From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
His large body of work and cerebral film style, mixing satire, wit and humor, have made him one of the most respected and prolific filmmakers in the modern era. Allen writes and directs his movies and has also acted in the majority of them. For inspiration, Allen draws heavily on literature, philosophy, psychology, Judaism, European cinema and New York City, where he was born and has lived his entire life.
Following the example of Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and other auteurs he usually writes, directs, and acts in most of his films. Also like Chaplin, Allen's best movies combine humor with tenderness and pathos. But Allen's film persona is a modern and very verbal one, self-absorbed, full of neuroses, psychobabble, and insecurity. He is thus largely a character actor, who rarely plays roles outside of this persona. Almost all of his own films have been set in Manhattan, providing a sophisticated and somewhat romanticized image of the city as background to his story line.
- Woody Allen has an extensive filmography, available in its entirety at List of Woody Allen films. The remainder of this section includes most of its highlights.
His first movie production was What's New, Pussycat? in 1965, for which he wrote the initial screenplay. He was hired by Warren Beatty to re-write a script, and to appear in a small part. Over the course of the re-write, Beatty's part grew smaller and Allen's grew larger. Beatty was upset and quit the production. Peter O'Toole was hired for the Beatty role, and Peter Sellers was brought in as well; Sellers was a big enough star to demand many of Woody Allen's best lines/scenes, prompting hasty re-writes. This experience with meddling producers, egotistical stars, and directors ruining jokes, along with a similar experience on the James Bond spoof Casino Royale (for which he did uncredited rewrites of his own scenes), led Allen to decide that the only way filmmaking was worthwhile was if he was in control of the film.
1960s and 1970s
In 1972, he also starred in the film version of Play It Again, Sam, which was directed by Herbert Ross. All of Allen's early films were pure comedies that relied heavily on slapstick, inventive sight gags, and non-stop one-liners. Among the many notable influences on these films are Bob Hope, Groucho Marx and Humphrey Bogart. In 1976, he starred in, but did not direct, The Front (that task was handled by Martin Ritt), a humorous and poignant account of Hollywood blacklisting during the 1950s.
Annie Hall marked a major turn to more sophisticated humor and thoughtful drama. Allen's 1977 film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture -- an unusual feat for a comedy. Annie Hall set the standard for modern romantic comedy, and also started a minor fashion trend with the unique clothes worn by Diane Keaton in the film (the offbeat, masculine clothing, such as ties with cardigans, was actually Keaton's own). While in production, its working title was "Anhedonia," a term that means the inability to feel pleasure, and its plot revolved around a murder mystery. Apparently, as filmed, the murder mystery plot didn't work (and was later used in his 1993 Manhattan Murder Mystery), so Allen re-edited and re-cut the movie after production ended to focus on the romantic comedy between Allen's character, Alvy Singer, and Keaton's character, Annie Hall. The new version, retitled Annie Hall (named after Keaton's grandmother), still deals with the theme of the inability to feel pleasure. Ranked at No. 35 on the American Film Institute' s "100 Best Movies" and at No. 4 on the AFI list of "100 Best Comedies," Annie Hall is considered to be among Allen's best.
Manhattan, released in 1979, is a black-and-white film that can be viewed as an homage to New York City, which has been described as the true "main character" of the movie. As in many other Allen films, the main characters are upper-class academics, literati, and occasional twits. Even though it makes fun of pretentious intellectuals, the story is packed with obscure references that makes it less accessible to a general audience. The love-hate opinion of cerebral persons found in Manhattan is characteristic of many of Allen's movies including Crimes and Misdemeanors and Annie Hall. Manhattan focuses on the complicated relationship between a middle-aged Isaac Davis (Allen) and a seventeen-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) -- which presages Allen's complicated personal relationship with under-aged Soon-Yi Previn.
Between Annie Hall and Manhattan Allen wrote and directed the gloomy drama Interiors (1978), in the style of the late Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, one of Allen's major influences. Interiors is considered by critics as a significant breakthrough past Allen's "earlier, funnier comedies" (a line from 1980's Stardust Memories.)
Allen's 1980s films, even the comedies, have somber and philosophical undertones. Some, like September and Stardust Memories, are often said to be heavily influenced by the works of European directors, most notably Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.
Stardust Memories features a main character, a successful filmmaker played by Allen, who expresses resentment and scorn for his fans. Overcome by the recent death of a friend from illness, the character states, "I don't want to make funny movies any more," and a running gag throughout the film has various people (including a group of visiting space aliens) telling Bates that they appreciate his work, "especially the early, funny ones".
However, by the mid-1980s, Allen had begun to combine tragic and comic elements with the release of such films as Hannah and Her Sisters (winner of three Academy Awards) starring British actor Michael Caine, and Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which he tells two different stories that connect at the end. He also produced a vividly idiosyncratic tragi-comical parody of documentary, titled Zelig.
