Allen, Woody 1935- (Alan Stewart Konigsberg)
Allen, Woody 1935- (Alan Stewart Konigsberg)
Born Alan Stewart Konigsberg (some sources say "Allen Stewart Konigsberg"), December 1, 1935, in New York, NY; changed name, 1952; son of Martin (a waiter and jewelry engraver) and Nettie Konigsberg; married Harlene Rosen, 1954 (divorced, 1960); married Louise Lasser (an actress), February 2, 1966 (divorced); married Soon-Yi Previn, December 22, 1997; children: (with Mia Farrow) Satchel; (adopted) Moses, Dylan. Education: Attended University and City College (now City College of the City University of New York), 1953. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Playing jazz clarinet.
Agent—Jack Rollins, Rollins & Joffe, 130 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019; John Burnham, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Comedian, actor, director, and writer for television, films, and the stage. Began writing jokes for columnists and celebrities while in high school; National Broadcasting Corp. (NBC), New York, NY, staff writer, beginning 1952; performer in nightclubs and on stage and television, 1960s. Jazz clarinetist with New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra, until 1997, and with his New Orleans Jazz Band, 1997—. Actor in films, including What's New, Pussycat?, 1965; Take the Money and Run, 1969; Bananas, 1971; Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask, 1972; Play It Again, Sam, 1972; Sleeper; 1973; Love and Death, 1975; Annie Hall, 1977; Manhattan, 1979; Stardust Memories, 1980; A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, 1982; Zelig, 1983; Broadway Danny Rose, 1984; The Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985; Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986; New York Stories, 1989; Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989; Husbands and Wives, 1992; Manhattan Murder Mystery, 1993; Bullets over Broadway, 1994; Mighty Aphrodite, 1995; Everyone Says I Love You, 1996; Deconstructing Harry, 1997; Celebrity, 1998; Sweet and Lowdown, 1999; Small Time Crooks, 2000; Curse of the Jade Scorpion, 2001; Hollywood Ending, 2002; Anything Else, 2003; Woody Allen: A Life in Film, 2003; Melinda and Melinda, 2004; Match Point, 2005; and Scoop, 2006. Recordings include Woody Allen, Stand-up Comic: 1964-1968, 1978.
Sylvania Award, 1957, for Sid Caesar Show script; Academy Award nomination for best writer for television, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1957; Nebula Award for dramatic presentation, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1974, for Sleeper; Berlin Film Festival Special Award, 1975; Academy Awards for best director and best original screenplay, National Society of Film Critics Award, and New York Film Critics Circle award, all 1977, all for Annie Hall; O. Henry Award for best short story, 1978, for "The Kugelmas Episode"; British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award, and New York Film Critics award, both 1979, both for Manhattan; Academy Award nomination for best director, 1984, for Broadway Danny Rose; Academy Award for best original screenplay, Golden Globe Award for best motion-picture comedy or musical, New York Film Critics award, and Los Angeles Film Critics award, all 1987, all for Hannah and Her Sisters; Academy Award nomination, and Writers Guild Award nomination, both 1991, both for Alice; Academy Award nominations for best director and best original screenplay, Writers Guild of America Award for best screenplay written directly for the screen, and Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for best movie, all 1990, and BAFTA award nominations for best direction, best original screenplay, and best film (with Robert Greenhut), all 1991, all for Crimes and Misdemeanors; Academy Award nomina- tion for best original screenplay, and BAFTA award for best original screenplay, both 1993, both for Husbands and Wives; Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay (with Doug McGrath), 1995, and Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay (with McGrath), 1996, both for Bullets over Broadway; Golden Lion Award, Venice Film Festival, 1995; D.W. Griffith Award, Directors Guild of America, 1996; Academy Award nomination for best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen, 1996, for Mighty Aphrodite; Five Continents Award nomination, European Films Awards, 1997, for Deconstructing Harry and Everyone Says I Love You; BAFTA fellowship, 1997; Academy Award nomination for best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen, and Cesar Award nomination for best foreign film, both 1998, both for Everyone Says I Love You; Prince of Asturias Arts Prize (Spain), 2002; lifetime achievement award, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Spain, 2004.
Getting Even (humor collection), Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
Without Feathers (humor collection), Random House (New York, NY), 1975.
Non-Being and Somethingness (collections from comic strip Inside Woody Allen), Random House (New York, NY), 1978.
