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With at least four distinct phases throughout his long career, writer-director-actor Woody Allen was one of the few American filmmakers rightly labeled an auteur. From the irreverent absurdity of his early satires like "Bananas" (1971) and "Sleepers" (1973) to his chronicles of neurotic New Yorkers in "Annie Hall" (1977), "Manhattan" (1979) and "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986), Allen's obsessions with beauty, psychiatry, intellect and relationships existed in all his work. Unique among filmmakers, Allen made highly personal films with mainstream money while managing to exert creative control over the product - all the while earning a high-level of critical respect and numerous Academy Awards. By keeping budgets low, the prolific filmmaker reached his mostly urban audience on a regular basis, churning out one movie practically each year. His creative fires never extinguished, as he directed dramas like "Interiors" (1978), morally ambiguous tragicomedies like "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989) and period comedies like "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994). Even when stepping outside of his comfort zone with "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996) and "Sweet and Lowdown" (1999), Allen had the creative acumen to pull it...
With at least four distinct phases throughout his long career, writer-director-actor Woody Allen was one of the few American filmmakers rightly labeled an auteur. From the irreverent absurdity of his early satires like "Bananas" (1971) and "Sleepers" (1973) to his chronicles of neurotic New Yorkers in "Annie Hall" (1977), "Manhattan" (1979) and "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986), Allen's obsessions with beauty, psychiatry, intellect and relationships existed in all his work. Unique among filmmakers, Allen made highly personal films with mainstream money while managing to exert creative control over the product - all the while earning a high-level of critical respect and numerous Academy Awards. By keeping budgets low, the prolific filmmaker reached his mostly urban audience on a regular basis, churning out one movie practically each year. His creative fires never extinguished, as he directed dramas like "Interiors" (1978), morally ambiguous tragicomedies like "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989) and period comedies like "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994). Even when stepping outside of his comfort zone with "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996) and "Sweet and Lowdown" (1999), Allen had the creative acumen to pull it off. Though he suffered personal scandal over his romantic involvement with adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn, as well as a professional nadir with "Small Time Crooks" (2000) and "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" (2001), Allen regained his critical stature with "Match Point" (2005), "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008) and "Midnight In Paris" (2011), which cemented his place in cinema history as one of its finest directors.
Allen Stewart Konigsberg was born on Dec. 1, 1935, in Brooklyn, NY. He was the only son of Orthodox Jewish parents Nettie, a bookkeeper, and Martin, who held a series of odd jobs, including waiter and jewelry engraver. Growing up in the middle class neighborhood of Midwood, Allen spent his free time at the local movie theaters where he was drawn into the worlds of the Marx Brothers and Humphrey Bogart. In stark contrast to Allen's screen persona as an awkward outsider, he was well-liked in school, playing on the baseball team and entertaining students with card tricks and jokes. When he was still a teenager, he began selling his jokes to newspaper columnists and officially adopted the pen name Woody Allen. He was contributing material to such programs as "The Colgate Comedy Hour" (NBC, 1950-55) and Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" (NBC, 1950-54) before he even graduated from Midwood High School in 1953. After a brief stint at New York University where he purportedly failed a film course, Allen wrote for Caesar's "Caesar's Hour" (NBC, 1954-57) while writing jokes for comics and nightclub performers including Carol Channing, Art Carney and Buddy Hackett. He eventually took the stage and became a stand-up comedian himself, honing the intellectual "schnook" persona that would become his trademark.
Allen's stage act was uniquely New York - Jewish, intellectual, guilt-ridden and anxious, with an insecure, halting stammer. His monologues poked fun at everything from sex and marriage to religion and politics and his refreshing personal style proved popular in liberal Greenwich Village cabarets and on college campuses. During the early 1960s, Allen found more and more outlets for his imagination and humor, publishing short stories in the New Yorker, co-writing a musical comedy revue called "A to Z" and writing his first feature film, the farcical "What's New, Pussycat?" (1965), directed by Clive Donner. Allen also starred in the film that served as an introduction to career-long recurring themes of romantic complications and a reliance on psychotherapy. He married Broadway actress and singer Louise Lasser in 1966 (an earlier teenage marriage had ended in 1962) and debuted as a filmmaker of sorts when he re-dubbed a minor Japanese spy thriller with his own irreverent dialogue and plot, releasing it as "What's Up Tiger Lily?" (1966). That, along with the James Bond spoof "Casino Royale" (1967), which he co-wrote and acted in, launched one of the most successful and unusual careers in American filmmaking history.
