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Wednesday, March 1, 2006 10:05 pm

Woody’s process

Despite Allen’s reputation, much of his best work has been ignored

Match Point has given Woody Allen his widest mainstream recognition in years. He is considered a national treasure despite his enigmatic image. Even his public life is the source of confusion. A few months ago, Jenny Olive of KISS (99.7 FM) joked that Allen had married his stepdaughter. Actually he married the adopted daughter of his ex-girlfriend Mia Farrow and her former husband André Previn. Allen was never married to Farrow, nor did they live together, but the seamier story still haunts his reputation. Undaunted by public ridicule, Allen continues to churn out films at a steady pace, usually at least one per year. The critical acclaim of Match Point managed to completely overshadow his previous release, Melinda and Melinda (2004), which finally made it to U.S. theaters last year. Experimentation has been a hallmark of Allen’s career, and here he presents a unique exercise in the art of storytelling. Two men are challenged to create different stories based on the same premise, that of a woman named Melinda who crashes a dinner party. One sees the story as a tragedy, whereas the other finds the elements of a comedy. Radha Mitchell stars as Melinda in the parallel stories, which offer similar details with quite diverse plotting. The initial gimmick gives way to a compelling contrast of storytelling forms. Melinda and Melinda should be seen by anyone who writes fiction in any format. Despite Allen’s reputation and the abundance of films, much of his best work has been ignored. Sure, everyone is familiar with Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), but what about his two greatest films, Stardust Memories (1980) and Deconstructing Harry (1997)? Allen’s adulation of European cinema is evident in many of his films, and Stardust Memories is his homage to Federico Fellini’s 8? (1963). Allen stars as a director of comedies whose work has become increasingly serious over the years, much to the chagrin of his fans. Of course, the master of personal angst is referring to himself. Part of the reason Stardust failed to connect with a larger audience is that Allen’s audience is a target for his satirical barbs. Deconstructing Harry, a perfect companion piece to Melinda, explores the life and mind of a writer who draws from his own life for inspiration. Parallel stories here are used to compare and contrast reality and fiction. Harry is darker and raunchier than what is normally expected from Allen. Some of us prefer his less funny movies.
New releases on DVD on Tuesday (March 7): Jarhead, Prime, Just Friends, Howl’s Moving Castle, and The Warrior.
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