Cinema and Media Studies Woody Allen
by
Sam Girgus
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0019

Introduction

Since starting in the 1960s, Woody Allen (b. December 1935) has made more than forty films, an amazing record, especially considering how many of these films are deemed major works. After decades of intense public and critical exposure, Allen remains a bundle of contradictions. Still seen on screen and in public as the prototypical New York Jewish outsider, he has returned in recent years to being an artistic and cultural insider, regaining a good measure of his popularity as well as his confidence about judging and influencing artistic and cultural trends. At the same time, allegations from the past about sexual misconduct continually reemerge in the media to cast a shadow over Allen’s reputation as a man, a parent, and an artist. Legitimately compared to Mark Twain and Charlie Chaplin for his original contribution to modern comedy, he continues to profess dissatisfaction with his funny films and to yearn for achievement in more serious work. The author and director of some of the funniest work of our times, Allen invariably evidences a tragic and fatalistic vision of life, personal relationships, and experience. A moral and ethical consciousness that seems characteristically Jewish, New Yorkish, humanistic, and democratic suffuses Allen’s major classic comedy from the 1970s to the late 1980s with a unique blend of intellectual perspicacity, emotional sensitivity, and ethical complexity. For a time after this classic phase of Allen’s work, the moral and ethical trajectory of his films twisted downward into a somber mood of putative decline and depression. For many critics and much of his public, however, Allen has regained his artistic stride, strength, and rhythm in his so-called “exilic” phase in London, Barcelona, Paris, and Rome. The author thanks Deann Valrae Armstrong and Evan Garlock for their valuable assistance with this project.

Interviews

Going back to an early interview, Weinstein 1967, at the beginning of his career when the public was still discovering him, Allen over several decades has made himself regularly available for interviews, usually with people who view him and his work favorably and often under circumstances related to the release of a new film or venture. The interviews have become an indispensable source of information and insight into Allen. Björkman’s conversations with Allen in Allen and Björkman 1993 remain among the most frequently quoted and used sources by scholars and critics. Interviewing Allen in the United Kingdom, the author of Cadwalladr 2011 got him to offer insights about the importance of comedy for maintaining his sanity. His interview with Rolling Stone, De Curtis 1993, helped him explain his art and life in the midst of controversy, while Kapsis and Coblentz 2006 is a collection of interviews over nearly a quarter of a century that provide crucial background and content to Allen’s life and work. Allen’s more recent and lengthy conversations with Eric Lax, as in Lax 2007, have become an important source of information and ideas on the director. Lauder 2010 takes Allen in an unusual direction for him by engaging him on religion, while Royal 2012 brings out Allen on his more recent filmmaking. From his earliest interviews to his most recent, Allen invariably reveals himself to be extremely self-reflective and self-deprecating, often repeating some of the disparaging remarks he makes about his filmmaking and his inability to match the great filmmakers whom he wishes to emulate in his own work and life, such as Ingmar Bergman. Recent interviews suggest that he has grown more relaxed as he has gotten older to talk about his personal interests and experiences. While Allen’s famous humor inevitably manifests itself in his interviews, he also shows himself to be more articulate and insightful than many other directors, not only about his own filmmaking but about film itself. At the same time, he often suggests his own doubts about the ultimate value and lasting significance of his work, indicating a skepticism regarding the importance of art and the life of the mind to the everyday world of ordinary human events.

  • Allen, Woody, and Stig Björkman. Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Björkman. New York: Grove, 1993.

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    A frequently quoted resource for studying Allen’s experiences and ideas about life and comedy and art that contains the kernel of many of Allen’s often-expressed views and insights.

  • Cadwalladr, Carole. “Woody Allen: ‘My Wife Hasn’t Seen Most of My Films . . . and She Thinks My Clarinet Playing Is Torture.’The Guardian, 12 March 2011.

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    An interview in the United Kingdom related to the release of Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2011), in which Allen discusses his work and his past and intimates the importance of distraction to surviving psychologically in life.

  • De Curtis, Anthony. “The Rolling Stone Interview: Woody Allen.” Rolling Stone, 15 September 1993: 45–50, 78–82.

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    At a time when Allen needed to rebuild his public image, he gave a crucial interview to an important widely circulated publication that enabled him to reach a younger and probably a relatively open-minded audience.

  • Kapsis, Robert E., and Kathie Coblentz. Woody Allen: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006.

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    Important interviews and conversations with Allen from 1974 to about 2001, including interviews that have become crucial for Allen students for information and for insight into the director’s mind and work.

  • Lauder, Robert E. “Whatever Works: Woody Allen’s World.” Commonweal Magazine, 15 April 2010.

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    A Catholic priest interviews Allen on his bleak outlook on life and considers other positions for the filmmaker. Lauder views Allen as unequalled among the world’s greatest filmmakers.

  • Lax, Eric. Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking. New York: Knopf, 2007.

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    One of Allen’s most prolific supporters in print, Lax updates Allen’s views and insights and perceptions as the director seems to get more comfortable with his life as a senior citizen.

  • Royal, Derek Parker. “Nine Questions for Woody Allen: An Interview.” In Special Issue: Woody Allen after 1990. Edited by Derek Parker Royal. Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 31 (Winter/Spring 2012): 9–11.

    E-mail Citation »

    Through persistence, Parker achieved a recent interview through e-mails over time with Allen about several of his latest films, overcoming Allen’s occasional reluctance for such engagement with scholars and critics without a history of writing sympathetically and supportively about him.

  • Weinstein, Sol. “Playboy Interview: Woody Allen,” Playboy, May 1967: 63–73.

    E-mail Citation »

    Helps mark the beginning of Allen’s celebrity and fame in comedy in a magazine that would advance Allen’s reputation for a style of humor that develops the natural link between sex and comedy.

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