Following the production of two more stage plays - "Don't Drink the Water," about a New Jersey family spying in an Iron Curtain country, and "Play It Again, Sam" (1969) about a film critic who invokes the spirit of Humphrey Bogart to guide him through life - Allen wrote, directed and starred in "Take the Money and Run" (1969). The unceasingly funny parody of both gangster films and cinema verite documentaries starred Allen as an unlikely escaped convict. The loose structure, lack of technical polish, and indebtedness to his nightclub one-liners was also evident in "Bananas" (1971), a satire lambasting both politics and mass media that starred Lasser as an idealistic leftie with a groupie-like admiration for a South American rebel leader who turns out to be her ex-boyfriend (Allen) in disguise. Another madcap satire, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)" (1972), consisted of a series of loosely related shorts debunking various sexual myths while poking fun at the era's self-help craze. The already prolific filmmaker followed up with a screen adaptation of his stage production "Play it Again Sam" (1972), which established Allen's indebtedness to classic films and began his long association with actress Diane Keaton. Allen's marriage to Lasser had ended several years earlier and Keaton took over the role of Allen's girlfriend, muse and star of his films.
As the 1970s progressed, Allen began to find his voice as a filmmaker, rounding out his "slapstick" period with "Sleeper" (1973), about a health food store owner cryogenically frozen and thawed out after 200 years. "Love and Death" (1975) marked a leap forward for Allen, raising philosophical questions and showcasing a love of great literature and arts with its spoof of Russian culture. Allen's aspirations to be considered a "serious" moviemaker were acutely evident in "Annie Hall" (1977), the first of his films to achieve widespread critical and box office popularity. While still anchored in comedy, it clearly tackled themes that reflected his own concerns in life and he utilized sophisticated narrative devices such as breaking the fourth wall, and relied less on slapstick and sight gags. In the lead role as Alvy Singer, the writer-director-actor solidified his screen persona as the urban, Jewish intellectual outsider; this time pursuing the love of a quirky but ethereal WASPY beauty (Keaton). Often considered the quintessential Allen movie - personal and thoughtful yet satiric and entertaining - "Annie Hall" earned four Academy Awards including beating out "Star Wars" for Best Picture, Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Director (Allen) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman).
As a surprising follow-up, Allen shifted to more dramatic material and focused on the starchy, repressed WASP milieu in "Interiors" (1978). Owing more than a passing debt to Ingmar Bergman, Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill, "Interiors" probed the angst and petty betrayals of an upper-class family with three daughters. Many critics and audience members were confounded by the deadly earnest tone, but inarguably the film was beautifully shot by cinematographer Gordon Willis and strongly acted by a cast that included Geraldine Page, E.G. Marshall, Diane Keaton and Maureen Stapleton. "Interiors" earned a surprising five Oscar nominations, including nods to Allen for direction and writing. The following year, he re-teamed with Marshall Brickman to write his most profitable (and arguably best) film, "Manhattan" (1979). With its lush Gershwin score, gorgeous black-and-white photography (again by Willis) and brilliant ensemble cast, the film marked a return to comedy peppered with autobiographical and romantic elements. It was also notable as Allen's last film with Diane Keaton for many years, as their off-screen relationship was ending around the same time. The film engendered mild controversy over Allen's onscreen love interest, a teenaged Mariel Hemingway.
