2011 witnessed a collaboration from two impressive directors nearly reaching the pinnacle of filmmaking, with Midnight in Paris earning multiple Oscar nominations. What’s that you say? Woody Allen directed it, and not two different directors? I beg to differ.
Woody Allen has been making movies since 1966, when he directed his first film, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? He has directed a whopping 42 more films since then. I have seen 15 of them. But it seems to me that of the 15 that I’ve seen, there are two separate groups of films. On one side, you have comedies, armed to the teeth with Allen’s seemingly trademark neuroses. And on the other side, you have dramas and murder mysteries brimming with suspense and nefarious ne’er-do-wells who blur the lines of morality. It’s almost impossible to believe that the same person who made Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Interiors (1978) was responsible for Take the Money and Run (1969) and Bananas (1971). And yet, there he is.
To complete the list, Woody the Comedian also made Zelig (1983), Annie Hall (1978), Manhattan (1979), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972), Sleeper (1973), A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Love and Death (1975), and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001). Then there’s Woody the Dramatist. That guy’s filmography includes Shadows and Fog (1991), Cassandra’s Dream (2007), Match Point (2005), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), as well as the two others I mentioned, Interiors and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Of course, we know it’s the same guy making both films because there are several films that fit both categories, ripe with drama and comedy. Midnight in Paris belongs to this impressive group. The group also includes Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).
What’s fascinating to me is the evolution of the way it shook down. Early on, he was banging out one comedy after another. Then in 1978, like Dylan going electric, he created a tremendous dramatic homage to his hero, Ingmar Bergman, with Interiors. And throughout the 80s and 90s, he gradually began to tilt to the more serious side. He never could fully rid himself of Woody the Comedian in this era, but his films took on a more serious tone. And finally, with rare exceptions, we’ve reached an era where Woody the Dramatist has taken over.
It’s important to not gloss over the fact that there are obviously loads and loads of threads that connect both eras, and ran directly through the 1980s and 90s intersection. There’s always philosophical chicanery. They’re always deeply personal for him. After all, it’s what makes a Woody Allen film a Woody Allen film–ripping open his soul and putting it out there for all to see. There’s always his famous font, Windsor-EF Elongated. His films always acknowledge movie history.
The funny part about this whole article is that I’ve written a lot about my experiences with Woody Allen films, and yet I can’t even claim to be a fan. Or rather, I can’t claim undying fandom. It’s my divided devotion to Woody Allen that prompted me to write this article. A handful of his films are some of my favorite movies ever made, specifically Bananas and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*. I also have a great deal of love for Match Point, Midnight in Paris, Interiors, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. But then there’s the other batch, the batch that I’ve tried to watch and enjoy, while failing again and again. Annie Hall and Manhattan are kings of this batch. Don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate their popularity and I don’t doubt their place in the hallowed halls of comedy for one second. I just didn’t enjoy them. I will say this, though. Now that he’s in the twilight of his career, I hope that the rest of his films match the quality of Midnight in Paris.