Side Effects (humor collection), Random House (New York, NY), 1980.
(Author of text) The Scrolls: A Mini-Medieval Interlude: For Tenor, Flute, Clarinet, and Viola, music by Larry Alan Smith, 1982.
The Lunatic's Tale, Redpath Press, 1986.
The Complete Prose, Wings Books (New York, NY), 1991.
The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Stig Bjorkman) Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Mere Anarchy, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
The Laughmaker (television pilot), 1962.
What's New, Pussycat?, United Artists, 1965.
(With others) What's Up, Tiger Lily?, American International, 1966.
(With Mickey Rose, and director) Take the Money and Run, Palomar, 1969.
(With Mickey Rose, and director) Bananas (also see below), United Artists, 1971.
(And director) Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (based on the book by David Ruben), United Artists, 1972.
Play It Again, Sam (also see below; based on his play), Paramount, 1972.
(With Marshall Brickman, and director) Sleeper (also see below), United Artists, 1973.
(And director) Love and Death (also see below), United Artists, 1975.
(With Marshall Brickman, and director) Annie Hall (also see below), United Artists, 1977.
(And director) Interiors (also see below), United Artists, 1978.
Four Screenplays: Sleeper, Love and Death, Bananas, Annie Hall, Random House (New York, NY), 1978.
(With Marshall Brickman, and director) Manhattan (also see below), United Artists, 1979.
(And director) Stardust Memories (also see below), United Artists, 1980.
(And director) A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Warner Bros., 1982.
Four Films of Woody Allen (contains Annie Hall, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, and Interiors), Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
(And director) Zelig (also see below), Orion, 1983.
(And director) Broadway Danny Rose (also see below), Orion, 1984.
(And director) The Purple Rose of Cairo (also see below), Orion, 1985.
(And director) Hannah and Her Sisters (produced by Orion, 1986), Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
(And director) Radio Days, Orion, 1987.
(And director) September, Orion, 1987.
Three Films of Woody Allen (contains Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, and The Purple Rose of Cairo), Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1987.
(And director) Another Woman, Orion, 1988.
(And director) "Oedipus Wrecks," in New York Stories, Touchstone, 1989.
(And director) Crimes and Misdemeanors, Orion, 1989.
(And director) Alice, Orion, 1990.
(And director) Husbands and Wives, TriStar, 1992.
(And director) Shadows and Fog, Orion, 1992.
(And director) Manhattan Murder Mystery, TriStar, 1993.
(And director) Bullets over Broadway, Miramax, 1994.
(And director) Mighty Aphrodite, Miramax, 1995.
(And director) Everyone Says I Love You, Miramax, 1996.
(And director) Deconstructing Harry, Fine Line, 1997.
(And director) Celebrity, Miramax, 1998.
(And director) Sweet and Lowdown, Sony Classics, 1999.
(And director) Small Time Crooks, Dreamworks, 2000.
(And director) Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Dreamworks, 2001.
(And director) Hollywood Ending, Dreamworks, 2002.
(And director) Anything Else, Dreamworks, 2003.
Woody Allen: A Life in Film (film), Turner Classic Movies, 2003.
(And director) Melinda and Melinda, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004.
(And director) Match Point, Dream Works Pictures, 2005.
(And director) Scoop, Focus Features, 2006.
(With others) From A to Z, produced in New York, NY, 1960.
Don't Drink the Water (produced in New York, NY, 1966; broadcast on television, 1994), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1967.
Play It Again, Sam (produced on Broadway, 1969), Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
Death: A Comedy in One Act, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1975.
God: A Comedy in One Act, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1975.
The Floating Light Bulb (produced in New York, NY, 1981), Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
Death Defying Acts: Three One-Act Comedies, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1995.
Central Park West, produced in New York, NY, 1995.
Three One-Act Plays, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Writer's Block (includes the one-act plays Riverside Drive and Old Saybrook), first produced at the Atlantic Theater (New York, NY), 2003.
Author of radio play God, produced by National Radio Theatre (Chicago, IL), 1978. Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire and the New Yorker..
Woody Allen falls into one of the most rarified categories of artist—the auteur filmmaker, one whose vision pervades every aspect of his work. Allen is also one of the world's best-recognized cinematic figures; indeed, he has more "name value" as a writer or director than do many of the stars of his pictures. But for all his acclaim and fame, he maintains a relatively balanced perspective on his own importance.
