Screened January 2 2009 on MGM DVD in Weehawken NJ

TSPDT rank #880  IMDb Wiki

A series of loosely connected anecdotes reminiscing over the heyday of radio programs and their effect on a Queens household modeled after that of Woody Allen’s childhood, Radio Days resembles a standup routine more than any of the work of this legendary comedian-turned-actor/director.  Allen’s buoyant voiceover accompanies a wall-to-wall soundtrack of period jazz, a fluid, hard-driving talk-and-tunes narrative approach that anticipates the first hour of Scorsese’s GoodFellas [TSPDT #99] by a few years.  A third of the anecdotes lead nowhere other than to provide amusing flourishes to this vivid period portrait, but the general narrative disjunction makes sense in a film whose underlying philosophy is to resist the passage of time, though history registers gently with the onset of World War II and its effect on both the family and the radio industry. Its hometown nostalgia owes a debt to Fellini’s Amarcord [TSPDT #82] and Allen’s cartoonish cast is also Felliniesque, with not one but two Giulietta Masini holy fool types who are the only characters possessing a narrative arc (Mia Farrow as an aspiring radio star and Dianne Wiest as a spinster aunt looking for Mr. Right).

It’s typical of the leveling tendency of Allen’s social worldview to make the radio stars seem banal in their appearances and concerns, while the humble working class Jewish family and neighborhood denizens carry the aura of genuine experience, especially in a series of coarse but witty family arguments.  The stars only matter because of the feelings and fantasies they evoke among family members, leading to some gently lyrical moments such as a girl in a makeshift Carmen Miranda getup doing a bedroom cha-cha while family members look on.  Allen’s attempt to bridge the gap between the glamorous radio world the outer boroughs comes through Farrow’s cigarette girl looking for a break into the studio, a saga whose exaggerated incidents (involving gangster hits and Pearl Harbor) are largely unconvincing despite Farrow’s best attempts to channel Judy Holliday.  A number of the punchlines are quaintly anachronistic (i.e. one of Wiest’s suitors aborting date rape when he hears Orson Welles’ panic-inducing War of the Worlds broadcast on the radio) and for that reason a number of them land limply (i.e. one of Wiest’s dates turning out to be gay).

But even these anecdotes roll by in a rush of such nostalgic goodwill that it’s hard not to embrace its immense charms.  Those charms are due in part to fluid camerawork and triumphant art direction, each set filled with loving detail and shot in brown tones as cozy as a hot cup of coffee.  Ironically – and fittingly – the lush visual design could vanish, leaving the rich soundtrack of Allen’s voiceover, the airtight comic banter and music to thrive as a ninety minute radio program of its own.

Wanna go deeper?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Radio Days among the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Jaume Figueras, Nickel Odeon (1994)
Mike Leigh, Empire (2008)
Sonke Wortmann, Steadycam (2007)
Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films  (1987)
David Thomson, Have You Seen…? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films (2008)
They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Radio Days screenplay accessible at Drew’s Script-o-Rama

Stig Bjorkman: Was Radio Days a story you’d been planning to make for a long time?
Woody Allen: It originated from an idea that I wanted to pick out a group of songs that were meaningful to me, and each one of those songs suggested a memory. Then this idea started to evolve: how important radio was to me when I was growing up and how important and glamorous it seemed to everyone.
SB: It’s a very elaborate script, considering all the elements in it: the family, the school, the radio events, the radio personalities..
WA: A film like Radio Days presents a particular type of problem. When you don’t have a ‘What happens next?’ story, when you’re working with anecdotal material, the trick, I feel, is that you have to sustain each thing on its own brilliance, on its own rhythm, on its own style. So you really have to work very, very hard to make a movie like that, because you have to know that the anecdotes that you’re relating to the audience an hour, an hour and a half into the film are not going to bore them. That they’re still going to find them fresh and funny. It’s a difficult kind of film to do, a non-plot, a non-conventional plot film.

- from Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman. Published by Grove Press, 1995. Page 158


HISTORICAL REVIEWS

”Radio Days,” which opens today at the New York Twin and other theaters, is as free in form as it is generous of spirit. It’s a chronicle of a family during the radio years, as well as a series of short-short stories. These follow, one after another, like the tales of Scheherazade, if Scheherazade had been a red-headed little Jewish boy in the Rockaways, born poor, star-struck, infinitely curious, and seriously incompetent as a juvenile criminal.

