Review: Woody Allen: Seven Films – 1986-1991
Blu-ray: Woody Allen: Seven Films – 1986-1991
Arrow Academy’s third Woody Allen collection spans 1986-91 and the bulk of his work with Mia Farrow, who is featured in all seven of these films. They start with the much-loved family saga Hannah and Her Sisters, a warm and witty return to Allen’s beloved Manhattan, and the nostalgic Radio Days, a collection of stories from the time of Allen’s own 1930s/40s childhood.
More sombre fare comes with the Chekhov-influenced ensemble piece September and Another Woman, with a tour de force role for Gena Rowlands as a middle-aged philosophy professor whose accidental eavesdropping makes her reassess her life. And with Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen made one of his greatest films, a multi-layered and almost Dostoyevskian reflection on guilt that also finds room for some of his funniest one-liners.
The box concludes with two of his more fantastical films, the romantic comedy Alice, in which relationships are guided with the aid of mysterious ‘invisibility herbs’, and the black-and-white, star-studded Shadows and Fog, an homage to Kafka and German Expressionism that was based on Allen’s own one-act play Death.
- Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
- Radio Days (1987)
- September (1987)
- Another Woman (1988)
- Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
- Alice (1990)
- Shadows and Fog (1991)
Hannah and Her Sisters is my 2nd favourite (No 1 is Love and Death) Woody Allen film and tells the story of Hannah and her 2 sisters, Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest) The story is told in ‘sections’, beginning and ending at Thanksgiving parties hosted by Hannah and her husband, Elliot (Michael Caine). Most of the events of the film connect to Hannah, and she is the central stoic character.
It’s an interweaving story which examines all the usual woody Allen Neurosis, and has been compared to Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. In both films, a large theatrical family gather for three successive year’s celebrations (Thanksgiving in Allen’s film, Christmas in Bergman’s). The first of each gathering is in a time of contentment, the second in a time of trouble, and the third showing what happens after the resolution of the troubles. This is one of Woody’s more ‘accessible’ films where he’s still quite funny and not all serious and black and white.
Radio Days is another ensemble film in which Joe (the narrator…voiced by Woody Allen) explains how two burglars got involved in a radio game after picking up the phone. He goes on to explain that he associates old radio songs with childhood memories from the 30’s and 40’s in New York: Joe (the character…played by Seth Green) and his Jewish-American family in Rockaway Beach. His mother (Julie Kavner) always listened to Breakfast with Irene and Roger. His dad (Michael Tucker), who regularly gave him a thick ear, refused to tell anyone what his job was (taxi driver).
Joe’s own favourite radio show was The Masked Avenger. Joe’s fantasy the Masked Avenger looked like a hero, but in reality the voice actor (Princess Bride’s Wallace Shawn) was short and bald.
Again the film is full of vignettes including that of Sally White (Mia Farrow), whose dreams of becoming famous were hampered by her screechy voice and thick Noo Yawk accent. This is enjoyable but is… literally another Woody Allen film starring his then Muse; Farrow.
September is supposedly modeled on Anton Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya, though the gender roles are often subverted and reversed. Apparently Allen’s intention for September was that it be like “a play on film,” hence the great number of long takes and few camera effects.
After a failed suicide attempt, Lane (Farrow yet again) has moved into her country house to recuperate in Vermont. Her best friend, Stephanie (Wiest again), has come to join her for the summer to have some time away from her husband. And here I lost the will to live myself….. I was bored to tears and started playing with my phone.
Another Woman. YAWN
Alice. No thanks.
Then a ray of light!
Crimes and Misdemeanors follows two main characters: Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a successful ophthalmologist, and Clifford Stern (Woody Allen), a small-time documentary filmmaker.
Judah, a respectable family man, is having an affair with sassy flight attendant Dolores (Anjelica Huston). After it becomes clear to her that Judah will not end his marriage, Dolores, scorned, threatens to tell his wife of their affair. Dolores’ letter to Miriam is intercepted and destroyed by Judah, but she sustains the pressure on him with threats of revelation. Judah turns to his brother, Jack, who hires a hitman to kill Dolores. Judah must eliminate evidence of their affair and on returning to Dolores flat he sees her dead body and has a religious epiphany believing for the first time that God is watching him and passing judgment. Again, usual Allen fare of angst but he’s on the up again as this does harken back to… Oh dear dare I say it? Funny Woody Allen.
Next up is another slight return to form with Shadows and Fog. This was filmed on a 26,000-square-foot set at Kaufman Astoria Studios, which holds the distinction of being the biggest set ever built in New York. It was also his last film for Orion Pictures.
Shadows and Fog is an homage to German Expressionist filmmakers Fritz Lang, G. W. Pabst and F. W. Murnau in its visual presentation, and to the writer Franz Kafka in theme. Again Farrow stars and again…this couldn’t be anything other than an Allen film. But it is enjoyable although… okay I admit by now I am flagging. There is a reason for this. One positive that has come out of watching these films again is a new appreciation for Mia Farrow’s acting. I’ve always found her rather twee (Rosemary’s Baby being an exception) and her private life (Frank Sinatra anyone?) far more interseting than any performance. However, my main reason for feeling quite detached from his films now may or may not have a place in this review of Allen’s films, but I’m writing this review so its relevant for ME and has greatly influenced my viewing ‘enjoyment’.
I’ve long been an Allen fan, what’s funnier than Love and Death? (Blazing Saddles), and I love Hannah and her sisters, Sweet and Lowdown is sublime and Annie Hall is a classic. The last Allen film I saw, Blue Jasmine, was ..fantastic and I think I quoted (Bullets over Broadway) Helen Sinclair ‘s ‘You stand on the brink of greatness. The world will open to you like an oyster. No… not like an oyster. The world will open to you like a magnificent vagina’. A zillion times.
But I feel ..uncomfortable. Yes, you know what’s coming
So here are both sides of this story, and the reason that all Woody Allen’s films are now veiled in a sepia haze for me. I don’t know what to believe as both sides are compelling, but with the recent revelations about Jimmy Saville/Rolf Harris/Max Clifford and even Cliff Richard, well…. I can’t seem to see him in the same light or enjoy his films knowing that this could be true.
So after ruining your viewing experience, I will say that this is another excellent release from Arrow Films and is a wonderful companion to their previous set of Allen films.