Allen was born Alan Stewart Konigsberg in pre-World War II Brooklyn, New York. In many ways, the growing boy resembled his peers. Young Allen hated school. With that kind of academic background, it is not surprising that Allen shunned higher education as well. He briefly attended New York's City College and entered into an equally brief teenage marriage to childhood sweetheart Harlene Rosen. By his early twenties, Allen was submitting jokes and one-liners, some of which caught the attention of columnists like Earl Wilson. From there it was a quick leap into television, where Allen was among the youngest—and quietest—staff writers for shows starring Sid Caesar, Art Carney, and Jack Paar, among others. During the early 1960s Allen worked as a comedian in nightclubs, where he began to create the persona that would bring him fame—that of the intellectual bumbler, unlucky in love, adversary of nature and small appliances, a perpetual victim of his own urban angst. Although his comedy was embraced by a generation of city sophisticates, the persona did not exactly reflect its creator. "People always associated me with Greenwich Village and sweaters with holes in them and things like that," Allen remarked to interviewer Tom Shales in Esquire. "And I've never been that kind of person. Never. I never lived in the Village. I always lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan."
Film producer Charles Feldman discovered Allen in 1964 and offered him a screenwriting job on a movie called What's New, Pussycat? The story of a man who simply cannot stay faithful to the woman he loves, the movie also marked Allen's acting debut as a neurotic psychiatric patient. In a Dictionary of Literary Biography profile, Alan S. Horowitz noted that even this knockabout farce reflects the "conflict between security and freedom, and its related problem of freedom versus commitment … [that] recurs in later Allen films."
While What's New, Pussycat? "was a great financial success, Allen was not entirely pleased with the finished film," continued Horowitz. The writer "began looking for a project over which he would have more creative control. He acquired the Japanese-made spy film Dagi no Kagi (1964), reedited it, and dubbed in a sound track written and performed by himself, [second wife, Louise] Lasser, Frank Buxton, and Len Maxwell, changing the film to a spy spoof about a search for an egg salad recipe." The film, What's Up, Tiger Lily?, continued to enjoy cult status for decades.
The success of Allen's first two films marked the onset of a period, between the late 1960s and the mid-1970s, that saw him writing, directing, and/or starring in six freewheeling comedies. Beginning with Take the Money and Run, the comedies reinforced the Allen persona, a kind of modern version of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. Bananas, Allen's next outing, features him as products-tester Fielding Mellish, who rises—through a series of misadventures—from soldier to president of the tiny banana republic San Marcos, a country that "leads the world in hernias."
Allen the playwright had written and starred in the Broadway production of Play It Again, Sam, a romantic farce about identity and commitment, with Allen's character, Allan Felix, fantasizing about being as tough and irresistible as Humphrey Bogart. When Felix finds himself increasingly attracted to his best friend's wife, the spirit of the real Bogey appears periodically to explain the mysteries of the female mind. Play It Again, Sam enjoyed a prosperous stage run and was adapted by Allen for his fifth produced screenplay.
The year of the film Play It Again, Sam, 1972, was also the year of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask, Allen's film derived—only slightly—from Dr. David Ruben's controversial best seller. Allen's film takes an anecdotal approach: "Do Aphrodisiacs Work?" for instance, features Allen as a medieval court jester who uses a love potion to get his hands on "the royal tomatoes"—i.e., the queen. According to Film Comment contributor Michael Dempsey, Allen's version of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask approximates a "savage dissection of sexual absurdity."
Sleeper presents Allen as health-food store owner Miles Monroe, whose disastrous ulcer operation results in his being frozen alive, and recounts what happens when this urban specimen defrosts 200 years later. In 2173, technology has taken over, with robots serving as servants, Jewish-accented tailors, and even cordial home pets. The time-traveling Miles, with his memory of a more natural earth, is perceived as a threat by the dictatorial government. Miles joins a rebel force that includes Luna (Diane Keaton), an anthem-spouting free spirit who helps him escape his foes. The film explores themes that echo in other Allen works, including the search for cultural identity. Sex also plays a role in Miles's identity crisis—after Luna comments that he has gone 200 years without it, Miles corrects her: "Two hundred and four, if you count my marriage." But in the new age, sex has been replaced by machinery-made stimuli, a concept Miles samples but ultimately rejects. "During the conclusion of Sleeper Miles Monroe comes right out with his total disbelief in science and politics, opting for ‘sex and death, two things which come once in my life—but at least after death you're not nauseous,’" as Dempsey quoted.
