Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Take The Money And Run (1969)

Then Throughout the 1990s I was an addicted carbooter, waking up at stupid hours on a Sunday morning to travel out to the massive sale at the multi-story car park in St Helens. This was pre-dvd and the perfect way to build up a film collection, which I did, slowly but surely, little knowing that within a couple of years the whole lot would be essentially worthless. But I was happy and my room looked, if not like Blockbuster video, RST video from Kevin Smith’s Clerks. It’s during one of these visits I bought my first copy of Take The Money And Run (1969), the first copy I watched, as released in the ugly red box design of Video Gems. It will have cost a couple of pounds and looked for all the world like they’d transferred the image by training a video camera on cinema screen.

Now A mockumentary about a failed and yet somehow successful bank robber features many of my favourite Woody Allen scenes, especially this exchange from half way through the film. Woody’s character, Virgil, is on the run and is trying to trick his way into an office job. We greet him and his potential employer in a crusty wooden-panelled office:

Interviewer: Name please.
Virgil: John Q. Public. P-U-B-L-I-C.
Interviewer: Mr. Public, have you any experience working in an office before?
Virgil: Yes, I have.
Interviewer: What kind of office was it?
Virgil: Rectangular.
Interviewer: Have you any experience in running a high-speed digital electronic computer?
Virgil: Yes, I have.
Interviewer: Where?
Virgil: My aunt has one.
Interviewer: And what does your aunt do?
Virgil: I can't recall.
Interviewer: You said before you worked in an office. Did you deal in products or services?
Virgil: Products.
Interviewer: Is this something found in the home?
Virgil: No, it's not. One down and nine to go.
Interviewer: Is this product edible?
Virgil: No, it wasn't. I think our time is running out and I'm sorry you haven't guessed my occupation. So I'm going to flip all the cards and tell you what I have used to do. I used to manufacture escalator shoes, for people who were nauseous. I'm sorry, you didn't actually get my occupation, but you did win $10 and I want to thank you very much. Better luck next time. You are good sport.

What I love about this scene is that it’s managed to date quite successfully but the essential idea is still sound. These days, if someone says that an aunt has a high-speed digital electronic computer it doesn't sound too incongruous (other than to wonder why they’re using such arcane language). She probably has three. Then you remember that computers those days were the size of a small car ... I love it for those retro details but also because it’s still sound, it still works, it’s still funny. Change the details and it would work just as well on The Mitchell and Webb Look.

But plenty of comedy series and films which followed in Take's wake owe it a debt of some description, most specifically The Simpsons and Family Guy. The rabbi gag is exactly the kind of cutaway perpetrated by Matt Groening, Seth McFarlane and their writers. Monty Python began in the year of this film’s release and again there are absurdist elements that reach forward to the prime of their work, especially the chain gang. You’ll have to watch to see what I mean.

The nebbish figure that Woody would go on to play for much of the rest of his career strolls in largely fully formed here (only to have his glasses broken). Allen has said, that all of his characters are pretty much the same because he lacks the range to do better, the comedian’s crutch, citing Chaplin and WC Fields. That might be true, but there are few actors which have managed to play that figure quite so consistently across forty years. Once Chaplin lost the moustache and cane, his comic timing left him too. His 50s comeback films are torturous.

And Woody as ever is hyper critical of his abilities. It would have been very easy to play Take The Money And Run at a singular level (especially considering the tiny shooting schedule) but amid the slapstick there are some surprisingly effective elements of melancholy which reach back to the pre-Code 1930s crime/drama social awareness films, especially I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, that are generally down to Allen’s ability to convincingly portray a man who is pathologically incapable of not stealing.

Despite being filmed in San Francisco some of Woody’s auteur details are already being employed, most prominently the moments when his voiceover poetically muses over shots of Virgil’s tender romance with Louise, sweetly played by Janet Margolin (who reminds me of Ali McGraw in the same way that Monica Potter should have had Sandra Bullock’s career). Substitute Margolin for Mariel Hemmingway, Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow and these sequences could appear in any number of his other films, albeit in a more professional style.

