TV A review of tonight's Doctor Who in which I can't seem to see the forest for the trees and could think of a dozen other things to say but no way of shoe-horning them into the structure I'd haphazardly developed.
Ego Behind The Sofa (the Doctor Who blog I write for) was mentioned on Fearne Cotton's Radio One show on Tuesday morning. It's on the iplayer for another couple of days. Spin through to approx 02:11:50 and you'll hear them attributing Damon's post to Neil. But it just underscores that you never know who's reading.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Then Deconstructing Harry was one of the first films I saw at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. It was before the refurbishment when they still had those puffy blue chairs. I remember that though the cinema was quite full I was the only one laughing at the jokes and heard someone complain about the prostitute character on the way out. Whilst it’s true that it took until 1997 for Woody to put a black person in a major role and then made her a tart with a heart, I’m willing to accept that it wasn’t some kind of deliberate racism, that it was, as he’s said, that the kinds of characters he was writing about (at the time) and the circles they move in don’t interact with black people too much, other than as servants and maids. Manhattan is a very different place. See also Six Degrees of Separation.

Now I’ve seen reviews that suggest Deconstructing Harry is/was Woody’s last great film. I don’t agree for reasons that will become apparent but I can understand why someone might come to that conclusion. Employing Derrida’s theories related to “deconstruction” Allen creates a kind of greatest hits compilation that applies some of his usual metaphysical and post-modern noodlings to an idea that reiterates Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (a man travels to his old school so that he can be honoured for his work -- it's his road movie) but with a bilious, foul-mouthed, morally suspect, sexist figure at the centre of the story with topped off with anger and semetic angst. It couldn’t be more of Woody Allen film if it tried, except very, very dark.

When I was putting together my first MA dissertation proposal, I chose Deconstructing Harry as one of the films because it seemed to parallel the director’s own life, as I said in the proposal, “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.” In other words, I was suggesting that Woody was commenting on his own seeming proclivity for apparently including biographical elements in his own films, thinly disguised. The ensuing dissertation would no doubt have included a section in which I ploughed through his biography pointing out parallels in the films themselves.

Now, I’m not as convinced. Now, having watched all of these films so intensively, I think that he has in fact deliberately emphasised the fantasy that’s developed around him, or rather done nothing at least in the films to deny the truthfulness or lack of it. If you think that Annie Hall or Manhattan are basically romanticised documentaries, that’s fine. I think Deconstructing Harry is playing on the public’s expectation that, for example, Husbands and Wives is a thinly disguised portrayal of the unfortunate incident when in reality it was written months beforehand and was to an extent self-fulfilling prophecy. He’s content to let people enjoy the fictional version of his persona even if it bares little or no similarity to the reality, at least in terms of story. In fact, until Albert Brooks suggested he play the role himself, Woody had sought him, Dennis Hopper, Dustin Hoffman and Elliot Gould for Harry.

From what I can see, the film which bares the most similarity to Woody’s life is Radio Days, but even then, though the characters are clearly inspired by his real parents and extended family, they were really just an inspiration and no more so than the average writer or filmmaker. But if you read the Bjorkman interviews and his other writings on the subject, he’s always very clear, this is not my biography. He has, after all, made just as many films with fantastical elements and high concepts. Perhaps there is a psychoanalytical approach to studying Zelig as a way to suggest that Woody himself has a chameleon-like personality, or some such, but after watching Wild Man Blues, and hearing Soon-Yi’s speech patterns, it is more likely to be the other way round. I’ve certainly been gesticulating more since I began watching these films.

Deconstructing Harry seems more like a homage to his old short plays and prose which were published in the late 70s and early 80s, tiny sketches with a punchline. A less scrupulous director might have simply decided to recreate some of those, but instead he presents a range of new ones which only his character could have written and then blurs the lines by placing that character within them to signal how biographical they may be until he eventually gives up the pretence and sends him to hell. Which isn’t to say they’re not at least influenced by what’s gone before – the appearance of Death (see also Love & …) in the mistaken identity segment with Tobey Maguire.

