The New Yorker

December 20, 2011 by staff 

The New Yorker, The 76-year-old man revisits the haunts of his youth. We see him outside the decrepit old Brooklyn cinema where, half a century ago, he came to see his first Ingmar Bergman movies. He is shown in the grounds of the high school where he had such a wretched time. Faces from his earlier years flit in front of the camera: girlfriends, collaborators, his devoted younger sister Letty and even – in archive footage – his sharp-tongued mother Nettie reminding him of what a demanding kid he once was. Archive footage rekindles memories of his boyhood trips to Coney Island.

The man in question is the comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen. You can’t help but be reminded of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) by the new film about Allen made by Robert B Weide (director of Curb Your Enthusiasm and one of Allen’s most fervent admirers.)

Just as in Bergman’s celebrated feature, a distinguished figure in the twilight of his career confronts his own past. Like the old professor played by Victor Sj?¶str?¶m in Bergman’s film, Allen can’t disguise his disappointments or his yearnings. Even after 40 years, he is still fretting over the “essential triviality” of his early movies and striving “to make a great film, which has eluded me over the decades”. He is also worrying about his own mortality – a preoccupation that took hold of him when he was five years old. Nor has that dream of becoming a great jazz musician like his idol Sidney Bechet ever dissipated.

We all know how reticent Woody is. You don’t expect him to open up about the implosion of his relationship with his one-time muse Mia Farrow or to talk about his step-daughter-turned-wife Soon-Yi. The tone of Weide’s film is reverent, even hagiographical. Nonetheless, it is unexpectedly revealing about its subject. We see Woody sitting at his desk in front of the ancient but still immaculately preserved German portable typewriter he has used throughout his working life. Like a boy scout, he uses scissors and staples to knit his articles and screenplays together. We see him rummaging in the bedside drawer in which he keeps his huge treasure trove of sketches and storylines for possible future films.

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