Judaism, the WASP world that eludes the Jew, and the balm of psychiatry--which may or may not chase these devils--are also never far beneath the surface of his work.
The Brooklyn-born Allen purported failed a film course at NYU during his first semester. Dropping out of college, he joined the NBC Writer's Program and began contributing material to such programs as "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and "Your Show of Shows". Allen also started a lucrative secondary career as a gag writer for such comics and nightclub performers as Carol Channing, Art Carney, Herb Shriner and Buddy Hackett. By 1960, he had begun his own successful career as a stand-up comedian, honing what would become his screen persona, the intellectual "schnook". Inspired by Hope, Nichols and May and Mort Sahl, Allen created humor that was based in the urban Jewish mentality, guilt-ridden and anxious. In his halting stammer, he would deliver monologues that would poke fun at everything from sex and marriage to religion and politics. His routines proved popular not only in Greenwich Village cabarets but also on college campuses and recordings. So successful was Allen that his audience came to believe he was that person on stage. (Despite protestations, he continued to nourish this belief in his onscreen characterizations).
In 1965, Allen made his feature film acting and writing debut with the farcical, but uneven, "What's New, Pussycat?", directed by Clive Donner. This film introduced recurring themes found in his work: romantic complications and the reliance on psychotherapy. Shortly thereafter, he debuted as a filmmaker of sorts by re-tooling a minor Japanese spy thriller with his own storyline and with English dialogue dubbed by American actors. The amusing result was "What's Up Tiger Lily?" (1966) that, along with the James Bond spoof "Casino Royale" (1967), which he co-wrote and acted in, launched Allen on one of the most successful and unusual filmmaking careers.
For a period in the mid- to late-1960s, Allen concentrated on the Broadway stage. "Don't Drink the Water" (1966), about a family from New Jersey caught up in spying in an unnamed Iron Curtain country, was a modest success. "Play It Again, Sam" (1969) was more successful. The central character, a film critic invokes the spirit of Humphrey Bogart as his guide through life and love. Successfully treading the fine line between fantasy and reality, the play was filmed in 1972 and began Allen's long association with actress Diane Keaton.
In 1969, Allen created two short films for a television special, "Cupid's Shaft", an homage of Charlie Chaplin's 1931 classic "City Lights" that co-starred Candice Bergen, and a loose adaptation of "Pygmalion" in which Allen as a fake rabbi hired to teach a beautiful, but stupid woman (Bergen). That same year, he wrote, directed and starred in the feature "Take the Money and Run" which parodied both gangster films and cinema verite documentaries. The loose structure, lack of technical polish, and indebtedness to his nightclub routines are also evident in his next two features as well. "Bananas" (1971) was a south-of-the-border satire that lambastes both politics and mass media while "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*but were afraid to ask)" (1972) consisted of a series of skits loosely related to a title borrowed from a then-popular self-help book.
While Allen's films were not blockbusters, they did turn enough of a profit for the writer-director-star to begin creative control of his work. As the 70s progressed, Allen found his voice as a filmmaker. "Sleeper" (1973), about a 20th Century health food store owner who is cryogenically frozen and thawed out after two hundred years is filled with sight-gags yet has a curiously apolitical tone. "Love and Death" (1975) marked a leap forward for Allen as he interwove serious themes with the comedy. Set during the Napoleonic wars, the film not only spoofed Russian literature and culture as well as numerous classic films (e.g., "Alexander Nevsky") but also raised serious philosophical questions. "Love and Death" signaled Allen's higher aspirations and desire to be considered a "serious" moviemaker.
The bittersweet "Annie Hall" (1977) was a further step toward this goal. While still anchored in comedy, Allen utilized sophisticated narrative devices (such as direct address to the camera), relied less on slapstick and sight gags and clearly tackled themes and problems that were reflective of his concerns and his life. In Alvy Singer, the writer-director-actor solidified his screen persona as the urban, Jewish intellectual outsider. For many, the film defined the quintessential Allen movie: personal and thoughtful yet satiric and entertaining. Critically-acclaimed, "Annie Hall" received numerous accolades, including four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Director (Allen) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman).
