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An Attempt At Understanding Woody Allen

October 4, 2012 | By

Allen however imbibes some of the traits of the masters, while trying to put the message through. His film, Stardust Memories in the opening sequences reminds one of a Fellini film, even though the self effacing humor is apparent.

COLUMBIA CLASSICS - WOODY ALLEN - Husband And Wives / The Front / Manhattan Murder MysteryMy first introduction to Woody Allen came as a part of working for a project with a short film director, who wanted to base his screen play along the lines of a Woody Allen film. My first Woody film had me nonplussed; I did not know where to place him.

It is of course not mandatory that he needs to be placed somewhere, but it makes us comfortable to know that we have slotted ‘A’ particular person in whatever genre.

Watching a Woody Allen film gives you the feeling that he is always doing a tight rope balancing act. There’s always the notion that he might just hop over to the other side of making the film sound and look either cheap or brilliant, but mostly neither happens and he remains grounded in his unique place in the centre.

As anyone who has seen a Woody Allen film would know, there are some ‘isms’ to his films. The first of which is his talking to the audiences. Quite a unique feature of his films, it usually leaves you a bit startled initially, especially if you are looking for symbolism, a la some of the bigger names Like Bergman, Fellini or even Satyajit Ray.

Allen however imbibes some of the traits of the masters, while trying to put the message through. His film, Stardust Memories in the opening sequences reminds one of a Fellini film, even though the self effacing humor is apparent.

But the fact that Woody Allen talks so much in his films leaves perhaps little potential for any kind of symbolism. But just when you might start accusing the man of being verbose, it strikes you that there is perhaps a method in all the madness that there might actually be a very well thought about thought process in his films.

stardust memories

And that is perhaps when it strikes you that Woody Allen’s greatness is neither in the message that he tries to arrive at (if one were looking for a message at all) neither in the carelessly careful structure that he likes portraying.

Most of his films see a constant questioning, his questions carry him through the film and its characters and before you realize it, the film is asking questions on many levels that many of us want to ask but we wonder if we have answers to them.

Well then neither does Mr. Allen perhaps, but his films nevertheless never stop asking and seeking answers to questions that have plagued his mind perhaps in many ways.

One of his most well rated films Manhattan opens with a brilliant narration on why for some old timers New York is still the town it used to be and in spite of the chaos and confusion in those minds ‘No matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in Black & White’.

Surprisingly, the rest of the film hardly has anything spoken about Manhattan, that some might feel is absurd. But for that one needs to understand that Manhattan as spoken of in the film is not only about the city, it is about the people, the culture, the decay, which are portrayed through the subsequent story that is shown.

The entire film can be encased in the lines, “He adored New York City, to him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture”. As such many of Woody Allen’s films follow this pattern of being seemingly part documentaries and part a scripted story. It not only shows his love of documentaries but perhaps creates a new genre altogether.

Whenever you watch a Woody Allen film, you are struck by the numerous things that are trying to be portrayed, and most of them are recurrent in most of his films. The cultural degradation, the fight between the complex intellectual capacities of man and his gut knowledge that simplicity is perhaps far more endearing and his attraction to both in equal parts.

His preoccupation with sex and its exploration on different levels while at time trying to find elements of his own sexuality, the obsession with death and the sensuality of death. While talking to his audiences, Woody Allen often addresses his own confusions as if he were trying to voice his confusions to the audience and in the process of thinking aloud, going about a journey of discovering if he could make peace with them in some fashion that brings peace to his cluttered mind.

Manhattan - A Woody Allen Movie

One of his most well rated films Manhattan opens with a brilliant narration.

At times like this, one is reminded of the Shakespearean asides only that the portrayals thanks to film technology are perhaps more clear to the audience and perceptible.

While Woody Allen has often been accused of repeating his themes of ‘Love’ and ‘Death’, in almost every film of his, it may be said to the director’s credit that he has tried to experiment with different themes or contexts, as a result if you have the historically pitched Love and Death, you have a modern passionate drama in Vicky Cristina Barcelona or the layers of Stardust Memories and the lingering beauty of Annie Hall.

And yet if there is truly any recurring theme to Woody Allen’s films it is only in Humor and the discovery of himself, his love, his fear, his weaknesses, almost anything and everything to do with him.

Annie Hall often cited as Woody Allen’s most romantic film, portrays his fascination for understanding love. Often Woody Allen is also seen comparing the love of different genders and musing over them.

The same questions about romantic love are seen again in ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, which questions the validity of romance with that of relationships and how romance can be different from a relationship.

Like ‘Love’, ‘Death’ is another recurrent theme, in Woody Allen’s films. His reading, his philosophy all seem to suggest he tries his best to overcome the human emotion of fear when it comes to death, but ultimately he never conquers it and he is always afraid and always vulnerable.

But amongst all the other facets of Woody Allen’s film what will perhaps be the most remembered is his startling use of comedy which he uses mostly on himself in a way that sometimes is intrinsically aligned to his private emotions with those of the characters in the film.

His humor is always subtle and begins with himself, usually speculating heavily on his own thought process, making a buffoon of himself largely to serve the larger purpose of the film. While playing the humor card on himself, Woody Allen often leaves himself vulnerable and open to interpretation, one suspects himself of too much honesty at times, something that leaves the viewer confused whether they should laugh at him or actually sympathize with him.

Woody Allen movies Annie Hall

Annie Hall often cited as woody Allen’s most romantic film, portrays his fascination for understanding love.

Like every joker, Woody Allen has a sad self perhaps hidden somewhere, that he mostly refuses to divulge. But unlike most other jokers he rarely hides behind a mask.

In the scheme of film making, one is often confused about where to place Allen in the list of film makers. He is definitely not an average film maker, because his thoughts in whatever proportion or direction are ‘different’.

Woody Allen comes across as the verbose yet honest man who is perhaps confused with his thoughts which lead to the numerous questions that most of his films ask. In the end, it is not an answer that he might be seeking actually but more of an open interpretation of what could be a better possibility.

Self absorbed, confused and depressed in his own confusions, Woody Allen, one suspects, is a romantic somewhere lost in the woods, just like the thin small man roaming the streets of New York trying find a rationale in the confused streets, while making us laugh and think along with him.

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Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a web columnist, poet and creative writer. She is author of three books 'Reflections on My India', 'Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinema's First Couple' and 'Where Even The Present Is Ancient: Benaras'. She writes on cinema and art too. Maitreyee writes for Criterion Literary Journal; a journal of media studies 'Kottaka'; Indian Express (Bay Area); Indian Ruminations; YOMO Art Gallery (South East Asian Art House); Gallery 2000 (French Art House); The Sip of Life, etc.
All Posts of Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury

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