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    Rise again indeed. Hopefully on dvd.

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  • "Music"

    Music Or more specifically "Sugababes". It's been a while, but two things. Well ok, one thing. Firstly here's another new track from Sweet 7. It's rubbish:

    Yes indeed. Autotune. A band using the name "Sugababes" which used to be known at the very least for its supreme vocal quality is employing Autotune. It is going well, isn't it?

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Casino Royale (1967)

    Then One of the more surreal memories I have of primary school are the times when the class or school would be gathered in a classroom or the hall in front of television set and shown a film. On reflection it must have happened during strikes or teacher’s meetings or absences but it demonstrates how times have changed that ninety children could be kept entertained by a twenty-six inch screen in the corner of a comparatively large room. Star Wars was certainly shown to us in a version recorded from television as well as Disney films, but I have a feeling that some of the filmic choices were rather more inappropriate with items like Jaws and this version of Casino Royale. Lord knows what my immature brain thought; it perhaps explains my fragmentary approach to culture and my inability to focus on one thing.

    Now A mess, but gloriously so. Originally conceived by the producers as a straight adaptation of the book (having previously licensed Fleming’s work separately to the rest) terms couldn’t be agreed with the Broccoli’s and so a spoof was conceived featuring Peter Sellars. Sellars was unhappy – he’d hoped to the play the part straight and this unhappiness increased as production continued until he eventually walked.

    Left with half a film, the producers engaged David Niven and created all of the bridging footage with Ursula Andress’s Vesper as the narrative binding tissue. Which rather explains why the film has five directors, why only the Sellars’s footage seems to have any relevance to the book and is being played deadly straight in comparison to the rest of it and the work overall looks like someone’s editing together parts of much better films with a story so fragmentary its (almost) impossible to write a synopsis.

    Woody, meanwhile, took on Casino Royale as a pure acting job and what sounded at first like a fun six weeks in London would drag on for six whole months. According to his career long interview with Stig Bjorkman (published in Faber) Allen busied himself with card playing and writing some plays, including Don’t Drink The Water (coming soon). He’s reputed to have also contributed to the screenplay which on the basis of the hilarious shooting gallery scene (most of which is in the above trailer) is entirely possible so close is Jimmy Bond to the hapless figure that would emerge in Bananas and Sleeper.

    But the patchwork nature of this admittedly beautifully designed production (by Michael Stinger who worked on some of The Pink Panther films) doesn’t give him much room to “shop window” his skills. For my money the best sequence is one of the ones he's absent from, the Mata Bond adventure in Germany, where the décor of a “finishing school” is revealed to be influenced by German Expressionist cinema and Bernard Cribbins and Ronnie Corbett feature in tiny roles. This was also Angelica Houston’s first film. She played Agent Mimi's Hands. I wonder if Woody remembered that when he later cast her in Crimes and Misdemeanours.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: What's Up Tiger Lily? (1962)

    Then From the time it began broadcasting twenty-four hours a day, ITV has had a habit of hiding in the middle of the night the more interesting cinema that is packaged with the blockbusters they acquire for Christmas. The Deerhunter is receiving this treatment on Saturday – though that’s so long with adverts it’s beginning before midnight. But can there be many people who’ll stay up for the duration, drifting to bed at 3 am? It’s under these circumstances I first watched What’s Up Tiger Lily? in the late 80s, just before we bought our first video recorder. Needless to say I don’t remember too much about it. In fact I think I might have slept for an hour in the middle.

    Now What these days would be uploaded to YouTube ready to be embedded virally on a thousand blogs was in 1962 a major studio release heralded with an article in Playboy. Allen and friends edit together sections of two Japanese films and overdub them with their own voices (see also On The Waterfront’s The Flashing Blade).

    To an extent it's a project of it's time. You couldn't imagine Jack Black trying something similar with a Takeshi Kitano film without some implication of racism or cultural tourism. But aren't those many thousands of Downfall videos doing much the same thing albeit replacing the subtitles rather than the words? Has anyone asked the original producers of the film what they thought of Woody's version?

    Retrospective history has it that The Lovin’ Spoonful’s contribution (filmed some time later) was hacked into the film by the producers without Woody’s permission – he would go to court to try and stop the film's release but eventually dropped the action when he realised it was pointless and simply spent the rest of his career saying nasty things about it instead.

    The inclusion of the songs makes about as much sense as the soft porn gratuitously chopped into Tinto Brass’s Caligula (Brass disowned his film too). I wonder if fans of the band might consider this their equivalent of A Hard Days Night or Help! It's mentioned in the biography on their official website. The Spoonful were a great band. I'm just not sure this was the best venue for their talents, pitching up as though they're in a surf film.

    The film drags terribly in places, particularly when the plot is needlessly asserting itself. I didn't laugh often. When I did laugh it was usually when the director was either on screen ("Death is my - death and danger are my various breads and various butters") or making direct interventions and playing up the incongruities of the venture, the dialogue directly commenting on the naffness of the on-screen action ("Don't tell me what I can do, or I'll have my mustache eat your beard.").

    The funniest moment, at least for me, especially considering this project and the one that came before it, happens in an observation tower in Yokohama Harbour Phil (as the dubbed Japanese protagonist is, well, dubbed) says “This is the obligatory scene. The director always has to walk through with his wife”, just as a Hitchcock lookalike shuffles past.

    Ludicrously the film was dubbed over again for the international market. Here's the trailer in German. Have they translated Woody's jokes or made up some of their own? Answers welcome.

    My picture in the paper.


    One of my photos of the Big Wheel at Liverpool One has been short-listed for a competition in the Liverpool Daily Post and was printed in today's paper. The rest of the shortlist is here. This is the winner.

    Oscars 2010.

    Film And here we are again. After my meander through the Bafta nominations I couldn't ignore the Oscars, even if every year they elate and infuriate me in equal measure with Best Picture nominations that clearly aren't and a single minded approach to the world of cinema. At least there's the Caesars for the rest of us. Remember, this isn't what I'd like to win, this is what I think will win. As I've discovered in previous years, this can be and usually is two very different things.

    Best picture
    Avatar (James Cameron and Jon Landau, producers)
    District 9 (Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, producers)
    An Education (Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, producers)
    The Hurt Locker (nominees to be determined)
    Inglourious Basterds (Lawrence Bender, producer)
    Precious (Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, producers)
    A Serious Man (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, producers)
    Up in the Air (Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, producers)
    The Blind Side (nominees to be determined)
    Up (Jonas Rivera, producer)

    I agree with Mark Kermode (who returned to BBC News this afternoon to give his verdict) Avatar will win this because the industry has a lot riding on 3D. It's a film I'm now almost seen twice, either because it had sold out while I was in the queue or because it's three hours long and I wasn't in the mood. At this rate I'll be able to test if it still works on dvd first time around. Just in case you haven't seen it, the 70-minute Phantom Menace review guy has recently tackled Avatar -- it's only spoilery if you haven't seen the trailer.

    Actress in a supporting role
    Mo'Nique in Precious
    Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
    Penélope Cruz in Nine
    Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
    Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart

    The first category in which I've seen none of the films. At all. I'll offer it to Maggie Gyllenhaal because I re-watched Adaptation the other day and manage to bring great depth to the tiniest of roles.

    Actor in a supporting role
    Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
    Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
    Matt Damon in Invictus
    Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
    Woody Harrelson in The Messenger

    The second category in which I've seen none of the films. It's got to be Stanley Tucci's year hasn't it? Though it'd be fun to give Matt Damon the award simply so that he can be Oscar Winning Matt Damon and it be for the thing he's known for.

    Actress in a leading role
    Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
    Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
    Helen Mirren in The Last Station
    Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
    Carey Mulligan in An Education

    I cheered. I cheered again. Carey! Carey! During the BBC coverage, Jane Hill dropped the clanger that Mulligan hasn't been in films before, which will be a surprise to the directors of Pride & Prejudice, And When Did You Last See Your Father? and The Greatest.

    Actor in a leading role
    Morgan Freeman in Invictus
    Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
    George Clooney in Up in the Air
    Colin Firth in A Single Man
    Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

    This year's Fight Club, that is the extraordinary film roundly ignored by the academy is Moon, the most specific example being Sam Rockwell in this category. The reason would be a spoiler, but what does a man have to do? Morgan Freeman because he's playing Mandella. The academy likes to give awards to people they've heard of playing people they've heard of.

    Animated feature film
    Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)
    The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker)
    Coraline (Henry Selick)
    Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson)
    The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore)

    Disney vs Disney really, though The Princess and the Frog will probably sneak it because it's the first 2D animation to appear from the mouse house in quite some time and the older members of the Academy nostalgically may tick its box.

    Foreign language film
    Ajami (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, Israel)
    A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France)
    The Secret of Her Eyes (Juan Jose Campanella, Argentina)
    The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, Germany)
    The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa, Peru)

    The usual strange and distorted selection. It'll probably go to The Milk of Sorrow because the Academy are a bunch of contrarians.

    Avatar (James Cameron)
    The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
    Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
    Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
    Precious, Lee Daniels

    Again, I think Duncan Jones is very overlooked here. James Cameron will probably win because this looks doesn't look like a year where that decision is going to be split. But it would be sweet if Bigelow were to win it.

    Writing (adapted screenplay)
    District 9 (Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)
    An Education (Nick Hornby)
    Precious (Geoffrey Fletcher)
    Up in the Air (Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner)
    In the Loop (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche)

    Some might say this is what the best picture nomination list should have looked like. In the Loop or An Education would be fabulous choices, though I suspect this will be the Precious recognition award because it won't win in any of the mains.

    Writing (original screenplay)
    The Hurt Locker (Mark Boal)
    Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
    A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)
    Up (Pete Docter and Bob Petersen)
    The Messenger (Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman)

    Tarantino because he's Tarantino.

    Art direction
    Avatar (art direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; set decoration: Kim Sinclair)
    The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (art direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; set decoration: Caroline Smith)
    Nine (art direction: John Myhre; set decoration: Gordon Sim)
    Sherlock Holmes (art direction: Sarah Greenwood; set decoration: Katie Spencer)
    The Young Victoria (art direction: Patrice Vermette; set decoration: Maggie Gray)


    Avatar (Mauro Fiore)
    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Bruno Delbonnel)
    The Hurt Locker (Barry Ackroyd)
    Inglourious Basterds (Robert Richardson)
    The White Ribbon (Christian Berger)

    Avatar. It's the 3D is great and will rule the world award. Yawn.

    Costume design
    Bright Star (Janet Patterson)
    Coco Before Chanel (Catherine Leterrier)
    The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Monique Prudhomme)
    Nine (Colleen Atwood)
    The Young Victoria (Sandy Powell)

    Bafta nominated A Single Man and An Education instead of Parnassus and Nine and I'm repeating my selection here.

    Documentary (feature)
    Burma VJ (Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller)
    The Cove (nominees to be determined)
    Food, Inc (Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein)
    The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith)
    Which Way Home (Rebecca Cammisa)

    It's the political award. No Michael Moore again this year, except ...

    Documentary (short subject)
    China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province (Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill)
    The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner (Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher)
    The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert)
    Music by Prudence (Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett)
    Rabbit à la Berlin (Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra)

    ... that would be ironic.

    Film editing
    Avatar (Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron)
    District 9 (Julian Clarke)
    The Hurt Locker (Bob Murawski and Chris Innis)
    Inglourious Basterds (Sally Menke)
    Precious (Joe Klotz)

    Avatar. See above.

    Il Divo (Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano)
    The Young Victoria (Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore)
    Star Trek (Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow)

    Star Trek! Ha! Though it's nice to see Il Divo nominated for something even if it's in the catagory least likely. Again I had Moon pegged for something here.

    Music (original score)
    Avatar (James Horner)
    Fantastic Mr Fox (Alexandre Desplat)
    Up (Michael Giacchino)
    The Hurt Locker (Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders)
    Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer)

    Avatar. I'm saying all of this but The Hurt Locker could sneak some. It just feels like an epic sweep kind of year.

