Woody Allen continues to woo fans

The versatile director, who began his career onstage as a standup comedian and later a playwright for Broadway, is as admired as he is condemned

By   |  Mausumi Sucharita  |  Published: 9th Feb 2020  12:54 amUpdated: 8th Feb 2020  11:54 pm

One of the most gifted directors of Hollywood, Woody Allen, has written, directed and acted in numerous films. He became hooked to movies at the young age of three when his mother took him to theatre to watch Snow White and Seven Dwarfs in the year 1937, and thereafter, theatre became his second home. As a boy, he spent most of his time trying magic tricks and playing clarinet.

At the age of 15 he started writing jokes for a local newspaper. Through the 1950s, he wrote jokes and scripts for television, published several books and short humour pieces. At 17, he decided to change his name from Allan Stewart Konigsberg to Heywood Allen and later called himself Woody in honour of famous clarinetist Woody Herman.

He took to stage in the ’60s and redefined the meaning of stand-up comedy. By mid ’60s, he started writing plays for Broadway and he even acted in some of those plays. The first movie for which he wrote the screenplay was What’s New, Pussycat? in 1965. He realised that he cannot have complete control over the film unless he directs it. So, one year later he turned director with What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

Through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, he directed several slapstick comedies and later romantic comedies. Most of his films have New York City as backdrop and often open with a narration or the protagonist talking directly to audience. He acts in most of his movies and his characters are writer, director, producer or novelist.

He has a different style of approaching actors whom he admires. He would send them a letter and ask if they would be interested in working in his films. Many top actors are so eager to work with him that they work for a fraction of their actual rates. He pays everyone the same whether they are newcomers or award-winning stars. He barely gives instructions to his actors during shooting. However, he doesn’t give the complete script to all actors. He gives it only to the ones playing the lead, while the rest of the actors receive only pages related to their character and scenes.

Eric Lax, a long-time Allen chronicler, who also shadowed him through the making of Irrational man (2015) writes in his book Start to finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking, that Allen doesn’t rehearse. He does the minimum number of takes and camera setups, never reshoots, and likes to be done by six every evening.

Allen refuses to watch his movies once they are released, but according to the book by Lax, Allen has his set of favourite movies that too in a particular order: Match Point (2005), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Stardust Memories (1980), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).

He never attends award ceremonies despite being nominated 16 times (for writing) in Academy Awards. For the first time in 2002, he attended the Cannes Film Festival to receive the Palm of Palms award for Lifetime Achievement. In the same year, he made an appearance at the Oscars urging producers to continue filming their movies in New York after the 9/11 tragedy.

Other than movies, writing, and New York, he is also passionate about Jazz, which he uses as soundtrack in most of his movies. Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band have been playing every Monday evening at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan for many years.

At the age of 84, he is one of the few directors who is admired as well as condemned across the globe, but he definitely cannot be ignored.


Stardust Memories

The film focuses on filmmaker Sandy Bates, who is suffering from a creative block. The film follows Sandy’s life who is harassed by fans, friends, lovers and studio executives for making artistic films instead of comedies. He is torn between two different women and at the same time is haunted by memories of his ex-girlfriend.

Director: Woody Allen
Producer(s): Robert Greenhut, Charles H Joffe, Jack Rollins
Cast: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper, Marie-Christine Barrault, Tony Roberts
Release date: September 26, 1980


Manhattan

It is a romantic comedy in which Allen plays the lead, a middle-aged frustrated TV comedy writer, who has been divorced twice. He quits his unfulfilling job and starts having an affair with a 17-year-old girl. But things get complicated when he falls for his best friend’s mistress.

Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Charles H Joffe
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Micheal Murphy, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne
Release date: April 25, 1979


Match Point

It’s a psychological thriller which deals with themes of greed, money, lust, morality and luck in life. As the movie opens, Chris, the tennis pro from Ireland tells the audience that it is pure luck which side the ball falls in the court. After retirement, he has joined as an instructor in an upmarket club in London. The movie is about his relationships with parents, lover, and fans. It is not about good versus evil, rather about different shades of evil.

Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Letty Aronson, Gareth Wiley, Lucy Darwin
Cast: Brian Cox, Mathew Goode, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Release date: May 12, 2005


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