As a surprising follow-up, Allen shifted to more dramatic material and focused on the starchy, repressed WASP milieu in "Interiors" (1978). Owing more than a debt to Ingmar Bergman, Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill, "Interiors" probed the angst and petty betrayals of an upper-class family with three daughters. Many critics and audience members were confounded by the deadly earnest tone Allen adopted; it was a film that one either loved or hated. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Gordon Willis and strongly acted by a cast that included Geraldine Page, E.G. Marshall, Diane Keaton and Maureen Stapleton, "Interiors" earned a surprising five Oscar nominations, including nods to Allen for direction and writing.
Again teaming with Marshall Brickman, Allen wrote what is his most profitable, and arguably his best, film, "Manhattan" (1979). With its lush Gershwin score, gorgeous black-and-white photography (again by Willis) and brilliant ensemble cast, the film marked a return to comedy peppered with autobiographical and romantic elements. It was also notable as Allen's last film with Diane Keaton for many years (their off-screen relationship was ending around the same time). The film engendered mild controversy over his celluloid love interest, a teenager played by Mariel Hemingway.
Allen moved on to the somewhat self-indulgent Felliniesque "Stardust Memories" (1980), made in part to counter-act those critics who felt he was becoming too serious a filmmaker. (Throughout the film, Allen's character, a film director, is exhorted to "make funny movies", something the character is adamant about no longer doing.) Beginning with the slight "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (1982), Allen found a new leading lady (both on and off screen) in Mia Farrow. (She went on to headline a dozen more films during the next ten years, proving to be both a strong dramatic performer as well as a gifted comedienne.) "Zelig" (1983) melded Allen's fascination with celebrity with his growing grasp of cinematic methods. A marvel of technical wizardry, this mock documentary inter-cut and merged new footage with old to recreate vintage newsreels and sound recordings. (In many ways, a precursor of the techniques utilized by Robert Zemeckis in 1994's "Forrest Gump"). The Runyonesque "Broadway Danny Rose" (1984) was primarily dismissed by critics as a minor outing, yet it contains a marvelous performance from Farrow who was virtually unrecognizable as the Brooklyn-accented former mistress of a gangster. "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985), in which Allen did not appear, was another technical tour de force. Set in the Depression, Farrow was cast as the timid wife of an abusive husband who finds refuge at the movie theater. Her life is complicated when the matinee idol lead (Jeff Daniels) of a film one day steps off the screen and into her life. Tying together several of Allen's major themes (fame, romance, fantasy and art), the film earned respectable notices and a modest box office.
Except for the nostalgia-laden "Radio Days" (1987), for much of the remainder of the decade, Allen concentrated on dramatic material, peaking with the Chekhovian "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986), which focused on New York family relationships. Allen received his third Oscar for its brilliant original script. The bloodless "September" (1987) and the Bergmanesque "Another Woman" (1988, with a virtuoso leading turn from Gena Rowlands) were further examinations of the emotionally bereft worlds of WASPy New Yorkers. With "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), Allen closed the decade with a pessimistic examination of the morality of murder.
The early 90s found Allen in a lighter mode. The New Age-themed "Alice" (1990), a riff on Lewis Carroll's "Alice and Wonderland", that cast Farrow as a distaff WASPy version of Allen's familiar flustered, neurotic self-conscious screen persona. The critically-reviled "Shadows and Fog" (1992) was an allegory about anti-Semitism that combined homages to 1930s German expressionism and 1950s European art films and was plagued by one-note characterizations. "Husbands and Wives" (also 1992), though not without humor, was one of the director's most emotionally violent films. Highlighted by jittery, hand-held cinema verite camerawork and a pessimistic view of enduring love, the film was released early by its distributor in part to capitalize on its uncanny parallels with the real-life turmoil between Allen and Farrow. Their very public break-up, spurred by Allen's romantic involvement with Farrow's adopted daughter, was followed by Farrow's public accusations that Allen had molested their adopted daughter. In the midst of all the Sturm und Drang, Allen made the frothy "Manhattan Murder Mystery" (1993), which reunited him with Marshall Brickman and Diane Keaton. A comic thriller that attempted to recreate the banter and urbanity of such seminal films as "The Thin Man", "Manhattan Murder Mystery" proved to be a financial disappointment, overshadowed by Allen's personal troubles.