    Music (original song)
    Almost There, from The Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman
    Down in New Orleans, from The Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman
    Loin de Paname, from Paris 36
    Take it All, from Nine by Maury Yeston

    The Weary Kind, from Crazy Heart by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

    Simon CowellLeona Lewis will be gutted. But Randy Newman's clearly ahead here - but this could be one of those split decision situations so Maury Yeston might sneak in.

    Short film (animated)
    French Roast
    Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
    The Lady and the Reaper
    A Matter of Loaf and Death

    Because it would be perverse not to. 16 million watched this on television the other year. 16 million!

    Short film (live action)
    The Door
    Instead of Abracadabra
    Miracle Fish
    The New Tenants

    I like the title.

    Sound editing
    The Hurt Locker
    Inglourious Basterds
    Star Trek


    Sound mixing
    The Hurt Locker
    Inglourious Basterds
    Star Trek
    Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

    Avatar. Please god not Transformers. Nice to see Star Trek at least doing well in the technical categories.

    Visual effects
    District 9
    Star Trek

    Star Trek. No I'm kidding. Again, Moon is robbed here and I think it's about time the academy saw fit to split this category in two and recognise CG and physical effects as two separate entities.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: What's New Pussycat? (1965)

    Then I watched What’s New Pussycat for the first time this afternoon (at home, on dvd) which will be an almost unique occurrence as I gaze at all of Woody Allen’s films (so far) in order. After the Hitchcock project, I was keen to tackle a director whose work I’m already very familiar with but have largely not seen in its correct release schedule. The general perception is that Woody has lost his touch or at the very least the quality has oscillated and I’m keen to see to what extent that’s a new phenomena or whether every film is a classic up until the late 90s when its commonly suggested that his best work was done. Because I have seen most these films before, the format for this content will be a section like this one describing when I first had occasion then a short analysis. Usually that will be more anecdotal than this.

    Now A noble failure, What’s New Pussycat is of most interest for the glimpses it offers of what’s to come. Woody would later use this as the reason he refused to be a writer for hire and for only directing his own material (something he kept to with the exception of the theatre adaptations) and you can see why. In places, the script crackles, and some of the bedroom farce between O’Toole and his various paramours throws forward to similar moments in Allen’s films with Diane Keaton. But there’s an ever present impression that the material is supposed to be lending itself to the zany directing style of Bananas, but Richard Donner is trying to wedge it into an upmarket British sex comedy format.

    An explanation is offered up by the wikipedia:
    "The film was planned to star Warren Beatty – the title was Beatty's way of answering the telephone. However Woody Allen, who had been hired by producer Charles K. Feldman to write the script, began relegating Beatty's character to a secondary role, increasing his own character at Beatty's expense. This led to tension between Beatty and the studio, especially as the screenplay Allen was delivering was considered funnier than the original idea. Eventually, Beatty was forced off his own project by the little-known Allen. Because of their feud, Allen and Beatty never worked together again. Coincidentally, both had long and significant relationships with the same woman, Diane Keaton, at different times."
    The best moments are those in which Woody himself is on-screen working the material; there’s a subtlety to his slapstick – he’s splendid during a tussle with a goliath over a volume of Shelley's poetry in a bookshop – in contrast to Peter Sellars’s mugging (his heart just doesn’t seem in it). Though Peter O’Toole brings an element of the broken leading man to his role, it’s the actresses who come out best, ironic considering the thinness of their roles. Apart from the strippers we have little or no idea how they contribute to society – with Paula Prentiss particularly perky as the suicidal Liz. But mostly this is a curio; at least it ends well with a go-cart chase which would have been the ideal choice if the film had ever been licensed as an 8-bit computer game.

    But let's be honest, the best thing to come out of the film was Burt Bacharach's theme song:

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  • Vampire Prevention Win

  • An open letter to Apple from the fanboys

  • Whoviavortex: Upcoming Books (This first set of Eleventh Doctor and Amy books give an indication as to the new tone of the series. The approach seems to be no single tone.)

  • @serafinowicz on the iPad. Ha!