In "Stardust Memories" (1980), Allen's character of a film director is exhorted to "make funny movies," something the character is adamant about no longer doing. Allen was sorry that audiences largely interpreted this as autobiographical, though he did follow it up with a return to slapstick in "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (1982), where he also found a new on- and off-screen leading lady in Mia Farrow. The period mockumentary "Zelig" (1983) melded Allen's fascination with celebrity with his growing grasp of cinematic methods. A marvel of technical wizardry, Allen intercut and merged new footage with old to recreate vintage newsreels and sound recordings. "Broadway Danny Rose" (1984) was primarily dismissed by critics as a minor outing, yet it centered on a marvelous performance from Farrow who was virtually unrecognizable as the Brooklyn-accented former mistress of a gangster. Farrow gave another outstanding lead performance as the timid, Depression-era wife of an abusive husband who finds refuge at the movie theater in the "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985). Another technical tour de force, the delightful fantasy took a turn when a matinee idol (Jeff Daniels) stepped off the screen to woo the unhappy woman. Tying together several of Allen's major themes - fame, romance, fantasy and art - the film earned Best Screenplay and Best Director Oscar nominations for Allen.
For much of the decade, Allen concentrated on drama with the exception of "Radio Days" (1987), a charming memoir of life in World War II Brooklyn, threaded together by a wonderful soundtrack of the era's hits. He was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, an award he had won the previous year for his Chekhovian "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986), a chronicle of New York family relationships and a set of very different sisters. The bloodless "September" (1987) and the Bergman-esque "Another Woman" (1988), featuring a virtuoso leading turn from Gena Rowlands, were further examinations of the emotionally bereft worlds of WASPy New Yorkers. With the outstanding "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), Allen closed the decade with a pessimistic examination of the morality of murder and earned more Oscar nominations for his screenplay and direction. In a lighter mode, 1990's "Alice," a riff on Lewis Carroll's Alice and Wonderland, cast Farrow as a wealthy but shallow uptown woman who receives a new perspective on life thanks to a Chinatown herbalogist. Allen had a rare starring role in a film not of his own making, playing Bette Midler's husband in Paul Mazursky's seriocomic look at contemporary marriage, "Scenes from a Mall" (1991) - a film which tanked miserably. Back behind the camera, his critically reviled "Shadows and Fog" (1992) was an allegory about anti-Semitism that combined homages to 1930s German expressionism and 1950s European art films but was plagued by one-note characterizations.
Though not without humor, "Husbands and Wives" (1992) marked one of Allen's most emotionally violent films. Highlighted by jittery, hand-held cinema verite camerawork and a pessimistic view of enduring love, the film was released early by its distributor in part to capitalize on its uncanny parallels with the real-life turmoil between Allen and Farrow. Their very public break-up, spurred by Allen's romantic involvement with Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon Yi, was followed by Farrow's public accusations that Allen had molested their adopted daughter, Dylan (now Malone). In the midst of all the Sturm und Drang, Allen made the frothy but fun "Manhattan Murder Mystery" (1993), which reunited him with Marshall Brickman and ex-flame, Diane Keaton. The comic thriller attempted to recreate the banter and urbanity of such seminal films as "The Thin Man," though it proved to be a financial disappointment, overshadowed by Allen's personal troubles - which by this time, were monumental, when Soon Yi left her family to be with Allen. By the time "Bullets Over Broadway" was released in 1994, Allen was out of the headlines and audiences were ready to embrace his work anew. The hilarious period comedy about a 1930s New York playwright (John Cusack as Allen's screen alter ego) banked on a lush, dramatic portrayal of the era's theater world and benefited from an outstanding ensemble cast, including Oscar-winning performances from Dianne Wiest as a past-her-prime stage diva and a nomination for Chazz Palminteri as a thug-turned-ghost writer. Under it all, the film was a successful meditation on the definition of an artist.
