Woody Allen, he’s a conundrum, is he not?
Am I meant to think of “personal” Woody in a different light to “professional” Woody? Here's a film writer and director who has a body of work behind him, a great deal of which I love and respect, and then there’s his private life which makes me scratch my head. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know Woody, I don’t know the intricacies of his life and he hasn’t phoned me to talk about them, so what do I know and who am I to judge?
It reminds me of that business-speak sound bite, when someone says to me “...now I don’t want you to take this personally...” Always makes me think that I have two heads: a business head and a personal head and if they'll just give me a second to put on my business head...
Back to Woody’s films. I think he’s had three film-making phases: everything before ‘the golden era’, everything after ‘the golden era’ and ‘the golden era’ itself’. By ‘the golden era’, I mean Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, Crimes & Misdemeanours and Husbands & Wives. There are plenty of others that I love, and the recent crop which I’m not so keen on, but the bunch I’ve named above, for my money, were Woody at the top of his game.
That clutch of films could almost be watched as one long filmic thesis on the human condition, not, through Bergman’s glass darkly but through Woody’s glass, neurotically, and let’s not forget that Woody Allen worships at the altar of Ingmar and his magic lantern; read Woody’s one-act play Death Knocks (a parody of the opening scene of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal) in which death, himself, turns up to claim another soul who can’t believe it’s his time. Death reluctantly agrees to give his victim a shot at staying on earth by playing a few hands of rummy, winner take all.
In that bunch of ‘golden era’ movies Woody Allen seduced me with the idea of living in Manhattan: visiting art galleries, restaurants, bookshops and jazz haunts whilst having an affair with an ingenue here and there, eventually leaving it all on the psychiatrist’s couch. My provincial English world didn’t have a Gershwin soundtrack to punctuate the pedestrian life I felt I was living with pzazz, nor a Chrysler building to see it reflected in. Like Mia Farrow’s character in The Purple Rose of Cairo, I wanted to leave my drab world and climb into the screen to live in that New York with which he enchanted me, to live with a touch more whirl and dervish.
In Hannah & Her Sisters (his affectionate nod to Chekhov’s Three Sisters) I found a philosophy for life. Let me set it up for you: Mickey (the Woody Allen character) was just about to shoot himself because he couldn’t find a faith or religion that wouldn’t guarantee him reincarnation. The rifle goes off accidentally and Mickey/Woody has a moment of clarity, walking out of his apartment and into a cinema showing a Marx Bros movie:
Mickey: I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts, and be logical, and put the world back into rational perspective. And I went upstairs to the balcony and I sat down and, you know, the movie was a film that I’d seen many times in my life since I was a kid and I’d always loved it. And you know, I’m watching these people up on the screen, and I started getting hooked on the film, you know? And I started to think.....what if the worst is true? What if there is no God, and you only go around once and that’s it? Well, you know, don’t you want to be part of the experience? You know, what the hell, it’s not all a drag. And I’m thinking to myself, geez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never going to get, and just enjoy it while it lasts. And, you know, maybe there is something. Nobody really knows, I know, 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.
Day #32 Tip: Multiprotagonist vs Plural Protagonist
Hannah & Her Sisters was an Oscar-winner for Woody. With sublime performances from Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Diane Weist, Max Von Sydow (there’s a Bergman connection) Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey...and Woody himself, it’s his most optimistic film of that period.
Why? Because the film is about a group of Manhattanites who are all looking for love with their heads and find it with the hearts; that’s the Controlling Idea of the film.
Hannah & Her Sisters is a Multiprotagonist film. Over to McKee: “Here, unlike the Plural Protagonist (see yesterday’s Blog), characters in a Multiprotagonist film pursue separate and individual desires, suffering and benefitting independently, often creating a dynamic portrait of a specific society.”
The characters in Hannah & Her Sisters are thematically linked in that they are all pursuing love, one way or another, but the hows and the whys are different, except that they are all foolishly doing it with their brains and minds, rather than that most resilient of muscles, the heart.
I have been sitting on a synopsis for a romantic comedy (in the style of those “golden era” films) called Looking For Woody; it’s about a a screenwriter (no kidding?) who, on the bare bones of his a**e (gee?), and down to his last dollar or two (really?), goes to New York to find Woody Allen to pitch his film idea to him, in an all-or-nothing attempt to keep his dream alive. Two close friends in particular have been on my case to write it for as long as I’ve had the idea, which is about thirteen years. I daren’t listen to anything by Gershwin anymore, lest I get sucked back into the idea and in a mad moment flee to Manhattan to look for the Woody Allen I was inspired by who might not "be there" there anymore.
Hannah & Her Sisters is in my Top 10 films. Aside from the pure enjoyment and craftsmanship of the film, it’s given me the kernel of an idea for how to live my life. To paraphrase Mickey, and add a pinch of my own: “I don’t know about reincarnation, I don’t know if I’ve had previous lives or whether I’ve got another one coming. But I know that I’ve got this life and I know the gifts and talents, loves and passions that I’ve been given in this life; I’m not going to wait ‘til the next life to use them, I’m going to make the most of them this time ‘round.”
That’s why I’m writing this Blog, that’s why I’m pressing ahead with my scripts, that’s why I urge and implore you to do what you love. Be hungry for that life, people. Don't worry about money??!! To quote another Woody Allen line: "Money, I have nothing to worry about. I could live for a year on what I have...if I live like Mahatma Gandhi."