Woody Allen turned 75 today. Some have already stopped reading. Others can’t wait to read the rest. Such is the life of one of the most prolific filmmakers in cinematic history. Some of us love his films. Others express such sentiments as “not another Woody Allen movie”! Many from both camps have little regard for how his personal life has played out. Here, I only want to talk about movies.
He began writing jokes for the newspaper and talk shows when he was 15, but it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that his career really began to take hold … as a stand-up comedian. His first foray into movie directing was in 1966 with What’s Up Tiger Lily? In reality, that was the first “Mystery Science Theatre” because he took a Japanese spy film and re-wrote the dialog for comedic effect. Since 1966, Woody Allen the director, has consistently cranked out an average of almost one movie every year. 43 films total, not counting the one he is currently working on.
The first phase of his filmmaking is now known as “the early, funny ones”. I am a little fuzzy on exactly how long this phase lasted, but I assume it concluded about the same time as his relationship with Diane Keaton. History leads us to believe things changed for him in 1977 with the instant classic Annie Hall. Adored by critics and filmgoers, the film won him his first and only (so far) Academy Award. In 1979, he released my personal favorite, and he claims, his least favorite, Manhattan.
During the “Mia Farrow” phase, his pace of one per year continued with some more successful than others. Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Bullets Over Broadway all performed well enough at the box office, while also achieving the critical success he claimed to care so little about.
Many of his harshest critics claimed his movies always centered around the same three themes:
- God. Specifically the questioning of his existence.
- Life After Death.
- Love and/or The Meaning of Life
The rebuttal from his supporters stated these topics were fascinating when Mr. Allen explored them through his writing and filmmaking. What is extremely clear is that he was one of the few filmmakers who had control and the power to make the films he wanted to make, despite the fact that none were blockbusters and a few never turned a profit.
His current phase began with the startlingly good Match Point, which was also the first Woody Allen film not based in his beloved New York. He states the financial restrictions of Hollywood forced him to film overseas. He has worked overseas since and his 2008 gem Vicky Cristina Barcelona even included some Spanish dialogue.
So while I have no intention of changing anyone’s mind about the films of Woody Allen, his 75th birthday seemed the perfect time to stop and take notice of a remarkable career. So many films from a man who cared so little for a headline or compliment, yet the line of high-profile actors wanting to work with him was never-ending. He could actually be considered a blue-collar artist – a guy who spends his work hours writing and filming, and consistently meets his deadlines and produces solid work … sometimes even brilliant work. Do that for 44 years in the movie world, and they tend to remember you.