He also made three films about show business. The first movie is Broadway Danny Rose, in which he plays a Hollywood manager; then, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a movie that shows the importance of the cinema during the Depression though the character of the naive Cecilia. Lastly, Allen made Radio Days, which is a film about the radio business and how its crew became rich and famous. Purple Rose was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best films of all time, and Allen has described it as one of his three best films, along with Stardust Memories and Match Point. (It is worth noting that Allen defines them as "best" not in terms of quality, but because they came out the closest to his original vision.)
Before the end of the eighties he made other movies that were strongly inspired by Ingmar Bergman's films. September is a remake of Autumn Sonata, and Allen uses many elements from Persona in Another Woman.
His 1992 film Shadows and Fog (1992) is a black and white homage to German expressionists and features the music of Kurt Weill.He then made his critically aclaimed drama Husbands and Wives (1992) which got two oscar nominations Best Supporting Actress for Judy Davis and Best Original Screenplay for Allen. His film Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) combined suspense with dark comedy, and starred Diane Keaton, Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston.
In the late 1990s he returned to lighter movies, such as Bullets Over Broadway (1994), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The musical Everyone Says I Love You (1996) was Allen's first (and, to this point, only) musical. The singing and dancing scenes in Everyone Says I Love You are similar to the musical starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but the plot is comical. The comedy Mighty Aphrodite (1995), in which the Greek and Roman tragedies play a large role, won an Academy Award for Mira Sorvino. Allen's 1999 jazz mockumentary Sweet and Lowdown was also nominated for two Academy Awards for Sean Penn (Best Actor) and Samantha Morton (Best Supporting Actress). In contrast to these lighter movies, Allen veered scathingly dark and satirical towards the end of the 1990s with Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Celebrity (1998). Allen made his only sitcom "appearance" via telephone in the 1997 episode, "My Dinner with Woody" of the show Just Shoot Me!, an episode paying tribute to several of his films.
Small Time Crooks (2000) was his first film with DreamWorks SKG studio and represented a change in direction: Allen began giving more interviews and made an apparent return to his strictly comedy roots. Small Time Crooks was a relative success, grossing over $17 million domestically, but Allen's next 4 films foundered at the box office, including Allen's most expensive film to date, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (with a budget of $33 million). Hollywood Ending, Anything Else, and Melinda and Melinda were given "rotten" ratings from film-review website Rotten Tomatoes and each earned less than $5 million domestically. Most critics agreed that Allen's films since 1999's Sweet and Lowdown were subpar, and some critics expressed concern that Allen's best years were now behind him.
Match Point (2005) was one of Allen's most successful films in the past ten years and generally received very positive reviews. Set in London, it starred Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansson. It is also markedly darker than Allen's first four films under the DreamWorks SKG banner. Match Point earned more than $23 million domestically (more than any of his films in nearly 20 years) and earned over $62 million in international box office. Match Point earned Allen his first Academy Award nomination since 1998 for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and directing and writing nominations at the Golden Globes, his first Globe nominations since 1987. In an interview with Premiere Magazine, Allen stated this was the best film he has ever made.
Allen returned to London to film Scoop, which also starred Johansson, as well as Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally. The film was released on July 28, 2006, and received mixed reviews. He has also filmed Cassandra's Dream in London. Cassandra's Dream stars Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Wilkinson and is expected to be released in November 2007.
After finishing his third London film, Allen headed to Spain. He reached an agreement to film his current project in Barcelona, where shooting started on July 9th 2007. The movie will star international and Spanish actors and actresses, including Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Patricia Clarkson, and Penélope Cruz.
Allen has said that he "survives" on the European market. Audiences there have tended to be more receptive to Allen's films, particularly France, a country where he has a large fan base (something joked about in Hollywood Ending). "In the United States things have changed a lot, and it's hard to make good small films now," Allen said in a 2004 interview. "The avaricious studios couldn't care less about good films - if they get a good film they're twice as happy, but money-making films are their goal. They only want these $100 million pictures that make $500 million".
It has been rumoured he will write/direct a segment for the upcoming film New York, I Love You.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, filmed in London, stars Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Anupam Kher, Freida Pinto and Naomi Watts. Filming started in July 2009. It was released theatrically in the US on September 23, 2010, following a Cannes debut in May 2010, and a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2010. Allen announced that his next film would be titled Midnight in Paris, starring Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, Gad Elmaleh and French First Lady Carla Bruni. The film followed a young engaged couple in Paris who see their lives transformed. It debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2011. Allen said he wanted to "show the city emotionally," during the press conference. "I just wanted it to be the way I saw Paris – Paris through my eyes," he added. Midnight in Paris has overthrown Hannah and Her Sisters as Allen's most successful film at the box office in the United States. It has also opened to much critical acclaim, and has been considered by many critics to mark his return to form. His next film, To Rome with Love, was a Rome-set comedy released in 2012. The film was structured in four different vignettes featuring dialogue in both Italian and English. It marked Allen's return to acting since his last role in Scoop.
"Woody Allen" character
Allen continues to write roles for the neurotic persona he created in the 1960s and 1970s; however, as he gets older, the roles have been assumed by other actors such as John Cusack (Bullets Over Broadway), Kenneth Branagh (Celebrity), Jason Biggs (Anything Else), and Will Ferrell (Melinda and Melinda).