By the time "Bullets Over Broadway" was released in 1994, audiences were ready to embrace his work anew. Working with writer Douglas McGrath, Allen fashioned a period comedy about a playwright (John Cusack as Allen's screen alter ego) who achieve success through connections with gangsters. A meditation on what defines an artist, "Bullets Over Broadway" benefited from fine performances, notably Dianne Wiest's Oscar-winning turn as a past-her-prime stage diva. "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995) was an uneven attempt that baldly proclaimed its indebtedness to Greek theater with the use of a chorus. Allen played a middle-aged sportswriter searching for the birth mother of his adopted child, who turns out not to be the cultured woman he imagined but rather a vulgar prostitute. With "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996), he combined frothy 30s musical sensibilities with his familiar themes to a mixed result that divided audiences and critics. "Deconstructing Harry" (1997) was a critically-praised, scatological and complex look at a writer's life that employed black comedy and dramatizations of the author's works to comment on the function of the artist in society, while 1998's "Celebrity"--with Kenneth Branagh doing a mannered Allen impersonation in the leading role--was considered a misbegotten, poorly cast take on the contemporary obsession with fame.
Alone among contemporary independent filmmakers, Allen has had a constant stream of highly personal films produced and distributed with "mainstream" money, while still exerting creative control over the product. He has also enjoyed long and fruitful collaborations with talents both in front of and behind the camera. In the former category would be such performers as Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Tony Roberts, Dianne Wiest and Alan Alda; in the latter, cinematographers Gordon Willis and Carlo Di Palma, producers Jack Rollins, Robert Greenhut and Jean Doumanian, designers Mel Bourne and Santo Loquasto, editors Ralph Rosenblum and Susan E Morse. A remarkable businessman, Allen has protected himself with low budgets that allow him to reach his like-minded, intelligent and mostly urban audience on a regular basis.
In addition to his impressive body of work as writer-director, Allen has occasionally acted in films directed by others. He proved quite effective as the titular "The Front" (1977), a shill willing to put his name on the scripts written by blacklisted writers. Allen fared less well as Bette Midler's husband in Paul Mazursky's seriocomic look at contemporary marriage "Scenes From a Mall" (1991). Allen returned to TV to adapt, direct and co-star in a small screen remake of "Don't Drink the Water" (ABC, 1994). He and Peter Falk filmed a TV version of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" for CBS in 1995, that finally aired in December 1997 to generally unfavorable notices. Allen is also an accomplished author, penning essays and short stories for The New Yorker and other magazines, and musician. For many years, he has spent his Monday evenings playing clarinet with a jazz band. Noted documentarian Barbara Kopple filmed "Wild Man Blues" (1998) which followed Allen and the band on a European tour.
Allen continued to put out one movie per year for the next five years. He dappled in different genres, with 1999's clever mockumentary/dramedy hybrid "Sweet and Lowdown" (which cast Sean Penn in one of his finest performances as fictional 1930s jazz guitart Emmet Ray), his modest comic heist pic "Small Time Crooks" (2000) and the disappointing period mystery-comedy "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" (2001). A running theme for his most recent films, however, seems to eerily mimic his real life romance with step-daughter and eventual wife, Soon Yi Previn, a romance that catapulted both parties and Soon-Yi's adoptive mother Mia Farrow into a bitter, highly public tabloid fueld feud. In "Jade Scorpion" Allen becomes romantically involved with much-younger actress Helen Hunt and starlet Charlize Theron, then becomes entangled with the youthful Tea Leoni while playing a film director who goes blind in 2002's poorly received "Hollywood Ending" (which Allen nevertheless proclaimed one of his most personally satisfying films). After much crticism of both his art and his life and a series of disappointing receptions to his films, Allen mined familiar territory in 2003 with "Anything Else," with did little groundbreaking besides casting Jason Biggs in the Allen-esque lead as a young writer bedeviled by his torturous relationship with a neurotic actress (Christina Ricci), this time with Allen playing the role of Biggs' conspiracy-minded mentor.