Allen returned to TV to adapt, direct and co-star in a small screen remake of his 1968 stage play "Don't Drink the Water" (ABC, 1994). On the big screen, "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995) was an uneven attempt that baldly proclaimed its indebtedness to Greek theater with the use of a chorus. Allen played a middle-aged sportswriter searching for the birth mother of his adopted child, who turns out not to be the cultured woman he imagined but a prostitute. With "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996), he combined frothy 1930s musical sensibilities with his familiar themes, resulting in a mixed response that divided audiences and critics. "Deconstructing Harry" (1997) was an Oscar-nominated screenplay - a scatological and complex look at a writer's life employing black comedy and dramatizations of his works to comment on the function of the artist in society. "Celebrity" (1998) with Kenneth Branagh doing a mannered Allen impersonation in the leading role, was considered a misbegotten, poorly cast take on the contemporary obsession with fame. Paying his own price for fame, Allen was in the tabloids again for his 1997 marriage to Soon Yi Previn, 35 years his junior. The marriage reminded all of the sordid story from only six years prior, but the couple seemed in love. The following year, documentarian Barbara Kopple released "Wild Man Blues" (1998). Rather than focusing on Allen the filmmaker, Allen the amateur clarinet player was the central character, from the Monday evening club engagement he held for decades to a European tour.
Allen the filmmaker continued to put out one movie per year for the next five years. Still dabbling in different genres and new techniques, 1999's clever mockumentary/dramedy hybrid "Sweet and Lowdown" cast Sean Penn in one of his finest performances as a fictional 1930s jazz guitarist and hothead. He followed up with the surprisingly mainstream but highly comic heist picture, "Small Time Crooks" (2000) and the disappointing period faux noir "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" (2001). "Hollywood Ending" (2002), where Allen played a film director who goes blind, was poorly received. The target of much criticism for his series of disappointing films, Allen mined familiar territory in 2003 with "Anything Else," which did little groundbreaking besides casting Jason Biggs in the Allen-esque lead as a young writer bedeviled by his torturous relationship with a neurotic actress (Christina Ricci), with Allen playing the role of Biggs' conspiracy-minded mentor. He rebounded with the novel "Melinda and Melinda" (2005), which offered two parallel interpretations of the romantic troubles of a neurotic, self-destructive woman (Radha Mitchell); one tragic and one comic. The film's intriguing structure and fresh cast, including Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, Chl Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mitchell as two widely differing Melindas, made the film one of the more satisfying efforts from Allen in recent years.
Even better was his next project, "Match Point" (2005), an entirely serious, morality-minded effort featuring Jonathan Rhys Myers as a social climbing tennis pro who believes he would rather "be lucky than good," who finds himself torn between his comfortable, practical, status-confirming union with a loving wife (Emily Mortimer) and his torrid affair with a sensual but ultimately demanding American actress (Scarlett Johansson). Allen did not appear as an actor in the film, and even more significantly, neither did New York City: the film was shot entirely in London. "Match Point" demonstrated that Allen still had considerable power as a filmmaker and fresh subject matter to explore as a screenwriter. His continued significance as a writer was validated with an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. "Scoop" (2006), a comedy about an American journalism student in London, and "Cassandra's Dream" (2007), a morality tale about a pair of brothers also set in London, earned lukewarm reviews but his fourth European outing, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008) was a critical pick. An evocative new locale and a well-matched cast including Allen's latest muse, Scarlett Johansson, as well as Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, spelled a return to Allen's strength with intelligent and thoughtful romantic comedies. The filmmaker's next project was "Whatever Works" (2009), starring Larry David. After writing and directing his fourth London film, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" (2010), Allen returned to prominence with "Midnight in Paris" (2011), an engrossing comedy-drama where a despondent Hollywood hack (Owen Wilson) dreams of writing his novel and is mysteriously transported to the past where he meets his artistic heroes Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). The film received widespread acclaim - including a Golden Globe for Allen for Best Screenplay - and became his highest-grosser at the box office, surpassing "Hannah and Her Sisters." For his work on "Paris," Allen earned his 22nd and 23rd career Academy Award nominations with nods for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay; ultimately taking home the Oscar for the latter.