”Radio Days” is so densely packed with vivid detail of place, time, music, event and character that it’s virtually impossible to take them all in in one sitting. Carlo Di Palma is again responsible for the stunning photography, and Santo Loquasto for the production design.

The film is nothing if not generous with – and to – its talent. Miss Farrow is hilariously common-sensical as the ambitious cigarette girl (”Who is Pearl Harbor?” she asks in bewilderment on Dec. 7, 1941), and Diane Keaton, on the screen only a few minutes, helps to bring the film to its magical conclusion with a lovely, absolutely straight rendition of ”You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to.” It’s New Year’s Eve, 1943, and Mr. Allen’s radio days are as numbered as those of Proust’s old Prince de Guermantes.

At this point I can’t think of any film maker of Mr. Allen’s generation with whom he can be compared, certainly no one at work in American movies today. As the writer, director and star (even when he doesn’t actually appear) of his films, Mr. Allen works more like a novelist who’s able to pursue his own obsessions, fantasies and concerns without improvements imposed on him by committees.

At this point, too, his films can be seen as part of a rare continuum. Each of us has his favorite Allen movie, but to cite one over another as ”more important,” ”bigger,” ”smaller” or ”less significant” is to miss the joys of the entire body of work that is now taking shape. ”Radio Days” is a joyful addition.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, January 30 1987

Excerpt: Opening

Woody Allen offers brief, casually brilliant parodies of radio performers and formats: an inspirational sports storyteller modeled on Bill Stern; a smarmy counselor like Mr. Anthony; and, of course, a superhero for boys, the “Masked Avenger.” The slender thread holding this part of the movie together recounts the rise from cigarette girl to airwaves gossip star of Sally White (played with her customary comic poignance by Mia Farrow).

The other part is about the listening audience. Here Allen finds cross section enough in a single source, an extended lower-middle-class Jewish family in Rockaway, Queens. Among these dreamers by the glowing dial, the most touching and memorable is again a woman, Aunt Bea (played with becoming lack of sentiment by Dianne Wiest). Since this nameless clan lives near Allen’s old neighborhood and includes a shy, slender, red-haired boy, the unwary may conclude that Allen is being autobiographical.

But Radio Days has larger ambitions. Rather than a personal history or an exercise in nostalgia, it is a meditation on the evanescence of seemingly permanent institutions. To a child like Joe (Seth Green), it is inconceivable that something as powerful as radio could ever disappear. Might as well tell him that one day his family will cease to be a similarly compelling reality. But here it is, 1987, and Joe is a voice-over narrator of a movie with no coherent narrative, only such anecdotes as groping memory can rescue from the receding past. In the most delicate way imaginable, the snippets drawn from the seemingly great world of broadcasting and those from the little world of listening shed the most affecting and provocative light on each other. Somehow, one thinks of Chekhov, and is once again astonished by the complexity and clarity of Woody Allen’s vision.

- Richard Schickel, Time Magazine, February 2 1987

Allen is not concerned with creating a story with a beginning and an end, and his movie is more like a revue in which drama is followed by comedy and everything is tied together by music, by dozens of lush arrangements of the hit songs of the 1940s. He has always used popular music in his movies, but never more than this time, where the muscular, romantic confidence of the big-band sound reinforces every memory with the romance of the era.

In form and even in mood, it is closest to Federico Fellini‘s “Amarcord,” which also was a memory of growing up – of family, religion, sex, local folk legends, scandalous developments and intense romantic yearn ings, underlined with wall-to-wall band music. In a way, both films have nostalgia itself as one of their subjects. What they evoke isn’t the long-ago time itself, but the memory of it. There is something about it being past and gone and irretrievable that makes it more precious than it ever was at the time.

Radio Days” is so ambitious and so audacious that it almost defies description. It’s a kaleidoscope of dozens of characters, settings and scenes – the most elaborate production Allen has ever made – and it’s inexhaustible, spinning out one delight after another.

Although there is no narrative thread from beginning to end, there is a buried emotional thread. Like music, the movie builds toward a climax we can’t even guess is coming, and then Allen finds the perfect images for the last few minutes for a bittersweet evocation of goodbye to all that.

- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

Excerpt: A Lesson in Marxism

Didn’t Neil Simon already do this? But there wasn’t much radio consciousness to speak of in Brighton Beach Memoirs, and anyway Woody Allen’s semiautobiographical Jewish family lives in Rockaway, Queens, rather than Brooklyn, so I guess not. The good news is that Allen has returned here to the broad anecdotal sources of his humor (after a dutiful Chekhov vacation with Hannah and Her Sisters); the bad news is that the obligations of being a serious film stylist have taken a heavy toll. Nothing’s very fresh and nothing’s very incisive, but everything bobs along blandly like a well-meaning exercise in therapeutic remembering (what Allen remembers mostly is a suffocating radio blanket of big band music: even Jesus stations have more programming variety than this). The bed-hopping fate of Mia Farrow’s aspiring airwave starlet sums up the film’s inconsequentiality: despite her career exertions, she still winds up on the same cabaret rooftop where she started. Plus ca change, Woody, and ho-hum.

- Pat Graham, The Chicago Reader

While the music gives the film a certain authenticity, it also serves to make one wonder how much of the rest of Allen’s material is authentic. Either the radio shows Allen heard on the East Coast were entirely different from those heard during the ’40s on the West Coast, or he simply made up a lot of them.

One is forced to think about authenticity after the laughs stop – about two-thirds of the way through the film. That’s when Allen seems to run out of comic material, having exhausted the humor inherent in Joe’s quirky family: his perennially battling parents, Aunt Bea’s unsuccessful search for the perfect husband, Uncle Abe’s fondness for fish.

When Allen tries to turn serious, it doesn’t really work.

- Don Carter, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 30 1987

Excerpt: Carmen Miranda

Radio Days followed one of Allen’s most ambitious films, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and seemed to be done for comic relief after the emotional complexity of the previous film. Allen himself told interviewer Stig Bjorkman, “I think of Radio Days basically as a cartoon. If you look at my mother, my Uncle Abe, my schoolteacher, my grandparents, they were supposed to be cartoon exaggerations of what my real-life people were like.” Allen himself narrates the film, in the first person.

Allen’s use of music in his films has always been masterful, and Radio Days is one of the finest examples of his mastery. In fact, he told Bjorkman, music was the original starting point for the film. “It originated from an idea that I wanted to pick out a group of songs that were meaningful to me, and each one of those songs suggested a memory. Then this idea started to evolve: how important radio was to me when I was growing up, and how important and glamorous it seemed to everyone.” There are 43 songs used in the film, and some standout musical moments. In one scene, a teenage girl lip-synchs to a Carmen Miranda song, her head wrapped in a towel turban, watching herself in the mirror. Her father and uncle, charmed by her charade, join in. Near the end of the film, it’s New Year’s Eve 1943. Diane Keaton, in a cameo as a band vocalist, sings (in her own voice) the Cole Porter standard that expresses the longing of a war-weary nation: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To. Allen says, “I wanted to make sure, since Diane was making one little appearance in the picture, that the song was potent.” It was.

Radio Days marks the only time that Allen’s two longtime companions and muses – former flame Diane Keaton and his then-current partner Mia Farrow – appeared in the same film. Keaton has remained friends with Allen over the years; Farrow has not. After a bitter, litigious, and highly publicized breakup, Farrow remains estranged from Allen and her daughter, Allen’s wife Soon-Yi Previn.

Reviews for Radio Days were mostly raves, although there were a few dissenters, such as the always-acerbic John Simon of the National Review, who called it “really a congeries of blackout sketches barely bothering to make like a connected narrative, scoring now and then and falling flat the rest of the time.” But Variety called it “One of Allen’s most purely entertaining pictures. It’s a visual monolog of bits and pieces from the glory days of radio and people who tuned in…. Radio Days is not simply about nostalgia, but the quality of memory and how what one remembers informs one’s present life.”  Allen’s warm, funny screenplay and Santo Loquasto’s nostalgic and detailed art direction both received Oscar® nominations.

