"Woody Allen: A Documentary is likely to surface in Britain next year," notes Geoffrey Macnab, so he fills in readers of the Independent on what they can expect to see. The paper's a media partner with the BFI, which is presenting Wise Cracks: The Comedies of Woody Allen, a series opening today and running through February 8. Macnab:
The paradox of Allen is that he wants to struggle with the metaphysical monstrosity of existence but has never been quite able to. He talks in [Robert] Weide's doc of why he puts a higher value on the tragic muse than on the comic muse. What is painfully evident is that he has never really been open to this tragic muse. The ferocious work ethic that made him so successful so early meant that he was invariably so busy with the next project that he had no time to dwell on the last one. He never looks back. He doesn't watch his own films again. He doesn't read reviews. Although his movies are famous for the way they probe into the inner lives and anxieties of his characters, there is little evidence that he agonizes over his own life in the same way. The neurosis is all on screen.
A week ago, Peter Tonguette, writing for Press Play, recalled being "besotted with the offhand glamour of the Christmas section of Everyone Says I Love You," which'll be screening on January 15 and 20. Tonguette was 13 at the time. He refers to the film as "'Woody Allen's Christmas movie,' but of course only a small portion of Everyone Says I Love You takes place during the holiday season. Yet when you watch the movie for the second or third time (I have seen it perhaps 10 times by now), it feels like the whole story is building to those scenes. There is a lot to enjoy in the scenes set in the spring, summer, and fall, but they don't have the same magical pull. By the time we get to Halloween, we're antsy, and so is our director. Woody Allen can't wait for Christmas. He's like a seven-year-old that way."
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw on the film that opens the series today: "Released in 1983, Woody Allen's mockumentary drama Zelig was in some quarters regarded as a one-joke technical novelty. But in 2011, it looks like a masterpiece: a brilliant, even passionate historical pastiche, a superbly pregnant meditation on American society and individuality, and an eerie fantasy that will live in your dreams…. Zelig is the mass capitalist: to sell cars or movies, you have to intuit the masses' taste, to be like them, but also rise commandingly above the herd, like Hearst or Chaplin — both featured here…. Allen's recent comedy Midnight in Paris was a very decent homage to the jazz age, but it's not in the same league as this outstanding film." Time Out London's Tom Huddleston agrees that "Zelig is a strong contender for Allen's most fascinating film."
"26 years on, Hannah and Her Sisters is still watchable, though not quite in the league of Manhattan or Annie Hall," writes Bradshaw of the other film screening today (and January 19). "[Michael] Caine's performance, so fervent, so agonisingly dedicated, actually gains in force and touching sincerity with the years." For Time Out London's Dave Calhoun, "the sharp wit sits well against a tender exploration of life's messiness and a joie de vivre that marks this as one of Allen's warmest pictures."
"Diane Keaton, Penélope Cruz, Mira Sorvino and Dianne Wiest all have trophies from their collaborations with Allen, to say nothing of the nominated performances from Samantha Morton, Judy Davis, Geraldine Page, and others." Jeff Labrecque for Entertainment Weekly: "But if Allen could go back to a different age — Midnight in Paris-like — what legendary Hollywood actresses would he most have wanted to cast in his films? We asked the director to name his Top 5, and he responded quickly, as if he had the list waiting in his pocket."
Update, 1/1: For the Telegraph's Tim Robey, the "richest span of Allen's career" features "three highlights of stellar craftsmanship in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and the brutal marital autopsy Husbands and Wives (1992). Considered singly, these are terrifically assured and entertaining pieces of work, studded with justly-lauded performances from Dianne Wiest, Martin Landau, Judy Davis and others. Considered in sum, they're the pinnacle of Chekhovian comedy-drama in American movies, glinting with funny-serious moral insights, painful home truths and unpretentious philosophising. This is the Allen we miss most, even when he's reworking scenarios, as Match Point does with the Landau plot of offing a mistress. The new plots go mechanically through the motions, where these glided thoughtfully around every twist and turn, weighing their characters' happiness on a set of constantly-shifting karmic scales."
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