Allen's movie Love and Death is both a spoof of Russian literature and an examination of the meaning of life. The movie opens in nineteenth-century Czarist Russia, where the citizens of a small village are preparing to join in the fight against Emperor Napoleon's invading forces—all except Boris (Allen), a "militant coward" in love with his cousin Sonia (Keaton). Pressured into joining the army after Sonia decides to marry the town's herring merchant, Boris becomes an inadvertent war hero. Although Sonia and Boris marry and find happiness, Boris is ultimately captured and sentenced to death. "Although the story sounds tragic, Love and Death is a comedy," Horowitz explained. "The dead Boris appears at the beginning, joking about death and setting the story in flashback. By letting the audience know what Boris's fate will be, Allen makes the film lighter and more amenable to humor." The critic also noted other literary devices employed in the film. "Frequently he speaks directly to the audience in absurdist fashion. The film is filled with allusions to Russian literature [specifically, the works of Leo Tolstoy and Feyodor Dostoevsky] and to the films of Ingmar Bergman, one of Allen's favorite filmmakers. Finally, Allen's discussion of death leads him to examine the rationale behind death, which brings him to explore the existence and nature of God."
In Annie Hall, Allen wrestles further with serious themes. The setting for this film is contemporary New York, the characters are witty and self-motivated, and the plot goes back farther than Pygmalion: a highly sophisticated man uses education and culture to create the perfect mate out of a simple, small-town woman and then watches in mounting disbelief as the newly liberated female breaks from his influence and forms a life of her own. With its insights into the way romances blossomed and wilted during the 1970s, Annie Hall was embraced by many as a representative film of its age.
The movie, declared Newsweek reviewer Janet Maslin, "is a perverse self-help manual about How to Be Your Own Worst Enemy, and even its most uproarious moments ride an undercurrent of wistfulness." Loved by audiences, Annie Hall swept the 1978 Academy Awards.
Like Annie Hall, 1979's Manhattan follows the romantic foibles of New York's intellectual elite. The movie again stars Allen and Keaton as nervous lovers; this time, however, Allen plays a disgruntled television hack yearning to write the Great American Novel, and Keaton portrays an overeducated critic who cranks out movie novelizations on the side. Their romance is doomed, though, by the lovers and ex-spouses who surround them: Keaton's character has had a long-running affair with a married college professor while Allen's must cope with a seventeen-year-old girlfriend as well as an ex-wife who was bisexual when they married. Most critics and scholars considered Annie Hall and Manhattan Allen's two best films to date.
Public opinion aside, the movie Allen himself is most proud of, from that period, is one that offended many of his fans. "The best film I ever did, really, was Stardust Memories," the director told Shales in his Esquire interview. "It was my least popular film. That may automatically mean it was my best film. It was the closest that I came to achieving what I set out to achieve." In Stardust Memories, famous film director Sandy Bates (played by Allen) spends a weekend at an upstate New York resort where a collection of critics and fans pay homage to his work. Along the way he meets a mysterious woman, anticipates a visit from his French mistress, and confronts his current girlfriend, a neurotic actress. Besieged, Sandy contemplates his future while every one in his life pulls him in opposite directions. Eventually, fantasy and reality become a blur.
Whether meant satirically or sincerely, Stardust Memories nonetheless bore the wrath of insulted patrons. Critics generally panned the film, citing uneven pacing and overall sourness. A Washington Post writer called the work an example of the "self-pitying tradition" of Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, which Stardust Memories distinctly resembles. The critic added that the spectacle of "the celebrity artist [envisioning] himself as a potential victim of this freak show of admirers and supplicants" doesn't help Allen's case. "Allen even shows Bates fantasizing his own murder at the hands of some blandly psychotic fan. There's no satiric distancing to soften or contradict the impression of fundamental distaste."
In 1983's Zelig, Allen again attempts to broaden his artistry. This film follows a rather nondescript urban Jew who amazingly adopts the looks and characteristics of any distinct individual or group he encounters. Among fat men, for instance, Zelig's weight balloons; among black jazz musicians his skin darkens. Eventually, the "Human Chameleon" catches the fancy of a fickle Roaring Twenties America, and Zelig finds himself the subject of songs, dances, and movies. Exploited by his ruthless sister, however, he is miserable. Ultimately, to escape his circumstances, Zelig flees to Nazi Germany—in effect an entire nation of conformists. Set in the 1920s, the black-and-white film uses technological magic to evoke the jumpy, crackling film footage of that era. Allen and cinematographer Gordon Willis created authentic-looking action, and Allen's image was edited into actual old footage, thus showing the character of Zelig with such notables as Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, and even Adolf Hitler.
