Woody Allen may seem a far cry from the other people I’ve written about in this section (David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and Charlie Kaufman). But regardless of that, he’s still had a profound influence on me as an aspiring filmmaker. Plus, who would want to read about heavyweight dramatic directors or surrealist headfuckers all the time? Variety is, the spice of life.
It’s an obvious one, but a good one. Since the mid 1970’s, Woody Allen has released a film every year. Someone in Woody Allen: A Documentary (I forget who) said that “the moment he finishes editing one film, he starts writing the next one”. It’s an admirably ethic, and of course, something to aspire to, to be able to keep making films at such a steady rate, especially considering his age (he’s 76). Hell, even David Cronenberg said that, by releasing films a year apart (he’s currently working on his follow up to Cosmopolis I think) is him “doing a Woody Allen.”
Of course, a film a year can lead to some bad work (I loathed Vicky Christina Barcelona), but it can also lead to a streak of fantastic, endlessly watchable films (just look at his output in the 80’s). And as long as a filmmaker can remain talented, then they’ll always produce more good than bad.
Allen is more versatile than people think. Period.
Look no further than the physical comedy of Sleeper, the heartfelt romance of Annie Hall, the creative meditations of Stardust Memories and the powerful, searing drama of Husbands and Wives.
That’s right, these four films, all wildly different, have one thing in common – the inimitable Mr. Allen.
Then you can look at his work outside of film – his standup comedy, his book of short stories, his Broadway plays. He’s so much more than that guy that churns out a slightly different rom-com every year, and how can a filmmaker not want to be as versatile and adept at doing so many different things behind, in front of, and even away from the camera.
Writing comedy is a total nightmare. I’ve tried it several times and I just can’t quite get to grips with it yet. But Allen does it so well, so effortlessly, from his standup work that leads to a fantastic punchline (The Moose is a testament to this) to simple one liners, like the end of Love & Death – “I’m dead and they’re talking about wheat.”
The way Allen writes comedy just feels natural, so imbued into his characters and sensibility, it all works wonderfully. And that’s the best thing about the way he writes it, they rarely feel just like cheap one liners, they always feel like viable things that one of his characters would say. Who else but Isaac from Manhattan would say “of the two of us I was not the immoral, psychotic, promiscuous one.” His jokes work as more than just jokes, they work as elements of these characters.
The way Allen’s films are shot is nothing short of wonderful. Of course this is as much to do with the cinematographer than Allen himself, but the way the shots are constructed, the placement of the characters, it all feels so natural and real. Creating shots that look like they’re showing a piece of life so effortlessly is difficult, and to see it done so effortlessly is quite something.
Words really can’t describe how these things influence me, because it’s difficult to explain that with images, so I’ll just let the images (a few shots from Manhattan) speak for themselves.
If this image in particular doesn’t prove my point, then I’m afraid that nothing will.
Getting great performances
Allen, particularly in the 70’s and 80’s managed to get consistently fantastic performances out of two wonderful actresses, Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. Both woman give their career best performances in Allen films, Keaton in Annie Hall and Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose.
As an aspiring director, there’s something about seeing these performances, and the skill of Allen, who writes these excellent roles and helps the actresses realize them, that is influential in a simple way. That it’s more than possible to consistently create good characters, and help to get performances that can further elevate them.
Last, and of course not least, is Allen’s almost peerless skill as a writer, from his characters, to his jokes, to his wonderfully emotional endings:
“Not everybody gets so corrupted. You’ve gotta have a little faith in people.” – Manhattan
“For the first time in a long time, I felt at peace.” – Another Woman
How can you not be inspired by such brilliant writing?
That’s… Well, that’s it for Mr. Allen I suppose. I’m not quite sure how to best end this post though, but perhaps this image from Stardust Memories can sum it up best.