As of 2000, Allen has been nominated for 20 Academy Awards: once for Best Actor; six times for Best Director and 13 times for Best Screenplay "I just keep my nose to the grindstone. I don't listen to people who criticize me, don't listen to them tell me my films are bad, or listen to people who tell me I'm a comic genius. I don't worry about getting rich or about what people say. I focus on the work with the same fanaticism that a Muslim fundamentalist might focus on religion. If I was giving advice to younger people, I would tell them to not listen to anything--not read what's written about you, don't listen to anybody, just focus on the work." Allen quoted in a rare interview in New York Daily News, October 22, 1995. Allen has played New Orleans jazz clarinet with his group, the New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra, almost every Monday at Michael's Pub in New York since 1971 (and skipped the 1978 Oscar ceremonies so as not to miss a Monday night set). "I didn't want to play Bogart. I didn't want to play John Wayne. I wanted to be the schnook. The guy with the glasses who doesn't get the girl, who can't get the girl but who's amusing." --Woody Allen to John Lahr in The New Yorker, December 9,1996. "Denis Hamill: What are your feelings toward Mia Farrow now?
Woody Allen: I haven't had any contact with her for years. Although we've had our many conflicts, I have no further or lingering feelings about it. I wish her well. No, I haven;t read her book, don't intend to. Not interested in the whole thing. To me, now it's history. I know what happened and what she thinks. As it turned out, in that period of my life, more people that I care about became closer to me than became estranged. People I thought of as acquaintances became friends. Some rose to the occasion in heroic fashion for me. Which was great. My relationship with Soon-Yi is the best one of my life. So it wasn't all bad." --"Deconstructing Woody", Daily News, October 5, 1997.
"After the treadmill and breakfast, I lie down on the bed with a pad and pencil or pad and pen and write for two hours and then have a shower. Write for another two hours and break for lunch, Then write all afternoon. I could write all the time. I love to write. All I need are little breaks to practice the clarinet and to get a breath of fresh air. Then I can't wait to get back to it because I'm refreshed. I'd be happy to write all day and all night. If I didn't make movies, I could easily write four screenplays a year." --Allen to Denis Hamill in Daily News, October 7, 1997.
"I've been blessed. It's like fool's luck. From the day I made my first film, nobody at United Artists and then Orion expected anything. I've had nothing but support, freedom, final cut, nobody tells me who to cast. It's nothing that I did to earn it. It was given to me by magnanimous people." --Woody Allen in conversation with Martin Scorsese, The New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1997.
"Working with Woody is like holding a puppy. It's warm and nice, but you know if you hold on too long he's going to piss all over you." --an unnamed source quoted in Marion Meade's biography, "The Unruly Life of Woody Allen" (Scribner's, 2000).
About his break up with Mia Farrow, Allen told London's The Daily Telegraph (March 18, 2002): "It was big and messy and it could have been handled better and had better consequences. But I didn't have any choice. I was put in that position and I had to respond. Normally I like to handle everything quietly and discreetly and I'm a, you know, a friendly and forgiving private type. But I will always ... There are certain situations where you are forced to act."
"It was a terrible, terrible, terrible situation. My not having access to the children is completely cruel and unfair. Not in their best interests. But these dreadful things happen in life. To balance that I had parents with good longevity [his father lived to 100, his mother was 95]. I've been healthy. I've been blessed with a talent."
In June, 2002, Allen sued longtime friend and producer sued Jean Doumanian and her business partner and boyfriend, Jacqui Safra, saying they cheated him out of his share of profits on eight movies made since 1993. Allen said the pair owed him more than 12 million dollars. The parties reached an undisclosed settlement after 9 days in court.