Critics have disagreed on the merits of Zelig. National Review contributor John Simon described it as "a curious example of a film with too much cleverness for its own good," and added: "Though the kaleidoscopic fortunes of the protagonist are aptly mirrored in the collage-like quality of the movie, the art of assemblage, instead of enhancing the semblance of reality, proves an inadequate way of dissembling: the cunningly joined snippets challenge us to peer behind them and discover the central hollowness." London Times writer David Robinson, however, found no reason not to include Zelig in the company "of great comedies, like Candide or Verdoux or Viridiana," adding that in all such narratives the "seemingly transparent simplicity leaves you with quite as many questions about the condition of man as do great tragedies. When you recover from the laughter, this pure, perfect, beautiful comedy leaves a trail of reflections about truth and fiction and the difficulty of preserving one's own personality in a society which offers so many off-the-peg models for being which are so much easier to wear."
For The Purple Rose of Cairo, his fifteenth film, Allen turns to Depression-era New Jersey. The film centers on Cecilia, a destitute and abused wife who consoles herself by repeatedly seeing the adventure film The Purple Rose of Cairo. One day, the film's clean-cut hero, Tom Baxter, actually leaves the screen and enters Cecilia's life. Finding herself the love interest of a fictional character proves both confusing and exhilarating to Cecilia. But back in Hollywood, studio executives are panicked. It seems that Tom Baxters have begun stepping out of the celluloid all across America. The executives decide that only Gil Shepard, the actor who plays Tom, might convince the make-believe adventurer to return to the Purple Rose so that the movie can proceed. Gil is dispatched to New Jersey, where he quickly becomes Tom's rival for Cecilia's love.
Reviewing the film for the New York Times, Vincent Canby called The Purple Rose of Cairo "pure enchantment," a "sweet, lyrically funny, multilayered work that again demonstrates that Woody Allen is our premier film maker." To Time contributor Richard Schickel, the comedy "is not merely one of the best movies about movies ever made. It is still more unusual, because it comes at its subject the hard way, from the front of the house, instead of from behind the scenes. Its subject is not how movies work but how they work on the audience. Or more accurately, how they once did." New Yorker reviewer Pauline Kael declared the film to be "the most purely charming" of Allen's films to date, perhaps "the fullest expression yet of his style of humor."
Hannah and Her Sisters, a 1986 comedy-drama, proved yet another high point of Allen's career. It tells the story of how shifting allegiances and marital strife affect the lives of three grown sisters and their families. Hannah, the eldest, is a Broadway actress married to Elliott, a financial advisor. Elliott, however, has a desperate passion for Lee, the youngest sister, who herself lives with an alienated artist, Frederick. Holly, the middle sister, aspires to both acting and writing, depending on her mood. She ends up in a romance with Mickey, Hannah's first husband and, as played by Allen, a rampant hypochondriac.
Several critics praised Hannah and Her Sisters as a full-bodied, uplifting work. In the Washington Post, Paul Attanasio deemed the movie "an encyclopedia of the emotions of ordinary life, not a movie so much as a prayer, if prayers could be so funny and tortured and full of love." "It is one of the extraordinary aspects of the film that Hannah and Her Sisters is most secure when it's being least self-consciously funny," noted Canby in his New York Times appraisal. Newsweek reviewer David Ansen wrote: "Anyone bemoaning the disappearance of adult matter from the movies need look no farther. Here Allen single handedly restores glamour and substance to middle age. He juggles these overlapping stories with novelistic finesse, counter-pointing hilarity and pathos with almost faultless tact."
An anecdotal film with the author/director's voice-over narration, Allen's autobiographical Radio Days follows two narratives: one featuring young Joe and his family, the other tracing the rise of Sally White, a cigarette girl with more spunk than talent but one who nonetheless becomes the toast of radio high society, thanks to some influential friends and a brace of elocution lessons.
