Woody Allen (1935 - )
Occupation:Director, actor, screenwriter,Also:comedian, author,musician / Birth Name: Allen Stewart Konigsberg / Born: December 1, 1935, Brooklyn, NY
Woody Allen, winner of a best director Oscar for ANNIE HALL (1977) and two Academy Awards for best screenplay, is one of a handful of American filmmakers who can wear the label "auteur." His films, be they dramas or comedies, are remarkably personal and are permeated with Allen's preoccupations in art, religion and love.
After a semester at New York University (where he reportedly failed a film course), Allen began a successful career in comedy by joining "Your Show of Shows" as a gag writer and providing comedic material for TV stars like Ed Sullivan, Sid Caesar and Art Carney. In 1961, Allen, exploiting a rebellious and guilt-ridden urban Jewish mentality, soon began performing his own material as a standup comic and became a well-known figure on the Greenwich Village club circuit, on records and on college campuses.
In 1965, Allen made his feature film acting and writing debut with director Clive Donner's farce WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT? 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) which, 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 of recent history.
In 1966, Allen's first play, Don't Drink the Water, was produced on Broadway. In 1969, he made two short films for a CBS TV special: "Cupid's Shaft," a parody of Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS, and a loose adaptation of "Pygmalion," which saw Allen&emdash;characteristically&emdash;impersonating a rabbi. Most importantly that year, Allen directed, co-wrote and starred in TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, a loosely structured, occasionally hilarious send-up of gangster movies. Allen also wore all three hats for the two visually inventive screen comedies which followed: BANANAS (1971), a south-of-the-border satire that lambastes both politics and mass media; and EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) (1972), a series of skits loosely related to a title borrowed from a self-help book enjoying popularity at the time.
In 1972, Allen adapted from his own play and acted (with offscreen companion Diane Keaton) in the CASABLANCA spoof, PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, directed by Herbert Ross. He returned to directing with SLEEPER (1973), a sight-gag-studded comedy in which Allen plays a kind of Jewish Rip Van Winkle who, after being frozen for 200 years, wakes up in a futuristic America ("worse than California").
LOVE AND DEATH (1975) showed the first clear signals that Allen was questioning the comedy genre, his own stature as a filmmaker and his own intellectual and creative capabilities. A spoof of the Napoleonic wars featuring persistent references to history, Russian culture and innumerable classic films, it suggested Allen's higher aspirations and need for acceptance as a serious filmmaker and thinker.
The year 1977 saw a step toward more serious territory with the bittersweet ANNIE HALL. While still a comedy, the film embraces more sophisticated narrative devices (Allen as hero, for instance, addresses the camera). It's also a more personal film, with the director/screenwriter/star tackling themes and problems closer to his own experience. Allen's screen persona in ANNIE HALL reflected his real-life status at the time: a New York Jewish entertainer with a "shiksa" girlfriend (Keaton), an outsider looking in on the exclusive worlds of both Hollywood and the gentile. For many, ANNIE HALL remains the quintessential Allen movie: personal and thoughtful at the same time that it's sharply satiric and entertaining. The film won four Oscars, two of which (best director and best original screenplay) went to Allen himself.
After an acting stint in THE FRONT (1976), Allen shifted gears, moving away from the familiar send-ups, quirky satire and laughable neuroses and anxieties of his comedies. Focusing on the starchy world of the Wasp (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), Allen wrote and directed his first drama, INTERIORS (1978), an intimate Bergmanesque probing of angst and betrayal within an upper-class family. Here the world that had so humorously intimidated Allen in ANNIE HALL was confronted in dead earnest. Although the film brought Allen Oscar nominations for best director and screenplay, some critics felt he had betrayed his comic vision in a sophomoric quest for "artistic respectability."
MANHATTAN (1979), one of Allen's best films and his last film with Keaton for many years, with its lush Gershwin score and ensemble of actors/friends, marked a return to comedy peppered with autobiographical and romantic elements. The handsome black-and-white Panavision film generated some controversy because Allen's love interest on celluloid was an underage Mariel Hemingway.
STARDUST MEMORIES (1980), a self-indulgent but interesting Felliniesque fantasy, starred Allen as a celebrity struggling with the burden of fame. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY (1982) was the first Allen film to feature Mia Farrow, his future companion; again, it was an homage&emdash;albeit a comic one&emdash;to Ingmar Bergman.
