Woody Allen: Innovative Comedian, Screenwriter, Director, And A Cultural Icon In His Own Time

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Woody Allen is an extraordinarily talented American artist, who has excelled as a playwright, comedian, jazz musician, author, screenwriter, director and actor. He created a unique style of stand-up comedy, by developing a nervous, neurotic, intellectual persona, which transformed the comedy monologue genre, and has become highly influential. He has also been a successful Broadway playwright, in addition to writing several one-act plays. Allen is best known for his long and extremely varied film career, which continues to the present. In addition to his success as a screenwriter, Woody is also recognized as a noted director.

As a screenwriter his style evolved from early screwball sex comedies, primarily influenced by S. J. Perelman, to sophisticated Lubitch style comedies, culminating in the screenplay for”Annie Hall,” which set the standard for modern romantic comedy. By the 1980s, Allen’s work took on a more somber, philosophical tone, as he came under the influence of the works of European directors Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Later films have taken a different direction, some with lighter subject matter, such as “Bullets Over Broadway.” The latest news is that Woody is preparing to release a new film in the near future.

Allen Stewart Konigsberg (Woody Allen) was born on December 1, 1935, in New York City. His parents, Nettie and Martin Konigsberg were born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Woody did not have a particularly happy childhood. His parents did not get along, and he had a rocky relationship with his stern, temperamental mother. While still in high school, Woody began writing jokes (or gags) for newspaper columnists in order to make some money. At the age of 17, he legally changed his name to Heywood Allen. A little later he began to call himself Woody Allen, taking his stage name from clarinetist Woody Herman.

Then after high school, he attended New York University (NYU), where he studied communication and film. A bit later, he attended City College of New York (CCNY), and eventually taught at The New School. After his brief experiences at NYU and CCNY, he became a full-time writer for Herb Schreiner, earning $75 a week. Then at age 19, he started writing scripts for the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show and specials for Sid Caesar and other TV shows. By the time he worked for Sid Caesar, he was making $1500 a week.

At the age of 24, Woody Allen started a new career as a stand-up comedian, and had his debut at the Duplex, a club in Greenwich Village. As previously mentioned, his innovative approach to the comedy monologue genre was considered highly influential. In one of his stand-up comedy routines, Woody tells his audience about how, when he was young, he was often sent to inter-faith summer camps, where he “was savagely beaten by children of all races and creeds.” When he worked for Sid Caesar, he worked closely with Danny Simon (Neil’s brother), who Allen credits for helping him to form his writing style. As his style developed, he began to write short stories for the New Yorker magazine, and was particularly inspired by four prominent humorists, who wrote for the New Yorker, SJ. Perelman, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley and Max Shulman.

In 1965, Woody landed his first movie, “What’s New, Pussycat?,” for which he wrote the initial screenplay. As the project developed, Woody lost control of the writing, as he was being manipulated by Warren Beatty, then later by Peter O’Toole, but particularly, by Peter Sellers, who demanded re-writes for his enlarged role in the movie. The failure of this project became a great lifetime lesson for Woody. As a result, Allen remains one of a handful of writers and directors who has been able to maintain complete control over his own work.

Undoubtedly, one of Woody Allen’s best movies, ever, was the Academy award-winning film, “Annie Hall,” for which Woody wrote the screenplay, as well as directing it and co-starring in it, opposite Diane Keaton. The movie takes place in Manhattan, and really captures the feeling of life in New York among a group of young, over-educated people, dealing with their anxieties, sexuality, inadequacies and complex interactions with each other – in the charged atmosphere of Manhattan, in the 1970s. One of my favorite scenes in the movie takes place in the lobby of the The New Yorker movie theater on the Upper West Side. Alvy Singer(Woody Allen) is waiting on line with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).

Standing right behind them is a Columbia professor, who is delivering a monologue, in a loud voice, to his girlfriend, about Marshall McLuhan’s views about media. Alvy (Woody) complains to Annie (Diane), and then turns to us, the movie audience, and says something like: “don’t you just hate this kind of pretentious loudmouth. Wouldn’t it be great if Marshall McLuhan would just appear and straighten him out. Then, suddenly, Alvy(Woody) escorts the Columbia professor over to Marshall McLuhan, who appears out of nowhere, and proceeds to tell the Columbia professor that he knows nothing about his theories of media. Then, Alvy (Woody). again, turns back to us, and says: “if only life was really like that!”

Woody Allen has received a considerable number of awards over the course of his career, both in the United States and abroad. Despite friendly recognition from the Academy, Woody has always refused to attend the ceremony, or acknowledge his awards. Similarly, when premiering his films at festivals, Allen does not screen his films in competition, thereby deliberately taking them out of consideration for potential awards. There is a selflessness in this, that actors who work for Woody appreciate. Because of budget constraints on all of Woody’s movies, actors work for much lower salaries on his projects, but consider it an honor to work with him.

So what does all this acclaim tell us about Woody Allen?

As an observer, it seems obvious that Woody takes an honest approach to his projects, and by association, he demands that same honesty from the performances of his actors. And, we, the audience, are the beneficiaries. When he’s at the top of his game, Woody Allen can make us laugh at ourselves, in a way that no other screenwriter or director can. By getting us to laugh, he disarms us from becoming defensive – and from this platform he draws us in. As we laugh, he taps into the very personal areas within all of us, sometimes arousing our pain, and yet, when it’s all over, we can, again, laugh at all of our foibles.

At the end of his movie, “Annie Hall,” Woody tells an old comic’s joke, which, delightfully, sums up the absurd contradictory needs in all of us: “My uncle thinks that he is a chicken. So everybody asks me, ‘why don’t you turn him in?’ And I tell them, ‘I can’t, because I need the eggs’.”

Thank you, Woody – keep on delivering those eggs!

write by johnson

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