Allen's 1989 work, Crimes and Misdemeanors, contains both dramatic and comedic storylines. The dramatic narrative concerns an ophthalmologist plagued with a destructive mistress. The comedic plot deals with the efforts of a modest filmmaker (Allen) to complete a serious documentary—about a philosophy professor—while begrudgingly preparing a film about his egomaniacal brother-in-law, a successful television producer. This film, which many critics consider among Allen's finest, earned several Oscar nominations, including one for best film.
In Alice Allen casts a fragile, starry-eyed woman who finds release from a stifling marriage through magic, literally making herself invisible or flying through the air by taking potions dispensed by a Chinese herbologist. Several critics noted that the film has a Fellini-like touch, a whimsical quality, that renders it charming although slight. "Much of Alice is pleasantly out of whack," wrote Peter Rainer in the Los Angeles Times, adding that while "Allen may consider Alice to be a minor jest before his next Big One, … there are pleasures in its small-time ambitions that sometimes elude him on his more ambitious projects." Alice was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Writers Guild Award.
Deconstructing Harry, Allen's 1998 film, was one of several motion pictures to be released on the heels of the public disclosure of Allen's private relationship with twenty-one-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Allen's then-partner, actress Mia Farrow, and conductor Andre Previn. Significant public furor was the result, although Allen and Soon-Yi eventually married. Perhaps as a result, his subsequent films received more tepid reviews, Philip Kerr going so far as to write in the New Statesman that, "while it is clear to the rest of the world that the box office cannot continue to accommodate Allen's prolific level of movie production, it's perhaps not so obvious to him." Interpreted as autobiographical in nature, Deconstructing Harry focuses on a misanthropic novelist suffering from writer's block whose scribblings present vignettes from his life. In present time, Harry travels to his alma mater to accept an award, on the way picking up his son without the child's mother's permission, and paying a prostitute to come along for the ride as a babysitter. While noting that "the usual line-up of good actors flits in and out" of the film, New Statesman contributor Chris Peachment added that, apart from Bullets over Broadway, "Allen has yet to prove himself a serious artist. And he won't be, as long as he is content to parade his neurosis rather than grow out of it." Stanley Kauffmann was slightly more generous in his New Republic review, noting that the film had "amusing" moments and Allen's scripted "dialogue is lithe and sometimes quotable."
In 2000's Small Time Crooks Allen's character is Ray Winkler, an ex-con whose latest plan is to start a small cookie shop in a downtown location conveniently close to a bank he wants to rob. When the store becomes popular, Ray's wife, a former exotic dancer, becomes ensconced in the city's artsy crowd and abandons her husband for a handsome young art dealer, leaving Ray to once again pursue his ill-conceived robbery. Noting that the film contains Allen's "most enjoyable performance in years," Variety reviewer Todd McCarthy added that Small Time Crooks "satisfies in the way it moves from flat-out comedy to more multilayered storytelling, especially where it treats what Allen clearly views as the unbridgeable gap between ‘sophisticated’ culture and the simpler pleasures."
Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Allen's 2001 contribution to the silver screen, is a romantic comedy that focuses on a 1940s insurance investigator who, with a young love interest, is hypnotized into revealing his affection and also into performing a series of small-time burglaries the office-party hypnotists had planned. The film was not highly praised, Film Journal International contributor David Noh describing it as a "slick genre piece that unspools with all of the excitement of any made-for television caper." Reflecting the reaction of several reviewers to the films the sixty-something Allen continued to cast himself in—always with a crowd of younger women flocking around him—Noh added: "Allen, looking wan and wizened, is just too senior a physical presence by now to indulge in the bratty, sophomoric shtick he's been pushing since the '60s." In Entertainment Weekly Owen Gleiberman wrote that although Allen "remains a canny (if, in this case, hollow) film craftsman, … by now we know him far too well to be asked to find him adorable."
While Allen has pursued several artistic categories—television, theatre, print, and others—films remain his most successful genre. And yet the writer-director-actor once said that he does not enjoy the physical process of filmmaking, the early hours, the reshooting. "I wish somebody would come in and tell me I can't make films anymore," Allen revealed to Shales in Esquire. "There's never been a film of mine that I've been really satisfied with," he added, explaining that he never watches his films once they are released because "I think I would hate them."
