Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Stardust Memories (1980)

Then Stardust Memories had a profound effect on me when I first watched it in the library at Leeds Metropolitan University in 1995, especially the opening scene. Apart from the implication that we’re all on the wrong train and the party always seems to be happening elsewhere, there’s the moment when a young Sharon Stone blows a kiss to the camera. I’ve since realised that there isn’t a Sharon Stone film that I don’t like. Yes, even The Specialist. And Basic Instinct 2. And that other one you’re thinking of.


Stuart Ian Burns

MA Screen Studies

Research Outline

“How has Woody Allen’s interest in the 'metafictional style' developed across his autobiographical films to accommodate changes in content and context?”

[When I was preparing my MA dissertation at university, I made life difficult for myself by choosing one topic, researching and writing a proposal, then throwing it out and deciding to do something else, researching and writing another proposal the following week. The resulting dissertation was about Hyperlink Cinema. The first proposal was about Woody Allen, and more specifically the metafictional aspects of his films. Here it is … warts and all …]


“Since Allen is popularly considered to be one of the most explicitly autobiographical film-makers of his generation, the scrutiny of his films for insights to their creator has intensified since the scandal of his split from long term lover Mia Farrow and his marriage to her stepdaughter, Soon Yi.” (Jones, 2003)

This quote, which appeared as part of a profile of the director Woody Allen for the BBC News website demonstrates incisively the public perception that assumes that the narratives of the director’s films include or are directly influenced by incidents in the director’s own life. This is even the case within critical analysis.

Allen often refutes these claims. But throughout his career the director has employed various filmmaking techniques and narrative structures which cannot help but to increase this impression. The most conspicuous of these is the ‘metanarrative’ or ‘metafictional’ style (Pogel, 1987:133). In her seminal work on the subject, Metafiction (1988), Patricia Waugh defines this as ‘a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality’ (Waugh, 1988:2).

Although these concepts have generally been applied to prose, various facets of this style appear in many of his films if the scope is widened to encompass the use of the mise-en-scene and sound as well as writing. Such elements would include the use of a narrator, and often an ‘unreliable narrator’, a description first developed by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) as a way of distinguishing the truthfulness of some fictions in relation to how the story is described. Equally present is a protagonist (often played by himself) who is clearly meant to be a personal embodiment within the narrative and in a close approximation of Mikhail Bakhtin’s Diagolism he comments on his own creative and filmmaking ability as well as letting other characters argue or disagree with him (Stam, 1989:197).

This dissertation will examine how aspects of metafiction have been employed within those films of Woody Allen’s career that suggestively have an autobiographical content and also exhibit a similar style. The romantic comedy, Annie Hall (1977) is reputed to be the most personally evocative – it pursues ‘more serious substantial themes while giving vent to the personal complexes that hitherto he’d aired only to live audience as a stand-up comedian’ (Cowie, 1996:10) and is arguable to most clearly metafictional in its use of voiceover, flashbacks, addresses to camera, fantasy sequences and post-modernism. Stardust Memories (1980) is an excursion into his own filmmaking career and techniques that also ‘forces viewers to be engaged spectators – to be aware of the film as construction and to become conscious of audiences’ participation in creating their film experiences’ (Pogel, 1987:133). Although less critically respected than much of the director’s work, Deconstruction Harry (1997) nevertheless utilises a fluid combination of the approaches seen in these earlier films in the story of a novelist thinly fictionalising incidents from his own life some of which are portrayed in fantasy sequences and moments in which the character is addressed by the fictional constructs themselves.

The primary difficulty in approaching the subject of Woody Allen is that a vast range of critical writing has already been published in relation to his career. An initial survey of the literature suggests that although metafiction as a concept is mentioned, with a few notable exceptions (for example in the writing of Michael Dunne), this methodology does not appear to have been explored in very great detail. It is also apparent that the writing in general concentrates more on Allen’s earlier work with less emphasis on those films which have appeared in later decades. This project would seek to redress the balance, contextualising Deconstructing Harry within the same critical terms as Annie Hall and Stardust Memories. Comparisons can be sought between all of these films but the direct similarities in technique between them would not appear to have been uncovered; the unreliable narrator within Deconstructing Harry for example, being an area that would profit from further investigation.

In all of these films the director addresses his audience directly to a greater or lesser extent and this is the reason that they are thought of as being autobiographical. It would also be worth investigating to what degree Woody Allen is using metafiction to deflect attention away from the detail of his own life by presenting a seemingly plausible substitute. Gerald Prince suggests that ‘metanarrative signs may lead us by indirection to a valid reading of a particular text. For it may happen that, instead of acting as aids to a proper decoding they constitute an obstacle to it’ (Prince, 1995:67). Could Deconstructing Harry be an attempt to confirm the expectations of his audience, that his films are a thinly veiled fictionalisation of his own life, even though that which has been presented on screen is entirely fictional?

