Woodython Five (11) – For Hire

“…it seemed to me like a very standard film persona for a comedian. Someone who is a physical coward, who lusts after women, who is good hearted but ineffectual and clumsy and nervous. All standard things that you’ve seen in different disguises. In Charlie Chaplin or W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx there’s the same things but in different forms. But the structural underbase was the same thing, as I view it.”

Woody Allen on Woody Allen

I wouldn’t say that I have been obsessive about the Woodython in 2013, but I was literally watching MELINDA MELINDA (2004) at the eleventh hour of 31st December, much to the annoyance of Mrs Dirk who almost missed Mel C’s barnstorming performance on the Hootenanny.

This is the penultimate Woodython Five and features films that Woody has appeared in as a performer. He gave a critically lauded performance in THE FRONT (1976) but he focused on appearing in his own films for over 10 years until the late 1980s, when audiences for his own productions began to wane.

Why are other directors so keen to feature Woody in their films? Its not like he’s a box office draw. He hardly qualifies as a marque-name. However, he does have a clearly defined persona that film-makers find interesting to either work against (SCENES FROM A MALL) or to exaggerate (ANTZ). He has a clearly defined range and within this range he is a spot on performer and always engaging to watch on the screen.

What’s in it for Woody? His reasons can be summarised in to two categories “an interesting favour” (KING LEAR, ANTZ (for Jeffery Katzenberg)) or “for the money” (PICKING UP THE PIECES).

I have to make a confession. Despite my last minute mugging to reach the target, I haven’t seen his performance in FADING GIGOLO (Turturro, US, 2013). In my defence, it had a very limited release in the UK. I promise that I’ll catch up with it as soon as I can. That’s ok, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

I’m getting hives here.

Mr Alien (a Fool) in KING LEAR (Godard, 1987)

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mmm … As with many of Godard’s work in this period, I’m not sure whether I’m part of the joke, or whether it really is self-indulgent tripe. Am I supposed to laugh with him? Or, laugh with him? In either case I’m not really laughing.

An ancestor of Shakespeare is restoring the great bard’s work in a metaphorical rebuilding of the world following a terrible nuclear disaster. The action takes place in Swiss Resort with Molly Ringwald quoting blank verse as if it really matters.

Woody’s part is small, he is a film editor seen fumbling through rolls and rolls of films. There are no small roles, only small actors, and Woody uses his fumbling hands to interesting effect.

I was drunk while watching this, I’m not sure it helped.

Nick Fifer in SCENES FROM A MALL (Mazursky, 1991)

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Woody plays a hot-shot LA sports agent who is married to author Deborah (Bette Midler). They are about to celebrate their wedding anniversary when he confesses to having an affair. There is a farcical interchange of their relationship being switched on and off as they walk through a shopping mall.

Woody’s character is the kind of man he’s always hated: shallow, wears a pony-tail and hates New Yorkers. There is a definite comic chemistry between him and Midler in the opening 20 minutes, but it seems to run out of steam quicker than the running joke featuring a mime-artist.

Al Lewis in THE SUNSHINE BOYS (Erman, US, 1996)

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I enjoyed this Neil Simon’s adaptation of his own play more than I was expecting. It was a ‘made for TV’ effort for Hallmark, but the script sparkles; as you would expect from Simon.

Woody and Peter Falk shine as two retired vaudeville stars who are reunited, for one-last-job, by Sarah  Jessica Parker. Woody plays down his persona.The central role is Falk, who is the  more ‘difficult’ character who is disengaged from the modern world.

Falk: I invented comedy!
Woody: The same night you designed the Titanic.

Z-4195 in ANTZ (Darnell, Johnson, US, 1998)

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I saw this at the time of its release when there was much fuss about Dreamworks pulling the rug from under Pixar’s A BUGS LIFE (1998). Look up the scenes from Walter Isaacson’s brilliant biography to see Steve Job’s phlegmatic response to Katzenberg rolling the tanks into their ant hill.

Woody clearly influenced the script in his nebbish depiction of an ant who wants to separate himself from the crowd as it is peppered with Woody-like lines. He talks to his analyst about his angst:

“I have a fear of confined spaces… childhood anxieties … middle child syndrome in a family of 5 million …”

There are some interesting set pieces, but if I was given a choice between the darkness of Z’s anthill or Flick’s in THE BUG’S LIFE , I think I’d go for the day-glo pixar world. Sorry.

Tex Cowley in PICKING UP THE PIECES (Arau, US, 2000)

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Woody has a brief, but significant, role as a cabaret act who kills and cuts up his unfaithful wife Candy (Sharon Stone). He loses some of the body parts as he tries to bury them in the desert of New Mexico. He brings along that passive aggressive schtick that he puts on for SMALL TIME CROOKS.

A blind woman trips over the hand (which is giving ‘the bird’) and her sight is brought back. She hails her discovery as an indulgence. “The Hand of Mary” which attracts all kinds of characters in a screw-ball, surreal farce, including David Schwimmer as a priest and Kiefer Sutherland as a gun-toting something or other.

I was drunk while watching this and I’m sure it helped.

2 responses to “Woodython Five (11) – For Hire

  1. I actually enjoyed scenes from a mall but yes it was due to bette and woody, they can make any movie good.

    As for antz, love it and woody is great as usual with his lines. Antz for me rather than A bugs life.

    Great reviews and haven’t seen king lear (hadn’t even heard about it. Ooohh) but will remedy that if I can.

    • I enjoyed SCENES too, but I think it gets bored with itself about two thirds through.

      ANTZ is ok but seems grim in comparison to A BUGS LIFE as Pixar have more creative chutzpah. That said they both look a bit tired now!

      Woody’s role in LEAR is more of a cameo than a full appearance!

      Thanks for commenting – it’s good to get feedback. The Woodython has been a labour of love.

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