It also allows him to employ a massive, showy cast once again within a relatively short running time and present the spectacle of Demi Moore who was just on the edge of career disaster but still a big name effectively understudying Kirstie Alley and Robin Williams walking around totally out of focus amongst so many other things. It would be very easy for me to do the usual and become over excited about this list of names, but its notable to see Muriel Hemmingway in her second and only other appearance in a Woody Allen film since her iconic turn in Manhattan, Jennifer Garner in a tiny role understudying Elizabeth Shue and Paul Giamatti standing as close as he can to Woody in the closing moments. It’s amazing that thirteen years later we’re still waiting for him to be the star of one of Woody’s films …

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Wild Man Blues (1997)

Then My copy of Wild Man Blues was recorded from analogue S4C (which was the only version of Channel 4 I could pick up at the time on my portable ariel) in 2000 which the ever useful BFI database suggests was in and around the 8th January. It was part of a double bill with Sex*. The ad breaks are a fascinating mix of the Nick Broomfield car promos and low budget adverts for local carpet manufacturers and there are interjections from the course of what looks like a Welsh Golf Tournament. The print they used had a fault, a small white dot near the top right hand corner of the screen which is ever present and watching it again I genuinely thought it was a dead pixel on my new television until it disappeared at the end of the film.

Now Wild Man Blues fits within my on-going assumption that Woody, knowing that he had the capacity to produce a film a year, far more than most auteurs, consciously or otherwise, had decided to work his way through the genres and it was simply time for the documentary. He couldn’t direct it himself, so Barbara Kopple is the person given access, but the film was produced by his then collaborator and friend Jean Doumanian and describes the 1996 European tour of his New Orleans Jazz Band, something which with a few tweeks could just as easily be the plot of one of his films. With its handheld camera style, jazz soundtrack, and unusual situations, this is a Woody Allen film through and through.

To an extent Kopple is deliberately homaging some of the elements of the style of her subject. But even Woody, after some initial wariness, seems to shift into something akin to the version of himself that appears on screen. Less deliberately funny perhaps, but as he stumbles gaping about hotel suites big enough to accommodate swimming pools and greets his adoring fans it eventually becomes increasingly difficult to see the extent to which he’s being himself or deliberately playing for the camera. Certainly his relationship with Soon Yi and his sister Letty Aronson, his constant companions, are analogous to Diane Keaton and Julie Kavner and Kopple seems to have edited in those situations that are of the kind you'd expect to find in one of his films.

The concert footage showcases the style of Woody and his band and though he’s very self-deprecating about his abilities to these lay-ears his technique is very good indeed and certainly good enough to convince one concert goer in Madrid whose cynicism is turned right around. One interesting omission is rehearsal footage and material about the mechanics of creating the tour. The implication is that Woody turns up at the venue each evening and plays which creates a certain mystique, I suppose, but doesn’t quite fit with my understand of how these tours work out. We rarely get the sense of the band as a cohesive unit and as Soon-Yi notes early on, he spends much of his time talking to leader Eddy Davis who then relays his thoughts to the rest of the group.

Whatever the truth or fiction, a very complex figure emerges. On the one hand he seems to shamble about, apparently unable to make decisions and offer some courtesies, such as visiting a crowd who are waiting to see him outside a hotel, without some encouragement from someone in his entourage, yet he’ll jump from a gondola to quietly admonish a photographer who’s paying too close attention to his visit to Venice. But he’s apparently not a prima donna; when he greets partially edible food he tends to make a joke rather than send it back and much of the time approaches the fact that, like a rock star, he can’t walk down most of the streets without a crowd forming with good humour because he knows full well that his later career is built on European adulation.

Monday's Jonathan Creek, Spoilers and nitpicking ahead.

