Our latest guest in The Overlooked Hotel is a director whose long career has traveled the cinematic landscape from silent-era slapstick to Kafkaesque delusions, from nostalgic whimsy to existential quicksand. Today Woody Allen checks his hat at the The Overlooked.
To celebrate this week’s release of Irrational Man, Allen’s 50th film as a writer or director, we are taking stock of one of cinema’s most eclectic and prolific voices. Few directors are afforded such control over their films, fewer still have his box office endurance and the luxury of understanding producers. In bringing so many stories to our screens it is understandable that some get lost in the mix. Here we hope to shine a light on a few films less well known.
Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
This is the perfect example of a Woody Allen film no-one saw coming. Throwing in the usual existential angst, the generation-spanning ensemble cast and a hint of the European future Allen would invest in heavily a decade later, Everyone Says I Love You is a joy of a film. A big Hollywood style musical with a bent moral compass (a relationship built on eavesdropped information), a number of romantic entanglements loosened and then tied up haphazardly before finding harmony – and Tim Roth as an ex-con in an ill-fitting suit charming all good sense out of Drew Barrymore.
The bittersweet dance scene between Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn on the bank of the Seine is breath-taking and full of good old fashioned movie magic. The novelty of Hollywood’s greatest carrying a tune, or not, is only a small part of the fun. The script is infused with knotty philosophical bon mots and the usual romantic epiphanies without the creeping cynicism of later years. It’s a joy.
Shadows and Fog (1991)
I came to see Shadows and Fog after reading an interview with cinematographer Carlo DiPalma in which he talked about the tonal differences between this film and the following year’s film, Husbands and Wives, which he also shot. The long shadows of German expressionism are well served by Allen’s Kafkaesque story of baying mobs and the maudlin bureaucracy of existence in a strange town under the hand of a serial killer.
It’s another strong cast with Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates, John Cusack, and even Madonna cropping up. It didn’t do well at the box office, the starry cast perhaps being swallowed up in the black and white of the piece; circuses, killer, prostitutes and existential deliberation was a far cry from Crimes and Misdemeanors of two years before. However the twin erosive blows of guilt and paranoia from the 1989 film find a more stark representation in DiPalma’s darkness and the claustrophobic production design of Santo Loquasto.
Take a look at the clip below by way of an example.
It’s well worth your time, Allen’s spiky absurdity in this tale caught out of time is another reminder of the eclectic ability he possesses as a filmmaker.
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Following his Oscar success with Mighty Aphrodite and the aforementioned Everyone Says I Love You this often overlooked film of Allen’s has an author on the way to his old University, with ghosts of his fiction, and his past, travelling with him.
The playful conceit of conversing with literary figments of his imagination is not a new one, neither is the painful retrospection brought on by the bestowing of an honourary degree bold new ground. However it is fertile, there are fewer funnier moments in Allen’s 90s films as when Robin Williams’ (fictional) character finds himself out of focus. It is a perfect representation, as well as a very well realised visual gag,
Often seen as the midway part of a downward slide from the heighty Mighty Aphrodite and the doldrums of his next film, the maligned and jittery Celebrity, while just around the corner lay a step back in time and the sonorous harmony of Sweet and Lowdown.
Another Woman (1988)
Gena Rowlands, Ian Holm and Gene Hackman are the three points on this love triangle, whose web Allen weaves in a tightly wound narrative of discovery and regret. A marriage is dying, an old flame still flickers in the distance, threatening to come closer and the story begins when the voices of a neighbouring therapist and patient are overheard by Rowlands’ despondent professor.
This scene, in which Rowlands discovers the voices, is perfectly shot to convey the strange awakening her character is beginning. It asks us to pose the question of whether the voices she hears are real, or is she now, in her own space, hearing her own years of misunderstood regret bubbling up and breaking the surface. Listen to Rowlands’ delivery, and the deliberate measure of the narrative’s clockwork moving perfectly into place.
Like Michael Caine’s surprising romantic lead role in Hannah and her Sisters, Gene Hackman’s turn against type here is one of the chief reasons to catch up with this film. Ian Holm, Rowlands and Hackman all become imbued with the trademark Allen angst, yet the maturity of the cast and the Autumn years nature of the story marks it out from the, now almost obligatory, May to December romances of his other works.
The previous year’s film, September, and the decade-earlier Interiors are two other examples of Allen’s overtly introspective works. While the director’s turmoil found its way into Stardust Memories (where he gave voice to the nightmarish photo mob and the phrase ‘your earlier, funny ones’), Another Woman can be seen as a disconnected prologue to his next year’s film, the powerful Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Each Allen film can, and should, be seen as its own work and the sheer fecundity of the director means some films are more successful than others. This collection of overlooked gems are hopefully a reminder than even though they have been outshone by the brighter stars in Allen’s oeuvre, they are no less worthy of your time.
Irrational Man, Allen’s 50th film, is out Friday the 11th of September. You can read our 4★ review here.