- Margarita Landazuri, Turner Classic Movies

RECENT REVIEWS

A trip down memory lane for Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Broadway Danny Rose), who lovingly reconstructs the life and times of growing up during in Rockaway Beach, New York in the Golden Age of radio.  Radio Days is teeming with nostalgia value, and even if you didn’t grow up in that era, Allen does a masterful job recreating the look and feel of the era, such that you’ll also be nostalgic even if you’ve never lived it.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, as Radio Days is more of a bittersweet experience.  The radio can bring both happiness, such as remembering a time when life was good, but also sadness, where a song will remind you of a long-gone loved one or inform you of the tragedies of the day.  Like many nostalgia films, it is very sentimentalized in its delivery, and as is typical of Allen’s storytelling style, real-life events are altered and shaped for purposes of creating a funny scene or poignant dramatics.

You’ll love it for the characters, the sweetness and Allen’s wonderful blend of humor and heartfelt drama, making Radio Days one of the best films of his career.  It’s not as substantial as some of his other works, and will probably quickly fade from memory once it’s over, but that’s ok…like any fond memory, this is the kind of film you’ll probably revisit time and again.

- Vince Leo, Qwipster’s Movie Reviews

Excerpt: Diane Keaton singing “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”

John Baxter, who has written the definitive biography of Woody Allen, calls Radio Days “Allen’s most logistically ambitious film since Love & Death.” To include 150 performers in an Allen film is almost unheard of, and a daunting task for a filmmaker accustomed to casts numbering fewer than 20. Yet somehow, Allen handles his ensemble with ease and manages to pack the film with a wallop, particularly for a film that runs less than ninety minutes.

The film can loosely be divided into two parts, pre-Second World War innocence and then post-1941 optimism as characters like the Masked Avenger suddenly take on more political and patriotic roles. While I don’t want to give away all the vignettes, I should point out that the “Hitting Rabbi” scene should leave you in stitches and, as with all of Allen’s films, there are priceless one-liners that make repeated viewing a requirement.

- Jamie Gillies, Apollo Film Guide

To a generation raised in Top 40 and all-news formats, radio is often little more than background noise. But to an older generation, it connotes a magic theatre of sound and incident. Radio Days affectionately eavesdrops on the past and gives everyone a wonderful opportunity to re-imagine what it was like when this communications medium was king.

- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

The film is a series of vignettes, clearly drawn from Allen’s days as a youngster, and only tangentially interrelated. It’s almost overly upbeat — to the point where you wish Woody would get a little more miserable from time to time.

- Christopher Null, FilmCritic.com

Woody Allen has never disguised his love of the thirties and forties nor his love of old-time radio. I´ve never disguised my love of “Radio Days” as one of my favorite Woody Allen pictures. It´s a sweet, lighthearted, nostalgic look back at an era before the tube, when voices were king, when comedy was innocent, and when music was still listenable. “Radio Days” may not have the depth or insight of films like his “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” but blessed with a plethora of fine tunes, fine characters, and fine jokes, it´s one of the most enjoyable things Allen´s ever done.

- John Puccio, DVD Town

Radio Days is a warm, sunny piece of American nostalgia told with the visual flair of Fellini, but with all the humor and intelligence of Woody Allen. It’s a film so rich in memory that every time I see it, I wax nostalgic for the times depicted in it, even though they were decades before my birth.

The whole nostalgia theme is beautifully and comically handled. The film is like walking through memories, even to the point of realizing that memories are sometimes even better than the real thing. When the radio stars ponder their futures on New Years’ Eve of 1944, they wonder if they will be remembered. And Allen himself dutifully points out that memories do in fact get fainter and fainter as the years pass.

The radio days are indeed gone forever. But they couldn’t have asked for a better tribute than this warm, funny film from Woody Allen.

- Michael Jacobson, DVD Movie Central

Radio Days is not about real history. This is the simplified world of a child’s memories — although Joe is no naïve waif — and it is largely remembered with fondness. Woody Allen does not seem interested in exposing the “hypocrisy of simulation” or some such cliché about our immersion in popular culture. Frankfurt School theorists may find themselves at a loss at Woody’s warm embrace of middle-class capitalist media. The film begins with an amusing story of burglars sidetracked on night by a phone call from “Guess That Tune.” The next day, the family awakens to find their house robbed, but a driveway full of prizes won for them by the hapless burglars. In the end, the magic of popular media rewards its loyal followers, and everyone lives comfortably ever after.