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As of 2000, Allen has been nominated for 20 Academy Awards: once for Best Actor; six times for Best Director and 13 times for Best Screenplay
"I just keep my nose to the grindstone. I don't listen to people who criticize me, don't listen to them tell me my films are bad, or listen to people who tell me I'm a comic genius. I don't worry about getting rich or about what people say. I focus on the work with the same fanaticism that a Muslim fundamentalist might focus on religion. If I was giving advice to younger people, I would tell them to not listen to anything, not read what's written about you, don't listen to anybody, just focus on the work."---Allen quoted in New York's Daily News, October 22, 1995.
Allen has played New Orleans jazz clarinet with his group, the New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra, almost every Monday at Michael's Pub in New York since 1971 (and skipped the 1978 Oscar ceremonies so as not to miss a Monday night set).
"I didn't want to play Bogart. I didn't want to play John Wayne. I wanted to be the schnook. The guy with the glasses who doesn't get the girl, who can't get the girl but who's amusing."---Woody Allen to John Lahr in The New Yorker, December 9, 1996.
"Denis Hamill: What are your feelings toward Mia Farrow now?
Woody Allen: I haven't had any contact with her for years. Although we've had our many conflicts, I have no further or lingering feelings about it. I wish her well. No, I haven't read her book, don't intend to. Not interested in the whole thing. To me, it's history. I know what happened and what she thinks. As it turned out, in that period of my life, more people that I care about became closer to me than became estranged. People I thought of as acquaintances became friends. Some rose to the occasion in heroic fashion for me. Which was great. My relationship with Soon-Yi is the best one of my life. So it wasn't all bad."---Allen quoted in the article "Deconstructing Woody", Daily News, October 5, 1997.
"After the treadmill and breakfast, I lie down on the bed with a pad and pencil or pad and pen and write for two hours and then have a shower. Write for another two hours and break for lunch, Then write all afternoon. I could write all the time. I love to write. All I need are little breaks to practice the clarinet and to get a breath of fresh air. Then I can't wait to get back to it because I'm refreshed. I'd be happy to write all day and all night. If I didn't make movies, I could easily write four screenplays a year."---Allen to Denis Hamill in Daily News, October 7, 1997.
"I've been blessed. It's like fool's luck. From the day I made my first film, nobody at United Artists and then Orion expected anything. I've had nothing but support, freedom, final cut, nobody tells me who to cast. It's nothing that I did to earn it. It was given to me by magnanimous people."---Woody Allen in conversation with Martin Scorsese, The New York Times Magazine/i>, November 16, 1997.
"Working with Woody is like holding a puppy. It's warm and nice, but you know if you hold on too long he's going to piss all over you."---an unnamed source quoted in Marion Meade's biography, "The Unruly Life of Woody Allen" (Scribner's, 2000).
About his break up with Mia Farrow, Allen told London's The Daily Telegraph (March 18, 2002): "It was big and messy and it could have been handled better and had better consequences. But I didn't have any choice. I was put in that position and I had to respond. Normally I like to handle everything quietly and discreetly and I'm a, you know, a friendly and forgiving private type. But I will always ... There are certain situations where you are forced to act."
"It was a terrible, terrible, terrible situation. My not having access to the children is completely cruel and unfair. Not in their best interests. But these dreadful things happen in life. To balance that I had parents with good longevity [his father lived to 100, his mother was 95]. I've been healthy. I've been blessed with a talent."
In June, 2002, Allen sued longtime friend and producer sued Jean Doumanian and her business partner and boyfriend, Jacqui Safra, saying they cheated him out of his share of profits on eight movies made since 1993. Allen said the pair owed him more than 12 million dollars. The parties reached an undisclosed settlement after 9 days in court.
"I feel less comfortable when I'm doing dramatic things. But that's my real aspiration, my secret dream. I wish I had been a tragic poet instead of a minter of one-liners.
So whenever I get a chance to do something dramatic, I do it with such passion for it. But I don't move as gracefully in those circles as an Ingmar Bergman does or Tennessee Williams did."---Allen to CNN.com, March 23, 2005.
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