“Show business is dog eat dog. Its more than dog eats dog. It’s dog doesn’t return the other dog’s phone calls.”
Crimes and Misdemeanors
“Write about what you know,” is a well-worn adage delivered to creative writing students everywhere. What if ‘what you know’ is marked by being famous in a narrow Park Avenue square?
Watching the Woodython in 2013 has revealed a number of thematic trends, repeated motifs and common stylistic devices; none more enduring than his concern with all things show-biz and celebrity.
Woody is interested in the capricious nature of fame and how the pursuit of it can corrupt the human spirit. Roberto Benigni (TO ROME, WITH LOVE (2012)) becomes suddenly famous and his mundane life as an office worker is transformed; paparazzi hound him at every opportunity and reporters demand his views on breakfast, his underwear and the weather. As suddenly as his fame appears, it goes away, and he is reduced to tears when the public are no longer interested in his autograph.
Organised crime and show business seem to have a mutually exclusive relationship in the Woodyverse too. A celebrity and a gangster make similar choices: they need to sacrifice parts of their lives, their integrity, in exchange for rich prizes. The hierarchal structure, the network of protection and the ruthlessness are shared qualities that he brings together in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994), for example: John Cusak’s writer is willing to compromise his ideals to finance his play, by agreeing to having mob-moll Jennifer Tilly in the cast. In CELEBRITY, high-profile TV producer, Joe Mantegna, is bombarded for requests for favours by his family and friends – seats in the best restaurants, tickets for the game …
“What am I, Don Corleone?”
Woody has a complex relationship with his own fame. On the one-hand he apparently shuns publicity, unless it is within his closely defined terms, on the other, he was famous for his white Rolls Royce that would take him and his girlfriends to parties. He would frequent Elaine’s on the Upper East-side which was the hang out of writers and East Coast Hollywood stars (its now gone, but features in CELEBRITY).
There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low…
STARDUST MEMORIES (1980)
One of my personal favourites. A journey inside the head of Sandy Bates, a film director who is hassled by studio executives, his agent, his secretary and his fans. The opening sequence is a perfect illustration of my view of life. Woody sits in a mundane train, waiting in the station, he looks across to another train carriage where there is a party taking place, a young Sharon Stone blows him a kiss, so he wants to get off and join the other train, but it’s too late, the train has left the station.
Its a great film as it pays homage to Fellini’s 8 1/2 with a distinctive Woody-ness to it as he began to find confidence in his writing, find skill as a director, but it failed to find an audience.
A technical triumph with unparalleled chutzpah. The story of Leonard Zelig is a flawless mockumentary that is brilliantly funny while having a satirical edge that Woody has never been able to match. Zelig’s desire to fit in results in him transforming, adopting the characteristics and appearance of those strong personalities around him. F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the first to notice him espousing Republican sympathies in the living room while acting like a Democrat amongst the kitchen staff.
His talent/ affliction becomes a cultural phenomena. The Human Chameleon becomes a celebrity in the 1920s with his very own popular song and range of merchandise. He is rescued by psychoanalyst Mia Farrow and issues an apology for his behaviour:
“And to the, to the gentleman who’s appendix I took out, I…I’m, I don’t know what to say, if it’s any consolation I… I may still have it somewhere around the house.”
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)
Derek Malcolm’s selection to represent Woody for a century of cinema.
It is one that has grown on me over the years as I’ve become to appreciate Woody performance as Danny Rose, a fabled Broadway manager of hopeless cases who picks up Lou Canova, a singer who’s career is enjoying an up-surge.
Danny acts as a ‘beard’ to divert attention from an affair that Lou is having with Tina, an ex-gangster’s moll, played by Mia Farrow (against type, with sun-glasses on for the most part). It recreates the ambience of the smoke-filled cafe-culture of Broadway agents perfectly, as they relate the anecdote of what happened to Danny and Tina. There are some great set-pieces along the way, with the shoot out in warehouse filled with helium being one of the best.
Let’s put to one-side Kenneth Brannagh’s cloying impression of Woody (which is not as bad as I remembered) as a celebrity journalist bed-hopping with starlets. Let’s put Judy Davies aside in a reprisal of the cigarette girl story from RADIO DAYS – she is Brannagh’s ex-wife who’s self esteem has taken a knock, but the end of the film she is the darling of day-time TV gossip. While we are at it, lets push to the side, the wearisome plot about Brannagh falling for the ingenue Winona Ryder AND the publishers’ editor Famke Janssen who offers beauty, intelligence and an opportunity to realise his ambitions as a writer, but he goes for the sexy young girl instead.
When all that stuff is out of the way, there is something interesting left behind: a biting, yet funny interrogation of the role of celebrity in American life. From the aggressive, coke addled amorality of Leonardo Capriro to the vacuous Donald Trump (playing himself) who announces that he intends to knock down the St Patricks Cathedral to create another monstrous carbuncle on the skyline. Behind the humour there is a sense of exasperation that celebrity has become so common-place that hostages become lionised, for ‘getting caught’.
There’s also the pushy wannabes that appear in STARDUST MEMORIES who are pushed forward by even pushier agents. Ultimately, Woody seems mostly cross about the lack of imagination in modern celebrity culture; a Hollywood producer announces his intention to recreate BIRTH OF A NATION, “with all black actors”.
There are many that do not like this film, but I can see much to enjoy, and it was one of the first films that I saw at the cinema with Dom-Dirk, and for that reason alone, it deserves a special mention.
HOLLYWOOD ENDING (2002)
A sub-title for this film could be: whatever happened to Sandy Bates. Woody reprises the role of a director, but this time he is late in his career with his glory days behind him. Tea Leoni (giving an icy cold performance) is his ex-wife who takes pity on him and arranges for him to be a director on a high profile project.
During the shooting, he develops a psychosomatic blindness, that he needs to hide from his employers. Woody attempting to hold together a conversation with the studio executive as he negotiates the room while blind is very funny.
The film he produces is terrible and bombs, but is appreciated in France.
HOLLYWOOD ENDING was a disaster for Dreamworks.
It wasn’t distributed in the UK … but it was a hit in France.
- Film: Watch This: Woody Allen plays a human shapeshifter in Zelig (avclub.com)
- Summer Obsession (christinepoveda.wordpress.com)
- Woody Allen’s glasses: the glasses of a seducer (blickers.com)
- Woody Allen: Portraits of the Neurotic as a Young Man (life.time.com)
- Every Woody Allen movie ever made – ranked best to worst (metronews.ca)
- Woody Allen’s 10 Most Underrated Movies (flavorwire.com)