TV Monday night's special episode of Jonathan Creek was fairly entertaining for much of its duration, not least for Who fans of a certain vintage for featuring Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith, the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller from the Big Finish / BBC Radio 7 audios in a few scenes together (c'mon Steven, look at them, you know you want to...)

David Renwick's scripts for Creek have always required a certain suspension of disbelief from the audience because of the outlandish unravelling of the mysteries. Much of the time that's been relatively easy to do because all of the information has been available, you just needed to be looking the right place and at the climax I've generally been very impressed with the narrative slight of hand, which is how it should be.

Monday night's story The Judas Tree failed, right at the end, because it expected the audience to swallow two facts and this is your final spoiler warning.

(1), (a) or firstly, a woman was apparently murdered (in order to frame someone), but it turned out it was in fact a double, the woman and her husband being culpable. There's no indication that the victim has received any plastic surgery and yet we're told because the locals don't really know who the apparently but not really deceased wife is, and because the husband identifies the body as his wife, no one in the process from the body being picked up to the ambulance-men, the police, the coroner and the people at the funeral home (and this is specified in the dialogue) noticed that the person being buried was not the wife. In the forensic 2010s.

Secondly, the husband and wife are summoned to a rendezvous with Creek and his assistant where the secrets are revealed. They each thought the other had asked them to meet. Then it's revealed the housekeeper texted each of them apparently anonymously in order to create the meeting. How is this possible without the caller id indicating that the text wasn't coming from the spouse's mobile? Even if the housekeeper managed to procure a disposable phone and the two relevant telephone numbers, why would these two deeply suspicious people turn up together at a moment when they really should be apart due to a pre-ordained plan?

Nitpicking? Certainly. But it's disappointing that Renwick, who's usually so good at spotting these kinds of inconsistencies seems to have gotten lost somewhere in there. I'd also worked out the two other big mysteries in the episode as soon as I'd seen them. That doesn't feel right either.

fun-filled musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Evening. Sorry for the silence here of late -- I've been busy elsewhere -- but I just wanted to say that you can expect a review of David Tennant as Hamlet now that it's soon to be available on blu-ray and to plug the latest production from Shakespeare4Kidz. Their press release:
After scoring a smash hit with their UK and international tour of Macbeth, Shakespeare 4 Kidz are pleased to announce that their next outing will be with a revival of the fun-filled musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The production will be in the directorial hands of former professional dancer Joseph Fowler, who has already aided S4K boss Julian Chenery as assistant director and choreographer on Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest.

Fowler, who lives in Paris, was also assistant director on the multi Olivier Award winning Hello Dolly! in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last summer. It picked up the Best Musical Revival gong as well as an award for best choreography and best actress in a musical.

Chenery said: “I have every confidence in Joe. He has done some inspirational work for us, co-directing with me, and it’s time for him to fly solo.”

Fowler’s creativity has won him a shelf-load of awards, including the Kenneth Macmillan award for outstanding achievement, the Evening Standard Award for best musical, Time award for best new dance production, the Joan Lawson award and two Golden Artist awards.

He trained at the Royal Ballet School and has worked with the Royal Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet Theatre and was a soloist with the Zurich Ballet for five years. Recently he appeared as guest artist with the Paris Opera Ballet.

International credits include The Sound of Music, On the Town and The Fly in Paris; Carmen – The Musical in Amsterdam and Limelight in the USA.

Other credits which are proof of Fowler’s versatility include Fiddler on the Roof, Some Like It Hot, Fosse and Singin’ in the Rain.

In Paris he is currently resident director at Theatre du Chatelet and dance adviser for La Comedie Francaise.

Auditions for S4K’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will take place in London at the end of May.

The autumn leg of the tour opens in Mansfield on September 14 and will play the Palace Theatre for one week before moving to Ulverston, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Bradford and venues all over the country until the end of November.

