Oct 17, 2015

Woody Allen: A Retrospective reviews contd

“No American dramatist has done more to document the pleasures, pitfalls, and withdrawal pains of imagining the world other than it is,” Tom Shone writes in the text accompanying Woody Allen: A Retrospective, a luxuriant photo history of Allen’s work. “Dramatist,” as Shone knows—and amply demonstrates—could be replaced by “fabulist,” “comedian” or “auteur.” The singularity of Allen’s persona—the mussy hair and owlish spectacles, the mournful oblong face, the weirdly energised droopiness—obscures his protean nature, and the many stages he has restlessly passed through. The thread that connects Allen’s work is the vision of American city life as secret paradise, the site of conquest and ego-enriching romance rather of corrupting sin. It is a familiar theme for the American Jewish artist. Saul Bellow was a prince of the city. So was Norman Mailer. Woody Allen is a third... Shone rightly praises Zelig (1983), also done in the style of a documentary. Its hero is a chameleon-cipher who randomly moves through history, slipped into actual newsreel footage of the great (Babe Ruth, F Scott Fitzgerald) and the malignant (a Nazi rally)... Shone observes shrewdly that Zelig is heir to the great comedians of the silent era, “as voiceless as he is faceless… a silent ghost, unable to voice complaint or ‘kvetch’, only to mimic and please.” Ten years ago, I was in the audience when Allen was interviewed on stage by Janet Maslin, formerly the chief film reviewer for The New York Times, who at one point asked him to comment on comedies from Hollywood’s golden age. He was dismissive of many classics: Bringing up Baby and the collected gems of Preston Sturges were all stale rube jokes; Some Like It Hot was laboured female-drag. Whom did he like? Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Judy Holliday. The only humour that mattered, he said, was city humour. All his favourites come in city flavours: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando." — Sam Tenenhaus, Prospect

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