Woody Allen has a difficult job in structuring this film around a series of anecdotes only loosely chronological in their order (the film’s timeline runs roughly from the late 1930s until New Year’s 1944, with the war still raging and the future uncertain), and in the hands of a less-able screenwriter, this film might have been a structural mess. But the rambling nature of the film ties in nicely with the sense that the narrator is merely another storyteller, conjuring whatever ghosts come most quickly to mind. Stories within stories within stories. How many of these things are true? Did Sally White really go from local girl to cultured star? Or does it even matter, if the stories are good enough on their own?

- Mike Pinsky, DVD Verdict

The script is really nothing but a dramatised collection of reminiscences, and as you’d expect from such a setup some are better than others. The biggest challenge of all is to make it hold together as a single entity. It works best as a box of treats to dip into whenever we feel like it, so unlike most films, catching five minutes here and there while channel surfing roughly equates to watching it in an 85 minute stretch. You could probably even watch it backwards, scene by scene, and it would still make about as much sense.

- Hal Astell, Apocalypse Later: a Cinematic Travelogue


ABOUT THE MGM DVD

We have come to expect a certain level of performance from MGM on these Woody Allen discs. In this case, the mono soundtrack is perfectly suited to the film, given the predominance of old music and voice-over dialogue. Any radio static or hissy old records that play in the background enhance the nostalgic feel of the film. Unfortunately, the anamorphic transfer seems to have made the film a bit dark and created some muddy and slightly overenhanced coloring (particularly the reds). This may add to the cartoony look of the film, but it does get somewhat annoying. And, as always, no extra content is offered other than some production notes and a faded trailer.

- Mike Pinsky, DVD Verdict

ABOUT WOODY ALLEN

IMDb Wiki

Official Website

The following quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Allen:

“While most other recent screen comics have aimed their lamebrain, slapdash spoofery at teenage audiences, Allen Stewart Konigsberg, as he was born, has alone been consistent in catering to more adult tastes. His is a comedy increasingly defined by character: notably, his own.” - Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)

“Allen’s genuinely original voice in the cinema recalls writer-directors like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Preston Sturges, who dissect their portions of the American landscape primarily through comedy. In his creative virtuosity, Allen also resembles Orson Welles, whose visual and verbal wit, though contained in seemingly non-comic genres, in fact exposes the American character to satirical scrutiny.” – Mark W. Estrin (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

“Great comedians almost always portray little men attempting to cope with the trappings of a civilization that is a bit too much for them, and Woody Allen is no exception. His insecurities – physical, sexual and emotional – are truly of monumental proportions.” – (The Movie Makers, 1974)

“Blends nightclub jokes, visual humor, and literary references into a wild sense of comedy. Has a good pictorial sense.” – William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)

“If my films don’t show a profit, I know I’m doing something right.” – Woody Allen

“If my films make one more person miserable, I’ll feel I have done my job.” – Woody Allen

Additional choice quotes by Allen on The Quotations Page

Self-deprecating humor, classicly Jewish, boosts its audience as much as happy endings. Storytellers made self-doubting fools of themselves so their listeners — other Jews who had no reason to feel better than anybody — could have someone to feel one-up on, if only for the span of the joke. Similarly, Allen’s viewers most likely feel as insecure and inept as his characters, but as he exaggerates his gaffs and lets us laugh at his expense we’re assured we couldn’t be as awful as that. If you’ve ever wondered why so much grief and tsuris flood Jewish humor (or why the Holocaust peppers so many of Allen’s scripts), it’s because, next to all that trouble, how bad could your life be? The Jewish talent for exaggerating life’s bumps is the other side of fabricating impossibly smooth endings. Either way, audiences sigh a little in relief. (You’ll recognize the sigh, too, as the archetypical Jewish response. Should some dour neighbor or relative sigh too deeply, as if to say life is indeed that bad, the story and the joke fall flat.)…

Allen’s twenty-year body of work is a kitsch-en sink of Jewish storytelling, with the self-mockery and the paranoid, hypochondriacal exaggeration of difficulties thrown in, along with a taste for endings where evil is trounced and the good guys win — even spectacled shlemiels like Allen. These tropes bend the course of the secular “Hannah” and “Another Woman” as surely as they do “Danny Rose” or “Radio Days”, but in the former, the tradition and motive behind Allen’s impulses aren’t explicit. No one turns to the camera in “Hannah” and says, this adulterous mess may end hellishly in life but I need a happy ending onscreen so I’m going to conjure one up.

- Marcia Pally, Film Comment

In her review of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) the late film critic Pauline Kael suggests that the reason New York critics love Woody Allen is that “they’re applauding their fantasy of themselves”. In some of his films, including Stardust Memories (1980) and Deconstructing Harry (1997) Allen has explored being a prisoner of his own persona (whilst denying the likeness). Although the persona secured Allen a loyal audience, he has fallen in and out of favour with the film community partly, as Kael suggests, because of his appeal to the urbane quasi-intellectuals who critique cinema; a familiarity that has over time moved from intimate to contemptuous. Too often in recent years ‘criticism’ of Woody Allen’s films has virtually forsaken content wherever it does not fit into a discussion of what seems to have become more important: his scandalous personal life.

Mighty Aphrodite
Mighty Aphrodite

With his strong background in writing, Allen’s films, particularly the broadly comic ones, are dialogue-heavy (which Allen feels is more challenging than a film without dialogue). He works frequently with master shots and actor choreography, a technique more successfully realised in say Husbands and Wives (1992) than in Mighty Aphrodite (1996). Despite a widely perceived decline in the ambition and accomplishment of his films in the last decade he remains a key figure in the American film landscape. Both academic and popular film criticism on Allen most often employs psychoanalytic theory, as his subject matter corresponds easily to the Freudian concepts of desire, repression, and anxiety and sexuality. The thesis of The Denial of Death (a psychoanalytic text which Alvy buys Annie and reflects on after they separate in Annie Hall) cites as two strategies of evading mortality – sexuality, which Allen has embraced wholeheartedly in both his work and life, and the belief in and service to God, which he has not. Other critics have noted the parallels with philosophers such as Socrates and Jean-Paul Sartre, the latter with regard to the impossibility of authentic romantic commitment.
***
What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.

– Selections from the Allen Notebooks’

You have no values. Your whole life, it’s nihilism, it’s cynicism, it’s sarcasm, and orgasm.
Y’know, in France I could run on that slogan and win.

Deconstructing Harry

Natasha, to love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But, then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy, therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness, I hope you’re getting this down.

Love and Death

These quotes encapsulate Allen’s philosophy – he undercuts his own existential angst with absurd humour that provides distraction or comic relief and is in its own way an answer to these unanswerable questions. It is almost as if he is sending up the more austere philosophers who formulated these enquiries. His films are largely comedies – but, as one of his characters maintains, what is comedy but tragedy, plus time? (5) The spectre of death haunts many of Allen’s films, as thanatos, the essential flipside to the forces of life and love that are irresistible.

Doc: Why are you depressed, Alvy?
Mother: Tell doctor [?] It’s something he read.
Doc: Something you read, heh?
Alvy: The universe is expanding.
Doc: The universe is expanding?
Alvy: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!
Mother(shouting): What is that your business? (to doctor) He stopped doing his homework.
Alvy: What’s the point?
Mother: What has the universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!

– Annie Hall
Annie Hall
Annie Hall

Allen appears fascinated by the fact that whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, death’s constant presence is manifested in the idea of God and the possibility of moral order in the universe, the afterlife, fate. Throughout his career he has invested a scholar’s commitment to the predicament of man in a doomed universe. For Allen these are all inescapable aspects of humanity and it is thus our lot to struggle with the paradoxes of desire and morality, freedom and faith, consummation and reflection. His films explore the perhaps pointless struggle to achieve resolution. Sometimes it appears, as in Annie Hall (1977), as the ironic dissatisfaction that comes when a much-yearned for ideal is attained and the reality is (necessarily) lacking. Play It Again, Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972) Annie Hall and Manhattan (1979) celebrate, nostalgically, the end of love. As a psychoanalytic notion nostalgia is a painful return, an uncanny pathology. In other films like Interiors (1978) Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) death is more patent – a mother commits suicide, a mistress is murdered in cold blood. The fatal aspect of romance for Allen is foregrounded. In Love and Death (1975), an earnest but comic take on the themes of sex, death and the possibility of an afterlife (set against a nineteenth century Russian literary landscape), Allen’s character Boris cavorts through the woods with the Grim Reaper, both recalling and parodying the Death figure of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957).

- Victoria Loy, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography