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A 2006 Woody Allen film festival in Manhattan screened more than 30 of the New York master’s movies. One writer tried to go to every one of them.

David Rakoff
November 18, 2011
(Tablet Magazine)
(Tablet Magazine)

At the end of 2006, writer and humorist David Rakoff, a Tablet Magazine contributing editor, took on the grueling task of attending as many screenings as he could endure of “Essentially Woody,” a three-week Woody Allen film festival held at Manhattan’s Film Forum. On the occasion of the Sunday-night premiere of the new three-hour PBS documentary on Woody’s life and work—and the Tablet podcast with Robert Weide, that film’s director—we’ve collected Rakoff’s reviews of, notes about, and digressions from the films of the consummate New York Jewish filmmaker, on the local festival audience, his sense of self reflected in Woody’s work, and, of course, Husbands and Wives and Hannah and Her Sisters, Sleeper and Bananas, and Annie Hall and a host of other Allen classics.

Part 1: Annie Hall: “Walking out, my friend Rick, thirty-plus years [Manhattan] resident said, ‘I had forgotten how Jewish a film it is.’ I really hadn’t noticed. But I’m the wrong guy to ask. It’s like saying to a fish, ‘Do things around here seem really wet to you?’ ”

Part 2: Play It Again, Sam and The Purple Rose of Cairo: “Being funny might just be the great aphrodisiac (take that, jowly, shambling war criminal, Henry Kissinger!). Being a pale, translucent, unphotosynthesized schmendrick didn’t matter as long as you were smart and funny.”

Part 3: Mighty Aphrodite and Manhattan Murder Mystery: “This is becoming chore-like already and I still have twenty-three films to go.”

Part 4: Love and Death and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask): “We’re becoming quite the little tribe. … There is me, the white-haired Hummer (meaning man who hums, not hypertrophic military vehicle repurposed for a greedy consumer market), the surly cinéaste, the old woman in the maxi-length down jacket, the fellow who could be doing some sort of Marcel Duchamp Dada experiment on his own body, so conspicuously ill-fitting is his … no, I will go no further with this unkindness.”

Part 5: Bullets Over Broadway and Everyone Says I Love You:Everyone Says I Love You is a sloppy insult whose cracks and flaws are spackled over with fistfuls of money and sundry diversions in the form of real estate porn.”

Part 6: Radio Days and Broadway Danny Rose: “Radio is more visual than film in precisely the same way that smell evokes memory in an exponentially more complex manner than a picture can. That each voice and song and commercial is a madeleine for Allen is conveyed in every frame.”

Part 7: Bananas and Sleeper:Bananas’ credits—yellow letters in an inflated ballonish font against a black background routinely pierced with bullet holes while Marvin Hamlisch’s bumptious score plays—are pre-auteur Woody.”

Part 8: Husbands and Wives and Hannah and Her Sisters: “Sidney Pollock—probably a completely nice guy in real life—projects an unpleasant jerk energy. The kind of aging Jewish swinger who still thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

Part 9: Wild Man Blues and Sweet and Lowdown: “The holiday season is over and the New Year under way. The only ones who can now come to a movie in the middle of the day are officially those firmly in my cohort: the old, the halt, the lonely.”

Part 10: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and Another Woman: “What binds these two together is what keeps coming up in Allen’s work: that damned anhedonia; the cerebral intellectualizing that masks a terror of feeling, that incapacity to give oneself over to joy that can leave one a vicarious observer to one’s own life (can you tell he’s hit a nerve?)”

Part 11: Manhattan: “It is at least in part a movie all about hair, both Temporal (Diane Keaton’s not entirely successful late-70s perm) and Divine: the birch plank of Meryl Streep’s mane. … But it is Mariel Hemingway’s impossibly silken horsetail chignon that reigns supreme.”

Part 12: Take the Money and Run and What’s Up, Tiger Lily?: “Throughout her cameo it appears as though [Louise Lasser] has an actual pimple on the end of her nose! It is completely endearing.”

Part 13: Interiors and Stardust Memories: “The symbolism of it is as subtle as a blackjack to the base of the skull.”

Part 14: Zelig and The Front:Zelig is a story of assimilation, of deep cover, of Jews in America.”

Part 15: Deconstructing Harry and Crimes and Misdemeanors: “The Strand Bag-oisie has come out in full force for the finale.”

Rakoff’s reviews appeared in Tablet Magazine’s predecessor publication,

David Rakoff is an essayist, a contributor to public radio’s This American Life, and the author Fraud, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, and Half Empty.

David Rakoff is an essayist, a contributor to public radio’s This American Life, and the author Fraud, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, and Half Empty.