For further information and full tour schedule see

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Count Mercury Goes To The Suburbs (1997)

Then See below.

Now Search for Count Mercury Goes To The Suburbs and it appears on dozens of Woody Allen biography pages which is a good indication that they’ve copied their details from its internet movie database page, which seems to be the main resource for information.

We discover that it was a short film directed by Joel Bruns (whose only other credit are as actor, cinematographer and camera and electrical department on another shot called Excerpt of Emerald City) and based on Woody’s short prose work Count Dracula from the Getting Even collection. Abdul-Khaliq Murtadha appears as Count Mercury (whose lately worked on television).

And I’ve not been able to find a copy anywhere.

The short story is online, and it’s a very funny and well worth reading tale of how the Count (as played it appears by Woody himself in prose form) is caught out on a visit to a baker’s shop. Which will have to do for the purposes of this project.

By way of compensation, here’s Vincenzo Natali’s contribution to Paris, J'Taime, Quartier de la Madeleine, which is on a similar theme and probably about as long:

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

Then For me, the optimum time to watch films is 7:30 in the evening, after dinner but before you’re too tired to concentrate. Just after lunch is ok, though it does leave the pregnant pause between 3pm and dinner time, when if you’re in a city centre, the only thing left to do is navigate the rush hour traffic. The strangest time is the morning, just after breakfast which is when I saw Everyone Says I Love You, a week before release in the old Odeon on London Road with my friend Tris, mainly because, if it’s been a particularly good film, you know that there can’t be many things you’ll be doing for the rest of the day which will quite as entertaining.

Now I usually try to listen to the music of whichever film I’m writing about as I’m tapping away which means I have the soundtrack to Everyone Says I Love You on in the background right now. As with the film, it opens with Ed Norton (Ed Norton!) singing Just You, Just Me and I’m grinning from ear to ear, a Cheshire cat grin and I suspect it wouldn’t require Tim Burton, CGI or glasses to tell that it’s in three dimensions. I just know, that when I should be listening to the new Laura Marling album, this is going to be on repeat. Said soundtrack isn’t on Spotify, but I’ve curated this compilation by way of compensation.

Against prevailing expectations, the 90s was a purple patch; only a director at the top of their game, or with extreme confidence would attempt a musical at this point, especially one which bridges three cities and has such a massive cast. It’s not simply the variety of films Woody was directing, but their quality in terms of writing, star power, originality and visual ingenuity. To fixate, as some critics did at the time, on Woody choosing to have his character romance the most famous actress in Hollywood is missing the point entirely.

Though I like musicals, you’d have to ask Rick Altman or even Emma Brokes as to where Everyone Says I Love You fits within the history of the genre. To this layman, choreographer Graciela Daniele’s dance numbers remind me of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort with their highly co-ordinated seeming naturalism and the approach to song must have influenced Joss Whedon in deciding how to deal with the varying voice talent of the cast in Buffy’s Once More With Feeling.

And not just the singing. Like the Scooby gang, these characters seem well aware that they’re in a musical comedy; Natasha Lyonne says as much in the voice over and there’s the wonderful moment went Goldie Horne admonishes Alan Alda for breaking into song for no readily apparent reason. Unlike the Scoobies they seem very happy with the situation, and why not? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could burst into song on the bus, floating in WH Smiths or in a restaurant without people thinking we’re a bit mental or pissed or both?

Storywise, the strongest thread is Woody’s seduction of Julia Roberts, which is of course the comic version of Another Woman which the director mentioned in the Stig Bjorkman interview, though as in that film he avoids the predictable pay off in having Roberts discovering that her intimate thoughts have been “stolen” and yet still leaving Woody with the moral wreckage of changing his life to accommodate this dream girl, only for her to not be satisfied after all. There’s a reason that dreams are aspirational, otherwise we have nothing to strive for.

