From the back cover
I have ben spending much of my time studying the works of Woody Allen. It’s not n easy task as his directing tally creeps closer to 50 and his writing credits have become innumerable. Once upon a time comedians wrote for a living. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that people devoured what it was that comedians scrawled across magazines, newspapers, short compilations, and of course, the great American novel. Woody Allen fit into this mix back in the days of yore, and he hasn’t really ever taken a break. He remains an hilarious thinker and quick tongued funny-man, with an endless grab bag of one liners that keep the chuckles coming.
I made the foolish mistake of reading this latest compendium in (practically) one sitting. I found it at B&N yesterday afternoon and decided to tear through it in time to read “Deathly Hallows”. Each short story was enjoyable, but I found myself trudging through some of them, leafing to the next break to see how much longer until a new face appears. That being said, I thoroughly enjoy most of the stories. The first five or so had me rolling on the floor. As I said, moving through became a little less fun, but there are certainly worse things out there to peruse.
In Sidney Lumet’s “Making Movies”, the filmmaker posits the question to Arthur Miller why he would prefer the theater if his first novel, “Focus”, which predates his subsequent successes, had every bit of strength as his stage stories. The writer replied something to the tune of loving the collaborative process. If for Miller it was camaraderie that kept him under the lime-lights, then it seems to be the pressures of films that keep Allen on the silver screen and off the bound page. When one is cutting checks in the millions for bagels and knishes on an overseas shoot, one damn well better hope to hell the script is in order.
Here, Allen lets loose and sets himself up to fail. And I promise, some of these shorts are failures. But it’s so wonderful to see the visionary branch out to territory he is not ready to do on the big screen. He is fairly detached from some things he writes about, but you can see he has done research enough to keep the facts straight. One of the book’s biggest mistake’s is a segment called Surprise Rocks Disney Trial. As we are all well aware, Mr. Allen is an east coast New Yorker no matter what locale he may find himself living in. This is an LA story he’s trying to tell, mocking the politics of the big bad Mouse House. Written as matter-of-factly as a stenographer would likely have taken the exchange down, a big mouthed Mickey Mouse takes the stand and quips about his animated friends. This is the stuff of adult swim wannabe kids who got a copy of Flash for Christmas. Where it does succeed is in seeing the master filmmaker try out something he is not known to do.
The novel really flies in segments that have hard boiled detectives or down on their luck actors. The names in the book are almost all hilarious in themselves. Names like Mealworm and Fleshpot. It is in the hard boiled tales like Tandoori Ransom and This Nib for Hire that he really flies. One must keep a thesaurus close to keep up with his witticisms, which at times feel like overblown intellectualisms, but in actuality, as one may find in his films, are a mile-a-minute pastiche of observations of this thing we have called pop culture all this time. While “Family Guy” rises in popularity for Dallas references or Margot Kidder appearances, Allen understands the interconnectedness of all things art. That is why he can write a rare cookbook in the style of Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Ate Zarathustra(“Man is the only creature who ever stiffs a waiter.”), or call upon Dostoevsky to quip of the doomed future of a three-year old denied a decent pre-school in The Rejection. He recognizes that we all share one community, and what is pop now is simply an old trick taught to a new dog.
I’ve long said that I love Allen’s films because even when I see a bad one, I leave the theater happy. The same rings true for this book. While he may not be changing the industry or making it on any bestseller lists, he’s writing better than many others out there. He writes like frog sit on lily pads, it’s just in his nature. I’ve heard people accuse him of still working simply for the sake of it, rather than actually making a great film or novel every time out. To them I say piss off. There is no denying that Woody will continue creating until he is taken from us. We must simply enjoy it while can, for there will never be another like him.