Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Sleeper (1973)

Then A film I’ve seen so many times, if I’m being honest I can’t actually remember my first viewing. My pre-dvd copy was a late 1997 off-air recording from an Eddie Izzard theme night (Channel Izzard) were he outed it as one of his favourite films. Sadly that tape has been lost in the mists of time (or more precisely a life laundry in the early noughties so therefore the local incinerator) so I can’t say exactly what Izzard thought of the film. But loads of other material from the evening is available on YouTube.

Now A true classic and one of my favourite films. From the script to the performances to photography to design it’s a work which is not just very funny, but intelligent and manages to work as both political satire and valid piece of dystopian science fiction, drawing correctly on everything from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (and more specifically Truffaut’s later film) to Orwell’s 1984, lightly seasoned with some of The Brothers Grimm. It’s also a bloody good screwball comedy. Amazing.

According to Stig Bjorkman’s interview with Woody, the original idea for the film was for an expensive four hour piece, which began with a two hour New York comedy that ended with Miles being frozen, then an intermission and with the rest of the film set 500 years in the future (Dennis Potter’s final plays would execute a similar plan with Karaoke and Cold Lazarus). United Artists loved the idea but ultimately Allen decided it was too big a task so decided to go with the second half and roped in his old tv cohort Marshall Brickman to co-write.

Perhaps that’s the reason why, at this early stage it manages to finally balance the needs of story and comedy. I commented in my Bananas review that Woody hadn’t quite managed to meld his character and comic beats together yet always going for the joke when he needed building up his characters (that’s also true of Don’t Drink The Water). Perhaps Brickman’s nuts and bolts structure man and Woody provided the funny or its simply that with each film he’s gaining in confidence and developing a better idea of what he’s trying to accomplish.

It’s his first film to eschew zany animation or white rabbits for writing on a black background with a jazz soundtrack, though the font is all wrong and too large and there’s no “cast in order of appearance” in brackets at the front. That music was recorded live by Woody himself with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans Funeral Ragtime Orchestra and provides a very post-modern counterpoint to the proceedings especially in relation to the red helmeted state police who come across as nothing more than a high-tec keystone cops.

The costume design is from Joel Schumaker who blaze through the eighties directing the likes of St Elmo’s Fire and Flatliners before blighting us in the nineties with his Batman films (& Robin being the first film I ever walked out of) and never really recovering. Two scenes recall the silent era. When in his android butler make-up, Woody has more than a passing resemblance to Harold Lloyd and the tape machine in the job his given by the administration recalled Chaplin’s Modern Times (and a cut price Metropolis for that matter). Plus – look at the instant cake scene. How did they manage that? No CGI! No CGI! No CGI!

Sleeper has another of Woody's bespoke trailers. Ironically, much of everything he says could later be attributed to Interiors. Apart from the bit about the love story. And it being for the family.

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