Courageously, Julia sings. We can tell it’s her voice because her name appears on the soundtrack listing, as does Norton, Lyonne, Allen, Alan Alda, Tim Roth (Tim Roth!) and Goldie Hawn, who it’s reputed was so good Woody asked her to detune herself so that she fitted his aspiration for the characters to sing like real people. Sadly, that isn’t Drew Barrymore – she balked considering her own voice to be too awful for anyone to hear – and in case you’re wondering why she signed up for this kind of musical in the first place, Woody didn’t tell the actors it was a musical until he had their signatures.

These facts are courtesy of the every accurate Imdb incidentally, which also says that Tracey Ullman and Liv Tyler filmed scenes for this film which were subsequently cut. Imagine: Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Natasha Lyonne, Drew Barrymore, Liv Tyler, Gaby Hoffmann and Goldie Hawn on the same shooting schedule. It’s an intergenerational manic pixie dream girl convention. No wonder Lukas “What ever happened appened to Lukas Haas?” Haas looks so happy to be there and Alan Alda so harassed. Sadly, Kristen Dunst was still on e.r. (having already had her uncredited screen debut as one of Mia’s kids in Oedipus Wrecks), Maggie Gyllenhaal making tv movies and Zooey hadn’t started on films yet so it’s not quite definitive.

In short, the film is magical. I’ve seen criticism from people who don’t like the fact that other than the Allen/Roberts mash-up it doesn’t have a strong storyline but wittingly or otherwise isn’t that just a comment on the fact that some of the best musicals don’t have a strong storyline? Aren’t they a pageant, a series of incidents which sometimes make some narrative sense but not always? Don’t they often include moments like the death of Grandpa which are generally just a prelude for some more song and dance? Frankly if I didn’t have another twenty-odd Woody Allen related films I’d be spending the rest of the year proving it.

Who is Toby Jones?

TV Posted because I've not seen anyone else mention it, which is extraordinary, a shot from the series trailer for Doctor Who ...

Toby Jones wearing the Doctor's clothes.  My guess?  It's an interesting approach the double banking episode where Matt has to be filming something elsewhere and which is sure to muddy the waters further when it comes to pub quiz questions about which actors have played the Doctor.  Damn you, Richard Hurndall ...

General Election called.

Politics Since I've already decided who I'm voting for (expect formal endorsement in due course), the next four weeks of news television and radio, especially the Today programme, will essentially look and sound like this to me:

"This isn't an argument, it's just contradiction!"
"No it isn't!"
"Oh look, this is futile!"

Really? That's what you're fixating on?

TV I had posted a grumpy post dissecting a Mail article about Karen Gillan's mini-skirt but I've pulled it because it involved linking to the Mail and the Telegraph and they're not worth the hits. So instead, here's a fun interview with Matt Smith from Esquire:
"Esq: David Tennant wrote himself into Doctor Who folklore by putting predecessor Peter Davison on a pedestal, and then promptly shacking up with his progeny (actress Georgia Moffett). Do you feel the pressure to follow suit?

MS: “My god, I’ve got to go and find Tom Baker’s daughter! Who’s still alive? I’ve yet to meet any Time Lords’ offspring, but if I do, I shall be sure to let you know.”

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: The Sunshine Boys (1996)

Then I bought the dvd at the old Virgin Megastore remainder shop at Cheshire Oaks not even aware that Woody had made the film. Only now did I get around to watching it …

Now … largely because of the lurid cover and the few negative reviews I’d seen online. They were wrong. Despite its tv origins (the act break fade outs are still intact), this is very funny, charmingly acted film which is far better than it has any right to be. Neil Simon’s original theatrical version of The Sunshine Boys was produced on Broadway in 1972 and is the story of real life Vaudeville team Lewis and Clarke being reunited after ten acrimonious years to recreate one of their old acts for a history of comedy television show.

