Woody Allen’s Pessimistic Vision
A CINEMATIC VIEW
Among contemporary American film artists, Woody Allen has no equal. His latest film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, although a flawed film, reveals again Allen’s unique talent: to embody a philosophical vision in popular, humorous films.
Now that Allen has mastered cinematic technique, his early creative attempts are interesting to recall. Though his first screenplay. What’s New Pussycat? (1965), is now an embarrassment to him, other early Allen works in which he served as writer/director/star, such as Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), and Love and Death (1975), are pretty much what you might expect from a clever comedy writer who did a stint as a stand-up comedian. In those films familiar targets of Allen’s humor emerged, such as sex, religion, intellectuals, and Allen’s own Jewishness. Early in his career who could have guessed that Allen, witty as he was, would develop into the outstanding film talent that he is?
With Annie Hall (1977), without losing any of his wit, Allen began to create comedies that had substance as well as humor. Almost each succeeding film has been at least from some point of view an ascending step in an increasingly impressive corpus of films. Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), and Broadway Danny Rose (1984) reveal Allen as an author/director who is as innovative as he is prolific, and almost as wise as he is witty.
A consistent preoccupation of Allen’s, most obvious in Stardust Memories, has been the relation between art and life. Almost always playing some kind of creative artist in his films, Allen looks for transcendence and some fleeting salvation from artistic creation. Having said in an interview that life “is a concentration camp,” Allen claims that all motivation and activity spring from the struggle against annihilation and death. Allen looks to art not as an ultimate answer but as a somewhat meaningful activity in an absurd universe. He is like Camus’s Sisyphus struggling to act significantly in a world that has no intrinsic significance. Though art does not provide salvation (Allen has described art as “the artist’s false Catholicism, the fake promise of an afterlife and just as fake as heaven and hell”) it can provide some entertainment, insight, and distraction within the concentration camp that rife allegedly is.
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