A Tale of Two Woodys

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.

Believe it or not, the same guy who made this...

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.

...also made this.

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.

How you can spot a Woody Allen film, without fail.

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.


16 Comments

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16 responses to “A Tale of Two Woodys

  1. “Woody Allen’s Favorite Typeface” is now the new name of the band!

  2. Phil

    I’ve seen 29 Allen films, more than any other director – Hitchcock is 2nd with 26. I’m not that big of a fan, I just almost always put the new Allen film in my queue. I’d put ‘Take the Money and Run’ as my favorite old Allen film, but that may be a sentimental choice. I saw it when I was really young and I loved it. ‘Sleeper’ and ‘Love and Death’ are classics. ‘Annie Hall’ is one my all-time favorite films, so I refuse to acknowledge your dismissal of it!

    • Ha… I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who hasn’t gone bananas for him. Pun intended, I guess.

      Love and Death was my introduction to him, believe it or not. You’d think it would’ve been the heavyweights like Annie Hall. I was on my first huge Bergman binge, and a friend of mine who loves both Bergman and Allen pushed me in that direction.

  3. The Woodman is quite a challenge to try to follow. When he directs a Dud like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger he comes back with a Midnight in Paris. I can honestly say that I am a fan and even in his worst films I find satisfactions. My favorite is Crimes and Misdemeanors and I have a soft spot for hias two masterpieces Manhattan and Annie Hall too.

    • Yep, even his “lesser” films have their fans amongst film critics and audiences. Even if he’s not making great films, he makes films that his fans will enjoy.

  4. Craig

    If we’re comparing Woody’s then I think I win by having seen them all.

    I really enjoyed this article and tried to think of a good reply but there’s little to add to this article.

    He doesn’t hide the fact that he thinks that drama is a more worthy art form than comedy, though he clearly does the latter better than the former.

    I’d recommend checking out Melinda and Melinda which presents this in it’s starkest form. some friends are arguing over dinner whether drama or comedy is better. They then proceed to tell the same story, one comically, one dramatically and the film is these two stories running in paralell.

    As a film it’s rather unevan with the comedy sections (featuring good turns by Will Ferrell and the wonderful Amanda Peet) being quite a bit better than the drama sections, but it’s worth checking out for the structure alone.

    That’s one of the things I think is great about Allen, he never stops experimenting in one manner or another and the last film before he became the media’s darling once again with Match Point.

    • That’s a lot of great insight about Woody and the way he views comedy v. drama. He might not hide it, but I honestly didn’t know that he felt that way. It makes a ton of sense.

      You absolutely nailed it about his experimentation. He has his tropes, of course, but he has managed to remain fresh for 40+ years.

  5. I’m very much in the same boat as you in the fact that I didn’t find Annie Hall to be “greatly” enjoyable. I can see why people loved it but I just didn’t love it myself. On the other hand, I really liked Midnight in Paris and Match Point and hope he will have a few more like those up his sleeves before he calls it a career.

  6. PS: Seems like you forgot to close an italic argument somewhere 😉

  7. I am not a fan of Woody at all. I liked Midnight in Paris, but I didn’t go nuts for it. Maybe because I saw it on a 7″ screen whilst on a plane, but I thought it was sweet.

    I get fed up with his way of writing, and the fact that he comes over like an utter perv… sorry.

    • Ha… no need to apologize to me, Scott. A lot of his earlier films definitely have scenes that take on a seriously creepy factor put into the context of the rest of his life.

  8. rtm

    I didn’t know Woody uses a certain typeface for his films… Windsor-EF Elongated, wow that is quite specific. I’m not familiar with his earlier work so this is enlightening indeed John, thanks.

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