Robert Tanitch reviews The Woody Allen Library (Kaleidoscope)
The eight films can be bought either as a box-set or individually. The films are listed in alphabetical order.
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994). This 1920s backstage story about artistic integrity and compromise is very funny. A Broadway playwright (John Cusack in a role Woody would have played in earlier years) has his play rewritten by a hoodlum (Chazz Palminteri) who is ready to bump off any actor who stands in the way of the play’s success. Jim Broadbent is a leading man. Dianne Weist got an Oscar for her performance as an ageing monstre sacre
CELEBRITY (1998) drifts from scene to scene in a Federico Fellini sort of way and takes a cynical look at shallow fame. Kenneth Branagh, cast as a journalist who sleeps around, sounds exactly like Woody Allen; and Judy Davis playing his neurotic wife also sounds like Woody Allen. The only person who does not sound like Woody Allen is a very young Leonardo DiCaprio who plays a young movie star who trashes hotel bedrooms.
DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (1997) is autobiographical and full of self-hatred. A nasty, shallow, sexually obsessed novelist (played by Woody Allen), too neurotic to function in life, can only function in fiction. He acts out his novels. He turns up at his old university to receive an honour with his young son (abducted), a hooker and a dead body. The dialogue is crude and witty. Robin William gamely appears out of focus, literally as a blur. Bill Crystal is cast as the devil. There are some typical Woody Allen anti-Jewish jokes.
EVERY ONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (1996). Woody Allen, jogging in Venice and visiting all the cliche tourist destinations in Paris, pursues a glamorous woman who finds him romantic and sexy. The characters burst into song (My Baby Just Cares For Me) and are liable to do big musical numbers in such unlikely places as hospital corridors and funeral parlours. You will probably be through with love by the time you reach the finale when everybody is pretending to be Groucho Marx.
MIGHTY APHRODITE (1995). A scriptwriter (Woody Allen) adopts a bright child and decides to trace the mother who turns out to be a dumb hooker (Mira Sorvino). Woody, a bit too old for the role, is his usual angst-ridden self. The script is enjoyable. “Who’s boss?” asks his son. “I’m boss,” he replies. “Mummy is just the decision-maker.” The use of a Greek chorus to comment on the action is a nice idea but never quite funny enough. Dumb hookers may find the film patronising.
SMALLL TIME CROOKS (2000) is a typical 1930s screwball comedy and should have been set in the 1930s. It begins as a story about inept criminals and then turns into a snobbish satire on the bad taste of the nouveau riche. Woody Allen’s brainless boor is merely unpleasant. Tracy Williams (as his wife with social ambitions) and Elaine May (as a dumb sister-in-law) are far funnier than he is. Hugh Grant plays a smooth art dealer after their money.
SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1999). Woody Allen loves jazz and his mock-documentary about a fictional lowdown jazz guitarist of the 1930s, the second best in the world, is remarkable for two performances. Sean Penn, a flamboyant obnoxious womaniser (with a strange hair-do) is quite extraordinary as the guitarist who shacks up with a sad, sweet, passive, adoring mute and treats her appallingly. Samantha Morton gives a beautiful silent film performance.
WILD MAN BLUES (1997) is a documentary of the European tour Woody Allen made with his New Orleans Jazz band in 1996. Woody, film director, screenwriter, dramatist, actor, stand-up comedian, is also an accomplished clarinettist. The real Woody doesn’t seem to be any different to the neurotic Woody he plays in his films. He is accompanied by his future wife, Soon-Yi Previn. She comes across as far older than her years and knows exactly how to humour him and control him. The final scene with his aged parents is excruciatingly embarrassing.