Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: September (1987)



Then As I’m sure has become apparent, in the years before the internet, or at least I had proper access to the internet, finding Woody Allen films in Liverpool, at least the more “obscure” works, was rather like trying to seek out new Beatles recordings in the Soviet Union. The local HMV always had the likes of Manhattan and Annie Hall in the video section, perhaps some of the earlier, funny ones, but not Zelig, unless there were dozens of rabid fans grabbing copies before I got there. But I’d keep checking. Eventually September turned up in the Virgin Megastore and I snapped it up at full price, even though I was unemployed. Excitedly I watched it that afternoon. God, I was bored. I liked the house (apparently modelled on Mia’s own property) but throughout I wondered: “Who are these people? Why do I care about their problems?”

Now, I found it a deeply moving film with intelligently selected music (the Art Tatum is available on Spotify. Granted, it’s essentially a soap opera featuring middle class people and their relationship issues, no more visceral than an average episode of Eastenders (based on the one episode of Eastenders I’ve watched this decade) but there’s something very British about how all of the character’s emotions are pent up and though people say what they’re really feeling, it’s stuttering and piecemeal and always forbidden. I identified somewhat with Mia’s character, not because of her murderous matriarch, but the lack of inertia and the desperate personal disappointment of being profoundly unable to take the next step. Any similarity to Denham Elliot who seems to be on the edge of the drama also turning up at the end of scenes having missed the context and being left with the emotional clear-up is purely coincidental.

Famously, September is the film which Woody preoduced twice, one of the few occasions when a remake has been released without its predecessor seeing the light of day. The original version of September was shot and edited with Christopher Walken then Sam Shepherd as Peter, Maureen O'Sullivan as Diane and Charles Durning as Howard. Woody wasn’t happy with the results, some of the performances and also how he’d paced some of the scenes, so instead of using his four week pick-up period to retool what he already had, he went back in and rewrote and reshot the film all over again with Sam Waterson, Elaine Stritch and Denholm Elliott in the aforementioned roles which must have been a strange process for the remaining cast members, if fairly analogous to a theatre production where actors come and go all of the time. I’ve always wondered how Shephard, O’Sullivan and Durning found out that their collaboration with Woody Allen would never see the light of day …

New nu-Who new trailer.

TV When I was a little boy I dreamt of ... Well, I don't think you want to know what I dreamt of ...



The trailer and clips are coming thick and fast. This offers far more visual information about the new series. As well as a surprise monster return and the tantalising glimpse of the back of someone running towards Stonehenge in a sheepskin coat the general feel is more daylight, less gel lighting, old school look for the Daleks and lots and lots of space.

Incidentally, that little girl from the clip. Having read farther than I should have into this spoilery review from Scott at The Stage blog, I think I've fallen into a very large me shaped trap.

New nu-Who new trailer.

TV When I was a little boy I dreamt of ... Well, I don't think you want to know what I dreamt of ...



The trailer and clips are coming thick and fast. This offers far more visual information about the new series. As well as a surprise monster return and the tantalising glimpse of the back of someone running towards Stonehenge in a sheepskin coat the general feel is more daylight, less gel lighting, old school look for the Daleks and lots and lots of space. Incidentally, that little girl from the clip. Having read farther than I should have into this spoilery review from Scott at The Stage blog, I think I've fallen into a very large me shaped trap.

New nu-Who.

TV There are people in the world now who aren't in the production team who've seen the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who due to the press launch tonight. They're talking about it on twitter or tossing about huge spoilers in reviews. The overall opinion is very positive, generally saying it's different but still brilliant.

I feel much as I did at about this time five years ago, unbelievably excited and desperately nervous at the same time (insert my usual football analogy here). It's a clean slate, albeit with some of the original chalk markings still apparent here and there. Luckily, this time, in interviews, the star isn't curiously talking about his role in the past tense ...



... and look at that a whole few seconds of the new episode. Isn't he great? Abrupt and charming and not talking down to the small girl. Reminds me somewhat of the relationship Eccleston had with the kids in The Empty Child. My guess about who the small child is? That it's Amy and the five minute jump will turn out to be fifteen years like Renette in The Girl In The Fireplace.

For the next ten days those precious few minutes will equal the Zapruder film for being poured over looking for clues ...

New nu-Who.

TV There are people in the world now who aren't in the production team who've seen the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who due to the press launch tonight. They're talking about it on twitter or tossing about huge spoilers in reviews. The overall opinion is very positive, generally saying it's different but still brilliant.

I feel much as I did at about this time five years ago, unbelievably excited and desperately nervous at the same time (insert my usual football analogy here). It's a clean slate, albeit with some of the original chalk markings still apparent here and there. Luckily, this time, in interviews, the star isn't curiously talking about his role in the past tense ...



... and look at that a whole few seconds of the new episode. Isn't he great? Abrupt and charming and not talking down to the small girl. Reminds me somewhat of the relationship Eccleston had with the kids in The Empty Child. My guess about who the small child is? That it's Amy and the five minute jump will turn out to be fifteen years like Renette in The Girl In The Fireplace. For the next ten days those precious few minutes will equal the Zapruder film for being poured over looking for clues ...

Watching (almost) all (as it turns out now) of Woody Allen's films in order: King Lear (1987)



Then Or rather not then. Not now even, not really. Surprisingly for such a renowned director, Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear is a rarity on home formats. But in attempting to track down a copy I found some sources …

- Amazon.com has ex-rental VHS copies from secondary sellers, the cheapest of which is $87.99 US.
- A company called LearMedia in Canada offers what look like bootlegs of this VHS on sale for $27.99 US.
- The film was released on proper dvd. In Italy. Someone in the US is selling a copy at £23.99 plus postage. Which looked like the most obvious option until I saw …
- A video website called Veoh with a free to watch but poor quality version provided you have their proprietorial video player, then …
- … this BardFilm blogpost which has a clip from the film and Woody’s entire contribution which lasts for about two minutes and …

… decided to watch that instead. Which I did about fifteen minutes ago. But obviously as a Molly Ringwald completest I will have to get around to the whole thing, presumably when I’m watching all of Molly Ringwald’s films in order and when the process is more cost effective. Shot in the same year as Pretty In Pink. Amazing.

Now The main draw of that clip is hearing Woody speaking Shakespeare’s real verse after he mangled it so entertainingly in Sex*. Interesting that in both projects he played the fool. His delivery is quite dry and somewhat like his voiceover for Radio Days. But it is profoundly disappointing after all of these years since first reading about the film at university in the 90s to discover that it is just a cameo and there are no shots of him crouching meaningfully with a Lear figure in the wilderness.

For his part, Woody had this to say to Stig Bjorkman on the experience:
“That was a unique experience, because I love Godard’s work. I never saw that movie. But he asked me, he was here, came into this room and asked me if I would like to be in his King Lear. For him I would have done anything because he’s one of the really great masters. And he said it would only take a few hours in the morning. So I went over to the place where they were filming, and he was in his bathrobe, with his cigar, directing. He had a very small crew, like three people or something. One cameraman, one sound person and somebody else. It couldn’t be more sparse. And I felt while was doing it, this is going to be a very silly movie. A very foolish movie. But I thought, this is for Godard. And I got a chance to meet him. Then I left and I’ve never heard about the movie since. I never saw it.”
Apparently Godard only read the first and last few pages of the play and went from there which rather explains things. Only The Cinema has a longer review.

Emergency: Liverpool Twestival seeks venue

Liverpool Life The Liverpool Twestival is happening next Thursday 25th but as was announced earlier on their twitter feed, the venue (who shall remain nameless) has dropped out.

If you are a venue that has a window next Thursday night and you think you can accommodate about a hundred Tweeters, a band, a raffle and other fun and games, please contact the Twestival organisers via their website.

Or their twitter feed. Or email me feelinglistless@btopenworld.com and I'll pass you on to the organisers. Thanks.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Interlude.



Now I do hope you're enjoying the latest mini-blogbuster. I appreciate that some of you might not be Woody Allen fans and the kind of not Woody Allen fans who'll remain unconvinced by my meanderings. Now that I've built up some momentum I'll try to offer some variety. But I do tend to write about the kinds of things which are happening to me at a given moment and at the given moment I'm watching Woody Allen films. A lot. Though I don't think I'm going to make my artificial Easter deadline.

For those of you who are trying to follow along, there are a couple of things I wanted to mention which may be getting away from me but wouldn't fit into one of the review posts.

(1) These aren't reviews in the traditional sense. They're reactions, the first thing which comes into my head moments after I finish watching one of the films and sit at the keyboard. I'm never entirely happy with what I've written, but I'm slowly coming to realise that like the Hitchcock posts there seems little point in simply replicating the volumes of material and excellent reviews already online. If you want something more coherent, can I recommend Roger Ebert? Try search under in the advanced options.

(2) Somehow they always seem to average at about seven hundred and fifty words. I have no idea why. And like a Woody Allen film that goes over ninety minutes, anything longer always feels slightly ponderous.

(3) I was inspired by this article from Joe Queenan about watching everything Ingmar Bergman directed. The original plan was to watch everything then write a parody of Queenan's article, the joke being that I'd been inspired by someone watching Bergman's films to watch Allen's films just as Woody was inspired by watching Ingmar's films to make his films more like Ingmar's. But then I thought, why write one blog post when I can write sixty?

(4) For those of you reading through RSS: I've updated the title bar on the blog for the first time in half a decade. See if you can guess who it is.

(5) I mentioned them in the Stardust Memories post, but my main guides on this j-word are:

Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In conversation with Stig Bjorkman

and

The Woody Allen Companion by Stephen Spignesi


Both are early nineties editions, horrendously out of date, but often very insightful which is why they're forever cropping up in this text. I am looking at Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking by Eric Lax to help cover the nineties and noughties.

I'll certainly need the moral support.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Radio Days (1987)



Then Aptly, after thinking about this for days, I can’t remember when I first saw Radio Days, but that’s because for a period in the early nineties I’d watch it practically every weekend, one of a group of films which included The Big Chill (“What are you watching?” “Don’t know.” “What's it about?” “The man in the hat did something bad …”) and Adventures In Babysitting (“Nobody leave this place without singin’ the blues…”). Imagine my surprise, years later, noticing William H Macy as an extra.

Now In this period in the UK when the very nature of what radio should be doing is open to discussion, Radio Days is a reminder that at its heart it's about information and entertainment, aspiration and connectivity. Obviously since the 1930s and 40s other media have taken hold and provided those things, but radio still exists and arguably the one communication form which provides a feeling of community. That’s why the crushing of 6Music and the Asian Network has created such passion – for a group of people, millions, they’re their meeting spaces, the points of similarity and familiarity between them.

It’s also a reminder that sometimes, media ends. Television programmes are cancelled. Newspapers close. DJs retire. And whole radio stations are dismantled. At some point in the future even if it’s saved now, 6Music will go, gone to join our collective memory. Perhaps some future film maker will work a fictionalised version of it into their story including Lauren Laverne as a Sally White figure though presumably with slightly more mundane stories connected to her (“Remember when she accidentally egged that group on to swear on the radio? God, I miss Kenickie …”) but she will endure. It all will. Even bloody George Lamb.

Radio Days is the subject of the volumous book, Woody Allen On Location. Author Thierry de Navacelle was on set every day from the November 1985 to May 1986 and like a court stenographer catalogues seemingly everything which happened in minute detail from the weather to the mood Woody was in that day to the content of every take. It’s fascinating and demystifying in equal measure. I’ve never been able to read it cover to cover because I don’t really want to know exactly how films are made, I like to have some of the magic retained. It’s one thing to hear an anecdote on a dvd commentary, quite another to be able to list all the days when shooting had to stop because of bad light.

A brief word on casting. Robert Altman is the director who was usually renowned for being able to marshal huge range of recognisable faces, but the cast of Radio Days is volumous and features representatives from nearly all of his previous films. Even Jeff Daniels, in the same year that Something Wild smashed, turns up in a tiny role as a radio adventurer. It’s the only film to feature both Mia and Diane Keaton, luminously lit from the front singing the closing song like a ghost from Christmas past. It should be distracting, but each of them is so perfectly cast between Allen and Juliet Taylor that it instead has the effect of adding to the nostalgic reverie as we think back, but just to radio days, but to Woody’s earlier work.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Meetin' WA (1986)

Then For quite some time before starting this project, I wonder abut the extent to which I should include television credits or projects in which Woody appeared as himself. There are a multitude listed at the Imdb, including contributions to documentaries with subjects as diverse as Sigmund Freud and Stanley Kubrick to sitcom appearances and publicity interviews. Ultimately I decided to arbitrarily stick to anything listed in the sections were he’s credited as a writer, director or actor thereby including anything in which he’s made a major artistic contribution.

Now Woody has a writing credit on Jean-Luc Godard’s Meetin WA and as a rare treat, here is the whole thing. It’s about half an hour long:


Filmed from what we can gather just after the release of Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody talks about the differences in shoot style between Gordon Willis and Carlo Di Palma, the effects of television and video tape on the audience and film technique and the two directors compare their attitudes to their back catalogue. Woody seems constantly perturbed by the approach to questioning, not quite sure whether to address Godard or his translator, usually plumbing with whoever spoke the most English on that occasion.

As a piece of art it doesn’t quite work, mostly coming across as a fairly good interview constantly under attack by Godard’s directorial ticks, as though his later film √Čloge de l'amour has invaded an old episode of The South Bank Show. Godard constantly removes the context of whatever Allen is saying and cuts him off mid-sentence for an inter-title and some jazz music apparently as a homage to the similar approach used in Hannah, which Woody confirms was influenced by novels and not cinema as Godard suggests.

But nonetheless it’s worth half an hour of your time because it offers Allen at his most articulate and he is right that something about cinema as a kind of portal has been lost and how disappointing it is that most “kids” will see the cinema greats for the first time on television, constantly distracted by process. I’ve already suggested it’s that which spoiled A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy for me. I (we?) just watched Meetin WA streamed online; how different would my (our?) experience have been if we'd seen it in a cinema?

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)



Then For ages, the only copy of Hannah and Her Sisters I owned was a scuzzy ex-rental VHS which I bought at a car boot sale at the multi-story car park in St. Helens. I have a vivid memory of watching the film on my 14” portable raised way about the ground on a chest of drawers in an attempt to recreate the impression of being in the cinema. The dvd I watched tonight is the third copy I’ve since owned. In other words I love this film.

From the opening shot. She is beautiful.

Spoilers ahead. Again.

Now The memorable quotes page for Hannah and Her Sisters at the IMDb says everything you need to know about the film. I can quote Star Wars. I can quote Adventures in Babysitting. I can also quote Hannah and Her Sisters. At various points in life I’ve actually been able to work into conversation: “The heart is a resilient little muscle.” “Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?” “I have my answer, I have my answer, I’m walking on air.” “How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I don't know how the can opener works!” Yes, really, even that last line. I didn't say there was anything fluid about it.

Is there anything more life affirming in Eighties film (setting aside the dance in The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Twist and Shout) than the flashback near the climax when Woody’s character at the apogee of his hypochondria and religious confusion attempts to take his own life then regains his balance by watching Duck Soup? During my teenage years, and later during those low ebbs in life, I always think back to his final remarks. I’m sure they’re why I can quite honestly say I’ve never been suicidal:
What if there is no God and you only go around once and that's it. Well, ya know, don't you wanna be part of the experience? You know, what the hell it's not all a drag. And I'm thinking to myself, Jeez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I'm never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts. And after who knows, I mean, maybe there is something, nobody really knows. I know maybe is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that's the best we have. And then I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself.
Simplistic perhaps, and the very ill might disagree with the sentiment that there is always something to live for, but if you’re not here, think of all the things you’re going to miss and all that you could potentially contribute to the world. That’s not something you can just throw away on a whim. Sometimes I might think that I’m wasting my life, but at least there are enough other things to keep me entertained. Not least, Hannah and Her Sisters.

Woody’s aim was to ape the structure of English classical novels, the likes of Dickens or Fielding, various storylines running in parallel. Inevitably that meant the film fell under consideration when I was writing about hyperlink films for a dissertation and ultimately helped me to crystalise the difference between those and ensemble films. In ensemble films there is always some very direct connection between the characters, a work place, or in this case the spine of the family and the three sisters, whereas in the hyperlink or multi-stranded film, the connections are far vaguer or synchronous and all of the characters rarely meet in the same room at a party as happens here, for thanksgiving.

They’re also rarely tied up in story terms at the end; reflecting on the final scenes, Allen says that the conclusion of Hannah is too satisfactory, and that he wished he’d had the confidence to be vaguer. But there are some loose ends, not least the emotional time-bomb of Elliot’s infidelity which is unlikely to be kept secret and is likely to crush Hannah, especially since this is the second time that she’s turned a man away from herself and (eventually) into the arms of one of her sisters. How is she to react when she finds out Holly is pregnant with Mickey’s child demonstrating once again her impatience? And what of Federick the intellectual painter? I like to think that he now spends his days watching cage fighting on television and muttering to himself about the degradation of society.

Having not seen the film for a few years and certainly not on a screen this huge I was rather stunned by Woody’s manic first scene were he appears at the epicentre of a television comedy show. In quick succession, there are young versions of John Turturro, J.T. Walsh, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who’d just finished her spell on Saturday Night Live), Julie Kavner and Christian Clemenson who wouldn’t arguably become a household name until he played Jerry in Boston Legal. Such talent montages would become more prevalent later in Woody's career, but in most cases – Deconstructing Harry or Celebrity – they feature actors who are already proper household names you are desperate to work with the director. Here he captures a group of actors at the dawn of their long careers. He would eventually work with most of them again.

Finally, here are some students from Syracuse University recreating one of the scenes for a class project. It's a very good measure of the brilliance of the script in that you can remove everything but the text and still find a compelling piece of storytelling. Hollywood films rarely seem to be this literate any more: