MEDiA/BOOK REVIEW: W. Allen, Taschen Movie Icons

I think Woody Allen has to be my favourite film maker. He’s the only one for whom I basically want to see/own all his work.

He’s quoted in here as saying, in 2005 ‘I’ve had carte blanche for 35 years and I’ve never made a great film. It’s just not in me to make a great film; I don’t have the depth of vision to do it.’ I’d have to beg to differ! I think he’s made lots of great films.

At the time my particular edition of this entry in the Taschen Movie Icons series was published, in 2009, Match Point (2005) was Allen’s most financially – and poss’ also critically? – successful film. Also due to that print date, this book only goes up to 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Play It Again, Sam, 1972.

Since then Allen has made more than ten more movies, including Midnight In Paris, which now often tops lists of his most fiscally lucrative films. But, as Allen himself says in this little tome, ‘I do all my films for my own personal reasons … I don’t make them for approval.’

In a very low key example of what Jung termed synchronicity, I was saying in another post earlier today that the very best poetry is, or ought be, concise. Only to find this Allen quote, about the art and craft of comedy writing, herein:

‘For example, “it’s not that I’m afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” … if you use one word more or less, it’s not as good.’

A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy, 1982.

Unsurprisingly the theme of serious versus comedy rears it’s head, in this very light and easy read of a book. At one point in his career it was clear he felt very adept at and confident in his comedy skills. And later on he reaches a similar point with his ‘serious’ stuff.

I get this dichotomy. And it is very apparent – especially at the outset – that first, he has got better over time, and second, that this tension between serious and comic was an issue both for Allen himself and audiences, and critics, etc.

But for me, personally, despite how real and obvious an issue it is for the world at large, inc. Allen, it’s a false dichotomy. Ultimately Allen is an artist. His mediums are writing and film-making. And he’s done such a lot of it that it’d be surprising if he’d not gotten very good at it.

Allen and Keaton on the Radio Days set, 1987.

But he was good from very early on, starting out as a precocious gag writer (and going pro’ aged just 17!). Add to this his own unique character – his wit and wisdom, his very particular aesthetic sensibilities, and so on – and multiply that by his prolific yet diverse auteur style output, and you have a very impressive body of work.

This book is, like a lot of Taschen publishing, primarily visual. But there is a brief and surprisingly good little essay at the beginning, by Glenn Hopp (who he?). In this piece, entitled Woody Allen: The Poetry of The Joke, reference is made to ‘This higher comedy … [which] enriches emotion and fosters seriousness.’

That little sentence captures for me the essence of Allen: sometimes funny, sometimes philosophical. And often both at once. This book is a nice little thing to peruse, if you’re a Woodyphile, like me. It’s nice to see the numerous images, some stills from the movies themselves, others on set, or posters, etc.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, 2001.

It’s also rather nice for a fairly seasoned Allen buff like me to discover one or two things Allen’s done that I’d not heard of before. There’s reference to many films and other projects (theatre, books, etc.), most of which I already knew about, from The Front via Antz to Wildman Blues). But I’d not heard of Picking Up The Pieces before. Must check that out!

What little text there is is given thrice: in English, German, and French! There’s the very short Hopp intro/essay, a ‘visual filmography’ (the main bulk of the book), an extremely brief and incomplete ‘chronology’, a somewhat more complete filmography (albeit only up to 2008), and a short bibliography.

Not in-depth or exhaustive, by a long way. But a fun little title for a fan like me. Hence four stars.

There are many more titles in this series!

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