Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Woody (Allen)!

Woody & Diane

Woody & Mia Farrow, 13 movies together

With Scarlett

It is my great pleasure to give a birthday shout out for one of my favorite comedians, actors, writers, and directors, Mr. Woody Allen!
Allen Stewart Konigsberg was born in Brooklyn at a very early age. His mom, Nettie, was a bookkeeper at her families delicatessen, and his dad, Martin, was a jewelry engraver and waiter, both born and raised on the lower east side of Manhattan. Indeed, New York City became a main theme and backdrop for Mr. Allen for the majority of his career.
He's said he got hooked on movies when he was 3 years old after his mom took him to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Perhaps I should watch the movie.
As a young man he became interested in magic tricks, cards, and playing the clarinet. It is said he spent a good deal of his time alone, reading and practicing magic and music, hobbies he continues to this day.
At age 15 he began writing jokes and selling them to an agent who sold them to newspapers. He began to call himself Woody Allen, but when he was 17 he legally changed his name to Heywood Allen.
After graduating from Midwood High School he attended New York University, but didn't seem to be interested in it very much as he was expelled. He also briefly attended City College of New York.
But Woody is a writer in the truest sense. He has said that some people come home from work and watch TV, or play golf, or bowl, to relax or as a hobby. He relaxes by writing.
I do not. I find writing exceedingly challenging, arduous, scary, something I wish to avoid at all costs, and exceptionally rewarding after I get it done. I am not a natural writer.
Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Woody Allen are natural writers. Natural writers are quite often also called prolific. And Woody is that in spades.
After his attempts at higher education he became a full time writer earning $75 a week. At 19 he was providing material for The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, Sid Caesar, Candid Camera, and other television programs.
In 1961 he began as a stand up comedian in Greenwich Village, developing a unique nervous, intellectual, quick witted, self deprecating, sexually awkward persona that he would continue to utilize throughout his career.
After performing on stage and TV for a few years he wrote a screenplay called, "What's New Pussycat?" The actor Warren Beatty hired him to rewrite the script and also to play a small part in the movie. By some odd happenstance in the rewrite Beatty's part got smaller while Allen's part became larger. Warren didn't care for that and left the project. The production continued with Peter O'Toole taking over Warren's role, and one of my other favorites, Peter Sellers, coming on board as well. Woody learned through this experience that traditional film making is a collaborative effort, and vowed to continue making films, but only if he retained complete control.
His early films were entirely comedic efforts, influenced to a large degree by The Marx Brothers, Groucho being one of his main lifetime influences. In 1966 his directorial debut was with "What's Up, Tiger Lilly?" which was actually a Japanese spy movie from the year before re-dubbed into English with a script provided by Woody and his writing partner at the time, Mickey Rose.
"Take the Money and Run," was Allen's first full directorial effort in 1969, followed by "Bananas," "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask," "Sleeper" (his first movie with Diane Keaton, in which she would appear in 7 more), and "Love and Death."
In the 1970s Woody changed the genre of his films from mainly flat out comedies to more traditional stories with comedic aspects, but involving certain elements not previously employed by Allen, like a plot. This is known by many as his Lubitsch era, after Ernest Lubitsch, the German born director known for elegant and sophisticated comedies of manners.
In 1977 "Annie Hall," won 4 Academy Awards... Best Picture and Best Actress in a Leading Role for Diane Keaton, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay (Woody has been nominated 14 times for this award, more than anyone else). Woody was nominated for Best Actor, but lost out to Richard Dreyfuss in "The Goodbye Girl." One could say this film was a milestone in both Allen's and Keaton's life. I certainly would. (I think I just did!)
I'm not going to list all of Woody's films here. There's too freaking many! Since the 1970s he's been making approximately one movie a year, independently of the Hollywood studio process, most on shoestring budgets, all actors no matter their stature getting paid the same nominal salaries (and alphabetic billing in the credits), and according to Woody, most of them losing money. But here's a few: "Manhattan," "Zelig," "Broadway Danny Rose," Hannah and her Sisters," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Shadows and Fog," "Manhattan Murder Mystery," "Bullets Over Broadway," Mighty Aphrodite" (one of my favorites simply because of Mira Sorvino who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress), "Celebrity," "Sweet and Lowdown," The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," "Hollywood Ending," "Match Point" (Woody has stated this as his favorite, a somewhat gloomy tale of murder starring one of his favorite recent leading ladies, our friend Scarlett Johansson), and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (also with Scarlett). All of these films run through almost every film genre know to man. From slapstick comedy, murder mystery, psychological drama, farce, love story, on and on, even a musical. Woody Allen is one of our most prolific, original, independent, and amazing talents. The man is a genius.
And that's just his movies. He also writes books, poetry, gifted actor, comedian, playwright, jazz musician, and he makes a mean Spanish omelet! He was voted the 19th greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly. Ranked 4th in Comedy Central's 100 Greatest Stand-Up Comedians of All Time. He directed, wrote and starred in five of the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest Movies: Annie Hall (1977) at #4, Manhattan (1979) at #46, Take the Money and Run (1969) at #66, Bananas (1971) at #69 and Sleeper (1973) at #80. He has been nominated or won over 136 awards. And he's provided me with one of my favorite quotes of all time, with which I completely agree: "I'm not afraid of dying . . . I just don't want to be there when it happens" (followed closely by "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying").
And whenever I see a movie with Woody Allen's name on it I know I can watch it and be thoroughly enthralled for an hour or two. He never disappoints.
So Mr. Allen, happy 75th. Everyone here at Joyce's Take wishes you continued good health and long life, and success in continuing with your work, whatever that may be.
Happy Birthday Woody!

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