Three books provide an overview of Allen's work and major themes. Loosely organized by his characteristic themes, The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader contains excerpts from Allen's stand-up comedy, record albums, plays, magazine articles, and movies, and includes stills, art, and photographs. The Complete Prose includes magazine pieces Allen has written mainly for the New Yorker. Will Self wrote in the London Review of Books that The Complete Prose "is an ideal bedside companion, to be dipped into for quick hits of enjoyment. Treated in this way, and severed from the Allen persona and its tendency to topple over into his own work, the pieces remain examples of unalloyed comic genius." A critic for the Washington Post Book World maintained that Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman "will appeal more to film school types than fans of Woody Allen comedy" since the interviews "focus on the details of his work and, in particular, Allen's countless regrets." Allison Lynn, writing in the New York Times Book Review, faulted Bjorkman for skirting the scandals surrounding Allen, concluding that the interview questions "tend to take the form of naive adulation, and the famed cynic's answers are often calculated and humorless."
Writer's Block, consisting of two individual one-act plays, Riverside Drive and Old Saybrook, was first produced at the Atlantic Theater in the Chelsea section of New York City, and signified another first for Allen, as it was the first time he himself had directed a live performance as opposed to a film. Riverside Drive is a re-imagining of the Edward Albee play, The Zoo Story, with Old Saybrook serving as an homage as well. While the humor was original to these pieces, some critics felt that Allen was reusing his own material and limiting his cultural references to a narrow margin in comparison to his earlier works. New York Times reviewer Alex Abramovich wrote that Allen's personal struggles and media scandal have continued to color audience perception, stating: "Mr. Allen, who spent almost four decades of his life as the consummate New York comedian, has ended up as just another New York curiosity—the kind who holds his wounds out for our inspection and amusement. But those wounds are nothing we haven't seen before, and there's nothing amusing about them."
In Mere Anarchy, Allen offers readers a collection of his humorous essays, both old and new. Featured are such classic gems as "The Whores of Mensa," which is about a group of prostitutes who are paid to talk about such highbrow topics as T.S. Elliot's "The Waste Land," and "The Kugelmass Episode," which involves Emma Bovary appearing in modern-day New York City in order to meet Kugelmass, a professor who is her new lover, only to find herself transported into the pages of the Flaubert novel. In addition to such classics, there are several new essays as well. Several critics noted that, while the older Allen efforts hold up well over time, his newer essays fail to exhibit the same trademark humor and tend to fall flat, feeling forced and/or repetitive in comparison. In a review for Commentary, Benjamin A. Plotinsky remarked: "Allen is at his best in the parodies, where he has a fixed literary model both to imitate and to depart from, and in the epistolary exchange, which resembles a screenplay in that it consists solely of dialogue." He goes on to conclude that "the problem with most of the stories in Mere Anarchy is that they do not stand outside this character; instead, they are written by him." Josh Wolk, reviewing for Entertainment Weekly, criticized Allen's excessive use of unfamiliar, intellectual vocabulary, stating that some of his "amusing premises are so overwritten … the humor becomes impenetrable." However, other critics found merit in Allen's newer offerings, including Booklist reviewer Bill Ott, who commented of the previously unseen essays that they "will please those determined souls who like their humor distinctly old school." Alexander Larman, reviewing for New Statesman, wrote that "the hilarious, innovative wit and skill of these jeux d'esprit show that Allen's comic talent continues to flourish."
The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose consists of approximately forty of Allen's humorous sketches, all published before. The volume was released at the same time as Mere Anarchy, and provides readers with an easily accessible collection of some of Allen's classics that take pot shots at his favorite subjects, including New York intellectuals, God, and death. In a review for Booklist, Gilbert Taylor wrote that "it's a treasury of risibility for the Allen audience."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Adler, Bill, and Jeff Feinman, Woody Allen: Clown Prince of American Humor, Pinnacle (New York, NY), 1975.
Allen, Woody, with Stig Bjorkman, Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Blake, Richard Aloysius, Woody Allen: Profane and Sacred, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1995.
Brode, Douglas, Woody Allen: His Films and Career, Citadel (New York, NY), 1985.
Brode, Douglas, The Films of Woody Allen, Carol Publishing (Secaucus, NJ), 1997.
Byrnes, Christina, Woody Allen's Trilogy of Terror: A Study of "Interiors," "September," and "Another Woman," Paupers' Press (Nottingham, UK), 1997.
Cohen, Sarah Blacher, editor, From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Jewish-American Stage and Screen, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1983.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 16, 1981, Volume 52, 1989.