A film followed in 1975. Woody was asked to direct (at about the time of Love & Death?) but was more interested in playing Lewis and so it passed to Herbert Ross with Walter Matthau and George Burns in the title roles. Then, twenty years later this television version was made with Simon updating the script, re-characterising the figures as old television performers cast to appear in a kids film and adding zeitgeisty references to playing Nintendo (and such a shame that a scene of Woody playing said console machine couldn’t be accommodated).

Peter Falk replaces Walter Matthau as Clarke and Woody finally gets to play Lewis. It’s their chemistry which really makes the piece work. The weight of the story is with Falk’s absent-minded, cantankerous stop-out who may have one toe in dementia or putting on his dementedness or a bit of both. Allen has more of his marbles and a clearer understanding of the modern world with the exception of an obsession for trying to out bargain shopping channels.

Both actors are at the top of their game; Falk has more work to do – his is the more character based role as he stumbles around almost as though, as Lewis suggests, Clarke can’t quite believe the sixties are over. But Woody is a revelation. He’s funny, touching and seems very much at ease reading someone else’s words and giving them the requisite timing. At one point I began to map out a different career for him, where he’d alternated acting and directing more, perhaps turning up in a John Hughes film during 80s or in Pulp Fiction as Mr Wolf instead of Harvey Keitel.

Sarah Jessica Parker appears as Clarke’s niece. It’s tempting to wonder if she asked Woody if he’d seen Miami Rhapsody which was shot in the same year though, assuming they were shot in the same order as release, it must have been a bit strange appearing a faux Woody Allen film only to find herself acting with him not to much further down the line. She’s as good here, and certainly holds her own against the two wise-acres. But it’s a neat cast with with Michael McKean, Liev Schreiber, Edie Falco and Whoopi Goldberg in supporting roles, Liev very early in his film career.

Director John Erman has a long career in television, working Peyton Place and My Favourite Martian as well as The Empath episode of Star Trek in the 60s through to tv movies in the past couple of decades with the odd feature here and there including the infamous Bette Milder weepy Stella. Some of the reviews I’ve seen have suggested that The Sunshine Boys is flatly directed, but in fact Erman is just cleverly giving his actors room to work and the script space to breath unafraid of its theatre origins. The effect is akin to one of the old BBC Play of the Month or Performance slots which were about being faithful to the text rather than television trickery.

Really? That's what you're fixating on?

TV Ooh look, the Telegraph's decided to have a go about Doctor Who being sexed up.
"The return of Doctor Who to television screens on Saturday night has led to a host of complaints and comments on online message boards that it is 'too sexy'."
Oooh look, The Mail have rewritten the same story for themselves except in their case:
"The revealing outfit prompted a flood of comments on online message boards, with a section of fans accusing producers of 'shamelessly sexing up' the long-running family show and labelling it 'slutty'."
Here it is again at the Metro. After spending a few paragraph lasciviously describing the "offending" scenes all the articles offer these unattributed comments. Both of them. Hardly a host or flood is it?
'Why did she dress up as a tarty policewoman? Surely that's not fitting for a family show.'

Another said: 'They've completely demeaned Doctor Who by replacing good episode stories with slutty girls.'
The Digital Spy people have gone to work and found that the second incoherent mumble is from a Yahoo Answers thread. They seem to think the other comment is a rewrite of something from their own forums but this blog entry also has the phrase "tarty policewoman". Either way, googling that quote doesn't reveal a source and neither are from anyone who could be considered from somewhere fans congregate as they suggest.

Both articles shift towards the positive at the end with some other unattributed quotes from interviews given to other papers and a quote from the Points of View forum (as though the rest of the web isn't awash with such things) but who reads that far down? But really? That's what you're fixating on?

And why are you implying one thing without being able to offer the comments and sources to back it up?

miniblog archive

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  • Mark Kermode's DVD round-up | Film 

  • Doctor Who nominated for three Hugos - all the specials but The End of Time. Up against Dollhouse's Epitaph One: 

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  • Father Time by Lance Parkin 

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  • Youser: 

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  • TV I've posted a review of last night's Doctor Who to Behind The Sofa. My views aren't particularly controversial. I loved everything but the title sequence.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

    Then It was towards the end of my third year at undergraduate university in Leeds. I had a friend, a seven foot tall friend called Dave (sometimes Bambi) and he’d invited me out to meet some of his course mates. We sat on the roof of the DryDock pub on Woodhouse Lane which is a converted boat and looks like this:

    View Larger Map

    The plan had been to see Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkey which had been released that night. But we drank. A lot. So much in fact that we forgot the time, ran late, rushed down to the cinema and by the time we got there it had sold out. Which considering the state we were in probably wasn’t such a bad thing. I remember the moment clearly because Dave picked me up off the ground and carried me through the foyer in anger. He was very tall and very strong. I was embarrassed and told him so. We went to see Mighty Aphrodite instead. By then I was half asleep (one of the effects alcohol has on me) and don’t remember much else about the experience, other than that it was a packed house and we were stuffed in at the back.

    Now I’ve not been able to find a trailer online, but the print advertising for Might Aphrodite is one of the most gratuitous examples of misrepresenting the product. You can see the standard poster above: there’s Mira Sorvino looking gorgeous standing next to a list of the actors superimposed on the intercom system for an apartment block. It suggests seduction, it suggests erotic thriller actually. Now, I really wish I’d been more intellectually conscious during the cinema viewing so that could report the audiences reaction, when straight after the credits, Woody cuts to a Greek amphitheatre and the ancient tragedy in full swing and is threaded throughout the story (“Um, this is Zeus. I'm not home right now, but you can leave a message and I'll get back to you. Please start speaking at the tone.”)

    Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to quantify what it is about these films, beyond the credits, dialogue and mis-en-scene that mark them out as “Woody Allen” films, what makes them so unmistakable, that David Frankel or Rob Reiner & Nora Ephron couldn’t quite capture, and it’s this. It’s taking a fairly standard tv movie of the week story and throwing a “quirky” random element. Disillusioned sports writer seeks out the mother of his adopted child and it transpires she’s a prostitute so he tries to transform her life, is the stuff of a cable movie from the Eighties with Mark Harmon. Except would Hallmark have included a Greek chorus commenting on, then ultimately becoming part of the action? The moment when F Murray Abraham’s Leader hands Woody a pen so that he can write down Linda’s details is one of my favourite in all of these films.

    That’s the clear difference with Charlie Kauffman’s films too. Kauffman takes an already surreal story idea then ads a twist. Woody’s stories tend to be fairly broad even repetitive tales of human failings which appear in Greek tragedies and comedies, but it’s the telling which changes. Admittedly, the chorus merges the storytelling elements of the voiceover and caption in Hannah or the faux-documentary interviews in Husbands and Wives with the metaphysical advice beings of Play It Again Sam and Alice. But Woody knows that by including these elements he’s increasingly the intellect of what could have been a baudy end of the pier show, with him as the dirty old man some assume him to be ogling Sorvino’s mammaries. There are even jokes which are only funny if you have a broad understanding of Greek theatre and psychoanalytical theory.

    A pre-Burton Helena Bonham Carter is in the Mia role and Peter Weller sits in for Tony Roberts but in their brief scenes neither can do much in the face of Mira Sorvino’s multi-award winning performance. Once she appears half an hour in, all fall in her wake, including Woody who just sometimes seems in awe. With her monotone Mickey Mouse voice, perfectly controlled movements and poise, she should be a cartoon character, the dumb blonde parody. Yet she’s entirely sympathetic, the infinitely bouncy lilt to her voice and clothes her way of masking a life too dark for extrapolating in what’s really just a light comedy. Few of her roles since have exploited this unique quality and that’s why out of all the performers who appeared in Woody’s films in that period, she was the one deemed worthy of an award.