I come three days late to note the 78th birthday of my favorite living film director, Allen Stewart Konigsberg, better known as Woody Allen. Woody’s post-ANNIE HALL (1977) movies may not be to everyone’s taste — particularly those who don’t like films with what might be called an existential fixation/almost-obsession with the meaning of life and death. Whatever you call it, it works for me. I haven’t seen all of Woody’s films (especially since 1995), but I’ve seen most of them, and I can’t think of one I disliked….and more than a few I loved.
As it happens, I am a contemporary of Woody’s (born less than a year after his 12/1/35 birth date), but generational nearness means little if there is little else to relate to. Like Woody, Charlie Chaplin (for example) was a brilliant director, actor and master of comedy, but coming from a different generation doesn’t dim his star for me. Unique creative inventiveness is timeless.
So what is it about Woody that makes me feel an affinity? For one thing, there is our mutual passion for 1920s classic jazz (hence his spare-time gig as a jazz clarinetist). For another, there is what the distinguished film critic Richard Schickel called Woody’s “distrust [of] organized religion [and] conventional politics,” among other things. But perhaps most of all is his love for “magic realism,” as captured in such films as MANHATTAN (1979) and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)….which, not coincidentally, happen to be two of my favorite Woody Allen films. Other favorites, in addition to his pre-ANNIE HALL great comedies which brought him acclaim, include ZELIG (1983), THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) and RADIO DAYS (1987). ANNIE HALL was an Oscar winner, but to me, it’s a notch below MANHATTAN.
Schickel’s book WOODY ALLEN – A LIFE IN FILM speaks to Woody’s falling-out with the latter-day mass American movie audience, which Schickel considers a product “of our crude and witless times. I basically despise the quality of modern American life — its history-free culture, its pietistic politics, the grinding stupidity of our public discourse on every topic. I suspect Woody feels the same but is too smart to say so openly.” Elitist harrumphing? Undoubtedly — if you don’t agree with him. Right on the money, if you do agree. Personally, I’ll TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969)….or better yet, I’ll take the book and run. If you’re a Woody Allen fan, it’s too good to pass up.
Well, all good things must run out eventually, and I can think of no better way to take this opus out than with what Woody’s character in MANHATTAN called “one of the reasons life is worth living” — referring to Louis Armstrong’s 1927 recording of POTATO HEAD BLUES:
Hold on — I just came across this. Can you dig it? It’s Wild, Man: