Watching any Woody Allen’s films set in anywhere but New York, a city filled with its sophisticatedly advanced and highly educated people according to him, is always interesting, in particular to his early works pre-Annie Hall. The much younger Woody Allen had already known by then to where he should be headed with his wits and penchants for twisted philosophical views, and satisfying audience based on box-office takings certainly has never been his main priority.
An auteur, they say. The directors who insist on translating their visions to the big screen as concise as possible, thus high risks are nothing new on their menu. They may face constant downhill or uphill, and this should not bother them, for they will keep on making films despite critics’ wariness, for these madly creative conductors hang on to their beliefs that when they die, both existing and newly found fans will dig up their works, all of them, calling their less-successful works as “underrated”, “hidden gem”, “underappreciated”, etc.
Perhaps then, Woody Allen is one of the few remaining auteurs still alive and kicking his creative gears in producing films every one or two years. So much anticipation is reserved for his upcoming “Match Point”, an oasis of his recent string flops, yet his failures are things I find them hard to decipher, especially after seeing his earlier works, including Love and Death.
You don’t have to wait until the end credit rolls to find the film as ‘a Woody Allen film’. His admiration towards Ingmar Bergman is obvious enough on the presence of Death, a direct in-joke of the same character in the higher maestro’s classic “The Seventh Seal”, the split faces of Diane Keaton and the actress playing Ivan’s wife, and to those who nose on trivia, the mention of “The Magic Flute” as the greatest opera Mozart ever made during a pre-opera show scene also works double as it can be referred to other Bergman’s earlier work.
More importantly, what constitutes as a Woody Allen film is the director’s wits, a result of years doing stand-up comedy. Intelligent without being pretentious, Allen’s jokes are often punching you hard in minds, and the film’s laugh-out-loud-by-minute proves his excellence in delivering not just a comedy, but a mind-blowing film filled with originality in turning history to a hilarious result unthinkable at the time. Of course, you may think twice on being a pacifist during war season then.
Woody Allen’s deft comic timing is equaled by his muse of 1970s, Diane Keaton, who started developing her own comical sense, and she carries her deadpanned role easily, and watching her devilishly naïve in doing her wrongdoings gives the film a sense of pleasure to watch. After all, it is unlikely to find any other actresses can easily utter philosophical quotes in such a zany act to remain thoughtful.
And being one of great directors who has been widely known to bring out the best from his actors certainly will only cement the towering Woody Allen’s legendary reputation.