Curry, Reneacutee R., Perspectives on Woody Allen, G.K. Hall (New York, NY), 1996.
De Navacelle, Thierry, Woody Allen on Location, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 44: American Screenwriters, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Girgus, Sam B., The Films of Woody Allen, Cambridge University Press (Boston, MA), 1993.
Groteke, Kristi, Mia and Woody: Love and Betrayal, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1994.
Guthrie, Lee, Woody Allen: A Biography, Drake, 1978.
Hirsch, F., Love, Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life: Woody Allen's Comedy, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1981.
Kael, Pauline, Reeling, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976.
Lahr, John, Automatic Vaudeville: Essays on Star Turns, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.
Lax, Eric, On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy, Charterhouse, 1975.
Lax, Eric, Woody Allen, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Lee, Sander H., Woody Allen's Angst: Philosophical Commentaries on His Serious Films, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 1997.
Nichols, Mary P., Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love, and Life in the Films of Woody Allen, Rowman & Littlefield (New York, NY), 1998.
Palmer, M., Woody Allen, Proteus Press, 1980.
Yacowar, Maurice, Loser Take All: The Comic Art of Woody Allen, Ungar (New York, NY), 1979.
America, June 3, 2002, Richard A. Blake, review of Hollywood Ending, p. 23.
Booklist, March 15, 2007, Bill Ott, review of Mere Anarchy, p. 4; May 15, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose, p. 15.
Commentary, October, 2007, Benjamin A. Plotinsky, "Stick Figure," p. 65.
Entertainment Weekly, May 10, 2002, Owen Gleiberman, review of Hollywood Ending, p. 52; June 14, 2002, Karen Valby, "Deconstructing Woody," p. 9; June 15, 2007, Josh Wolk, review of Mere Anarchy, p. 83.
Esquire, July 19, 1975, Tom Shales, interview with Woody Allen; October, 1994, Bill Zehme, "So You're the Great Woody Allen …?," (interview), p. 84.
Film Comment, March-April, 1974, Michael Dempsey, review of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask.
Film Journal International, September, 2001, David Noh, review of Curse of the Jade Scorpion, p. 57.
London Review of Books, February 11, 1993, Will Self, review of The Complete Prose, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1990, Peter Rainer, review of Alice.
Maclean's, May 6, 2002, Brian D. Johnson, "Woody's World" (interview), p. 54.
National Review, August 5, 1983, John Simon, review of Zelig.
New Republic, May 27, 2002, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Hollywood Ending, p. 24.
New Statesman, April 17, 1998, Chris Peachment, review of Deconstructing Harry, p. 44; June 19, 2000, Jonathan Romney, "Deconstructing Woody," p. 45; January 6, 2003, Philip Kerr, review of Curse of the Jade Scorpion, p. 30; August 6, 2007, Alexander Larman, review of Mere Anarchy, p. 51.
Newsweek, May 2, 1977, Janet Maslin, review of Annie Hall; February 3, 1986, David Ansen, review of Hannah and Her Sisters; May 13, 2002, David Ansen, review of Hollywood Ending, p. 64.
New Yorker, March 25, 1985, Pauline Kael, review of The Purple Rose of Cairo.
New York Times, March 1, 1985, Vincent Canby, review of The Purple Rose of Cairo; February 9, 1986, Vincent Canby, review of Hannah and Her Sisters; May 25, 2003, Alex Abramovich, "The Sincerest Form of Self-Flattery: An Allen Crib Sheet," p. 5.
New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1995, Allison Lynn, review of Woody Allen on Woody Allen, p. 18.
Time, March 4, 1985, Richard Schickel, review of The Purple Rose of Cairo; May 13, 2002, Richard Corliss, review of Hollywood Ending, p. 66.
Variety, May 15, 2000, Todd McCarthy, review of Small Time Crooks, p. 25; August 13, 2001, Robert Koehler, review of Curse of the Jade Scorpion, p. 43.
Washington Post, October 3, 1980, review of Stardust Memories; February 7, 1986, Paul Attanasio, review of Hannah and Her Sisters.
Washington Post Book World, January 15, 1995, review of Woody Allen on Woody Allen, p. 13.
RK Puma Web site,http://www.rkpuma.com/ (April 14, 2003), Tony Jenkins, interview with Allen.
U-Wire,http://www.uwire.com/ (April 14, 2003), "Interview: Woody Allen, Director of Small Time Crooks."