The Films of Woody Allen: Critical Essays
Conard, Mark T., Post Script
The Films of Woody Allen: Critical Essays Charles L. P. Silet, Ed. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2006. xviii + 339 pp. $45/$80
The Films of Woody Allen: Critical Essays is a collection of previously-published essays, mostly written by academics, particularly those in Films Studies, Humanities, and English. The essays were published mainly in the 1980s and early 1990s (the latest is from 2003), and the editor, Charles L. P. Silet, tells us in the introduction that they largely examine Allen's films from the 1980s, "the period many feel is the most significant of Allen's career" (xi), something of an odd statement, given that two of Allen's masterpieces, Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979), were produced in the 1970s, and given the artificiality of breaking down the periods of Allen's work into decades. Silet quickly goes on to note that some of the essays focus on films from the 70s--Love and Death (1975), Annie Hall, Interiors (1978), and Manhattan--and one concerns 1992's Shadows and Fog. Thus, while the volume does examine Allen's most important films prior to the 1990s, and while it does cover many of the most important reoccurring themes in Allen's work there's no treatment at all of some of the later, better films, such as Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Deconstructing Harry (1997), or Sweet and Lowdown (1999).
The essays range in quality of the writing, coherence of the arguments and claims, and accessibility. Unfortunately, several are written in jargonistic postmodern-speak and will be inaccessible to lay readers and annoying to those of us who prize clarity and precision in writing, as opposed to obfuscation. One essay, "Autumn Interiors, or the Ladies Eve: Woody Allen's Ingmar Bergman Complex," is a hatched job by Bert Cardullo, who clearly is a Woody Allen-hater. He claims that Interiors, September (1987), and Another Woman (1988) are all embarrassing episodes in Allen's career; that Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) fail as genuine tragicomedy; and that, given the fact that Allen plays clarinet, he may have "missed his true vocation" (143). None of this flat-footedness is helpful, and the volume would have been stronger without the essay. Below I focus on the better essays in the book.
One of the strongest essays is Ronald D. LeBlanc's "Love and Death and Food: Woody Allen's Comic Use of Gastronomy," in which he examines food as an important metaphor in Allen's work. He claims that Allen "possesses the gift for humorously deflating the pretensions of his fictional characters--be those pretensions social, political, sexual, or philosophical," and that one means "for bringing about this comic deflation is the use of food imagery" (101). …