Sunday, April 27, 2014

#A-TO-Z CHALLENGE – LETTER “W” – WOODY ALLEN

WOODY ALLEN

I was about 15 when I discovered the zany intellectual comedy of Woody Allen. His discourses on existentialism, the philosophy of Kierkegaard, mixed with the slap-stick comedy of Chaplin, made his movies in the late 60s and early 70s, gems of the cinema.

Woody Allen (born Allen Stewart Konigsberg, December 1, 1935) is an actor, director, screenwriter, comedian, musician and playwright whose career span more than 50 years.

He worked as a comedy writer in the 1950s, writing jokes and scripts for the Tee Vee and publishing books of short humor pieces. In the early 1960s, Allen began performing as a stand-up comic emphasizing monologues rather than traditional jokes. As a comic, he developed the persona of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish, which maintains is quite different from his real-lie personality, In 2004, Comedy Central, ranked Allen in fourth place on a list of 100 greatest stand-up comics, while a UK survey ranked Allen as the third greatest comedian.


"To you, I'm an Atheist. To God, I'm the loyal opposition." ~ Woody Allen

By the mid-60s Allen was writing and directing films, first specializing in slapstick comedies before moving into dramatic material influenced by European art cinema during the 1970s. He is often identified as part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmakers of the mid-60s to late 70s. He often stars in his own films, typically in the persona he developed as a standup.


"Life doesn't imitate art. It imitates bad television." ~ Woody Allen

Allen was born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn. His family was Ashkenazi Jewish; his grandparents immigrated from Russia and Austria, and spoke Yiddish, Hewbrew, and German. Allen spoke German quite a bit in his early years. He would later joke that when he was young he was sent to inter-faith summer camps, where he “was savagely beaten by children of all races and creeds”.


"I can't listen to any more Wagner, you know. . . I'm starting to get the urge to conquer Poland." ~Woody Allen

Allen originally started writing for humorist Herb Shriner, earning $25 a week. At 19, he began writing scripts for The Tonight Show, specials for Sid Caesar post-Caesar's Hour (1954-1957) and other television show. He also wrote for Candid Camera later on, and appeared in some episodes.

Allen branched out, writing short stories and cartoon captions for magazines such as The New Yorker; he was inspired by the tradition of four prominent New Yorker humorist, S. J. Perelman, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley and Max Shulman, whose material he modernized. Allen is an accomplised author, with four published collections of his short pieces and plays. I can attest to the humor and zaniness of his written comedy; Getting Even is one of the funniest books I've ever read. Looking at the Table of Contents for Side Effects now makes this a must read.


"I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100." ~Woody Allen
Of all of Allen's movies, his earliest resonate with me the most. His first foray into film, was more like some comedic brew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and horribly-interpreted sci-films, complete with commentary, called What's Up Tiger-Lily. The plot, according to Allen involved the theft of the recipe for the world's greatest egg salad and the recovery of said recipe from evil-overlords by brave Secret Agent. This is all plunked down on top of a cheesy Japanese spy movie, dubbed with idiotic dialogue and crazy sound effects and the results are hilarious.


Compilations of clips from "What's Up Tiger Lily?"

I realize my humor hit some of it's maturation at around the age of 18, but the ludicrous dialogue and funny voices still amuse me. Allen went from here to produce and release several more movies in the late 60s, Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death, which is still one of the best satirical pieces on Russian Literature and characterizations of all time. He followed that up with Manhattan, (all music by George Gershwin, here) Annie Hall and Hanna and Her Sisters


The Marching Band Cello Scene from Take the Money and Run

As a passionate fan of jazz, Allen has featured New Orleans jazz in most of his movies and performed publicly since the late 60s, most notable with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, on his soundtrack for Sleeper. He continues to perform most Monday nights with his jazz ensemble at the Carlysle Hotel in NYC.  


The revival scene in Sleeper, where Woody Allen discovers he's awoken 200 years in the future.

His later movies and projects have garnered him much in the way of fame and innumerable awards; in film direction, production and writing. He has established himself in both America and in Europe as a man of Arts and Letters, and he continues to this day to write and produce plays, movies and play in his jazz ensemble. One of my favorites for his wit and literary style, and for his slapstick, he has proven himself in both sophisticated circles and as a favorite alá his Chaplinesque style in his earlier films. In all of his earlier movies, as well as his later ones, he questioned authority, relationships, and the existence of God. You thought as much as you laughed, which I always enjoyed. In my opinion, the very best humorists, whatever the genre do this; they make us think; they may make us uncomfortable, but that is the only way we develop and expand our own views.

Post a Comment