ZELIG (1983) combined Allen's continued fascination with celebrity and his growing interest in cinematic technique and trickery. The piece brilliantly sends up the documentary genre, seamlessly merging new footage with old and recreating vintage newsreels and sound recordings. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984), a more intense collaboration with Mia Farrow, again saw Allen in his "lovable shnook" role, here a show-biz nobody. THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985), like ZELIG a technical tour de force, has a Depression-era matinee idol (Jeff Daniels) stepping off the screen into the life of a repressed, exploited fan (Mia Farrow).
Apart from the music-filled, elegiac RADIO DAYS (1987), a memoir of growing up in Brooklyn, and the goofy "Oedipus Wrecks" segment of the omnibus film NEW YORK STORIES (1989), Allen returned to adult drama in the last half of the decade. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986), a knowing, Chekhovian look at New York family relationships, won Allen his second Oscar for best screenplay. SEPTEMBER (1987), a finely acted but bloodless drama, and the intensely Bergmanesque ANOTHER WOMAN (1988), starring Gena Rowlands in a virtuosic role as a betrayed wife, marked Allen's return to a world of emotionally bereft upper-class Wasps. Arguably the most pessimistic of Allen's dramas was 1989's CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, whose grim denouement leaves mediocrity triumphant and evil unchallenged.
ALICE (1990) was possibly the filmmaker's first "New Age" comedy, a marriage of the comic and serious in which a disaffected Mia Farrow resorts to spiritual means to confront Wasp angst. The film, their eleventh together, casts Farrow as a female take on the familiar flustered, neurotic, desperate, self-conscious character once played by Allen himself.
SHADOWS AND FOG (1992) was a critically reviled allegory about anti-Semitism that combined homages to the Expressionistic suspense and horror films of the 1930s and European art films of the 1950s while keeping Allen's trademark New York angst intact. This 12th Allen and Farrow collaboration was plagued by one-note characters, fearful of change and love, themes that are reminiscent of his earlier work.
HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992), though not without his trademarked rueful humor, was one of the most emotionally violent films in Allen's body of work. Highlighted by jittery cinéma vérité-style camerawork and a pessimistic attitude about the possibility of enduring love, the film was released early by its distributor to capitalize on its uncanny parallels to the real-life turmoil between Allen and Farrow. By the time of its release the couple had separated, Allen having begun an affair with Farrow's adopted daughter Soon Yi and Farrow having accused Allen of molesting her children. (Allen was eventually cleared of all charges.) Oddly enough, the film Allen made during his much-publicized court battles was the light MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993), reuniting him with earlier muse Diane Keaton and co-writer Marshall Brickman.
In addition to his impressive body of film work, Allen is an experienced author and accomplished musician. His Getting Even is a collection of comic essays previously published in The New Yorker. Without Feathers is a collection of short fiction. For many years, Allen has taken time out to play clarinet once a week at the New York jazz club Michael's Pub.
While the comedies are always upbeat and the dramas rich in detail, most of Allen's films are fiercely personal. They betray his yearning for physical beauty, a traditional sense of machismo, knowledge, and intellectual and professional acceptance. His obsessions with his own Judaism, the Wasp world that eludes the Jew, and the balm of psychiatry&emdash;which may or may not chase these devils&emdash;are also never far beneath the surface of his work.
With so much of the filmmaker himself up on the screen, it is not surprising that Allen has remained unusually guarded and protected in his private life. As consistent as he is in the themes he chooses, so is he in the way he lives and works. Allen so values his privacy that, until his much-publicized separation battles with Farrow, he had been virtually absent from the media; he rarely appeared in public and consistently refused to be interviewed or photographed. He is loath to travel and always remains close to New York.
Allen has enjoyed fruitful professional relationships with co-writer Marshall Brickman, cinematographers Gordon Willis and Carlo Di Palma, producers Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe, production designers Mel Bourne and Santo Loquasto and editors Ralph Rosenblum and Susan Morse, as well as with the actors/friends who populate his film world.
Alone among contemporary independent filmmakers, Allen has had a constant stream of highly personal films produced and distributed with "mainstream" money, while still exerting complete control over his work. The unique relationship with Orion Pictures that enabled him to do this for so long came to an end in 1992, during the company's prolonged fiscal crisis, with TriStar Pictures stepping in to distribute HUSBANDS AND WIVES. A remarkable businessman as well as artist, Allen has protected himself with low budgets that allow him to reach his like-minded, intelligent, mostly urban audience on a regular basis.