Somewhere in the beginning of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980) he says, with classic Allenesque neuroticism, “I don’t wanna be honored– it’s all hype!” Right down to today it still rings true. “It’s hard to imagine competition between books or films or works of art,” he says in Woody Allen on Woody Allen. “Who’s to say which is better? All are so different, each in its own way. [My films] aren’t made for competition, they’re just made for people to enjoy or not.”
Well, we do.
He is the Director/Writer/Actor’s Director/Writer/Actor and perhaps, along with Marty Scorsese, the last of the New Hollywood/Old Hollywood Purists still making films that are rooted, irrevocably, in the sensibilities of classical Hollywood filmmaking. (And can I just say that I dearly hope the topic of Allen’s soundtracks has been beat to a pulp for this Blogathon! They are a classic film fan’s dream come true.)
One could ramble for days on end with Woody (the film titles, Juliet Taylor, Mia, oy vey…) … so I’ll leave that to my fellow Blogathon bloggers and come quickly to the point of this post:
One of the biggest reasons I love Woody Allen films is because they are so cynically romantic. Not cynical of romance– love is the root of Allen’s work–but these are real world fairy tales. The characters are often lonely, miserable, desperate for validation, and often the movie ends with them precisely in the same way. But the journey from Square One to, well, Square One, brought them, in whatever it’s form, enough love–however fleeting– that they are, ultimately, somehow… OK.
This scene from Manhattan (1979) is, without question one, one of the most famous film endings of all time. It delivers the expectedly sentimental yet unexpected deeply visceral wallop that is right up there with Chaplin’s City Lights finale. (Allen is a Chaplin fan.) And it rather sums up nicely exactly why I feel the way I do about the films of Woody Allen. Manhattan isn’t my favorite Allen film–that’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). It’s certainly not his funniest film (nor is it meant to be)– that for me will always be Annie Hall (1977). But I do think that here, in these final few minutes of this highly dysfunctional love story, Allen has come as close to perfection as he has in any of his films.
Backed by a sweeping Gershwin medley that charges off with “Strike Up the Band,” falling into the aching loss of “Not For Me” and finally bursts into the soul-stirring “Rhapsody in Blue” crescendo, it parallels the protagonists journey… the rush of passion, the transience of love, the futility of life, and the reconciliation with yourself that you’re OK with that truth. Maybe even a bit… dare we say it … hopeful.