Chapter Outline

Chapter One

Introduce the key writers and theorists regarding metafictonal narrative techniques including unreliable narration; relate those to a wider film studies context with reference to films in which they have been employed.

Chapter Two

A textual analysis of the films in consideration, describing how Allen is applying the structures of metafiction, with emphasis on writing, editing, mise-en-scene, narrative, music and characterisation, comparing and contrasting how these have changed depending upon the subject matter.

Chapter Three

A reception study into the impact of the films, publicly, critically and within the wider filmmaking community. This will include a discussion of how clearly they are perceived to be autobiographic or whether the director has successfully created a fiction to deflect the audience from the real truth.

Timetable of Research and Writing

February – May 2006

Critical reading on subject and textual analysis. Includes survey of writing on metafiction investigating texts which have already applied the concept to other forms of cinema and viewing of related films. This will include a visit to the British Film Institute’s archive.

May – July 2006

Writing of first draft of dissertation in consultation with tutor.

July – August 2006

Polishing of the dissertation, including extra research were necessary



Annie Hall. 1977. Production: Rollins-Joffe Productions. 93 mins. Directed by Woody Allen.

Stardust Memories. 1980. Production: Jean Rollins-Joffe Productions, United Artists. 91 mins. Directed by Woody Allen.

Deconstructing Harry. 1997. Production: Jean Doumanian Productions, Sweetland Films. 96 mins. Directed by Woody Allen.


Booth, Wayne C. 1961. The Rhetoric of Fiction. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Bjorkman, Stig. 2004. Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In conversation with Stig Bjorkman. Faber and Faber, London.

Cowie, Peter. 1996. Annie Hall: BFI Film Classics. BFI Publishing, London.

Curry, Renee R. 1996. Perspectives on Woody Allen. Prentice Hall International, London.

Deleyto, C. 1995. The Narrator And The Narrative - The Evolution Of Allen. Woody Film Comedies. In. Film Criticism 19:2 Winter.

Dresser, David Desser and Lester D Friedman. 2004. American Jewish Filmmakers. University of Illinois Press, Illinois.

Dunne, Michael. 1987. Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and the Tradition of Metafiction. In. Film Criticism 12:1.

Dunne, Michael. 1991. Metaleptical Hijinks in Woody Allen's Stardust Memories. In. Literature/Film Quarterly. 19:2 April.

Fell, John L. 1974. Film and the Narrative Tradition. University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma.

Girgus, Sam B. 2002. The films of Woody Allen: 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Jones, Chris. 2003. Woody Allen: French kissing in the USA. BBC News. Available at: Accessed on 14 February 2006.

King, Kimball. 2001. Woody Allen: A Casebook. Routledge, London.

Lee, Sander H. 2002. 18 Woody Allen Films Analyzed: Anguish, God and Existentialism. McFarland & Company, North Carolina.

Polhemus, Robert M. 2003. Screen Memories in Dickens and Woody Allen. In. Dickens on screen. Edited by John Glavin. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Prince, Gerald. 1995. Metanarrative Signs. In Metafiction. Edited and Introduced by Mark Currie. Longman Group Limited, Essex.

Propp, Vladimir. 1969. Morphology of the folk tale: 2nd ed. revised and edited with a preface by Louise A. Wagner. University of Texas Press, Texas.

Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. 2003. Woody Allen after the fall: literary gold from amoral alchemy. In. Shofar, 22:1 Fall.

Schickel, Richard. 2004. Woody Allen: A Life In Pictures. Ivan R Dee, Inc., Chicago

Stam, Robert. 1989. Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism and Film. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Thomson, David. 1998. Shoot the actor. In. Film Comment 34:2 March.

Turner, Graeme. Film as Social Practice. Second Edition. Routledge, London.

Various. 1998. Deconstructing Woody - A Critical Symposium on Woody Allen. In.
Cinéaste 23:3 , April.

Wagg, Stephen. 1998. Because I Tell A Joke or Two: Comedy, Politics and Social Difference. Routledge, London.

Waugh, Patricia. 1988. Metafiction : the theory and practice of self-conscious fiction. Routledge, London.


British Film Institute:
Press books, promotional materials, screenplays, archival review and journalistic materials.

World Wide Web

Film Index International:

The Internet Movie Database:

Woody Allen: A Bibliography of Materials in the UC Berkeley Library:

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