Happy birthday, Woody Allen! | Film | DW | 01.12.2015
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Happy birthday, Woody Allen!

He's turning 80, but he's just as active as ever. Woody Allen remains the filmmaker who will never grow up. Here's a look back at what makes his movies so delightful.

Even the most rational philosophers need love, affection - and sex. If there's one recurring theme that has preoccupied Woody Allen throughout his long creative career, it has to be the love woes of the white, Jewish intellectual man.

Woody Allen's favorite setting to dissect these stories is, of course, New York. Women also play a major role - there are often many of them involved, and they are typically young and attractive. His films tend to involve a little more conversation than action, with favorite topics including life and death, love and jealousy, disease and all possible human weaknesses.

These make up the essential elements of Woody Allen's work, and he's explored them in multiple variations and combinations, often humorously, sometimes more seriously. The filmmaker's universe is on one hand quite limited and on the other infinitely profound. No other director in film history has managed to explore tormented philosophical considerations with such entertaining lightness.

Woody Allen, What's New Pussycat? - Copyright: picture alliance / akg images

Completely anarchic in "What's New Pussycat?"

When tackling a Woody Allen movie, you can either decide to dive into 90 minutes of concentrated film-watching to truly enjoy the speedy intellectual discussions, jokes with hidden allusions and other twisted elements of the plot, or you can simply lean back and laugh at whatever absurdities and obscenities you find funny.

Woody Allen comes from the stage, which is where he learned his craft. Born in Brooklyn in 1935 to Jewish parents, he started working at an early age as a playwright, gag writer and stand-up comedian. Before he even appeared in front of a camera and worked as a director, Woody Allen wrote jokes, which apparently constantly poured out of his mind.

The early anarchic films

This explains why his initial films, such as "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)" or "The Last Love and Death" were such wonderfully wacky high-paced comedies, filled with dirty jokes. In 1977, "Annie Hall" was a shift in the American filmmaker's style.

Woody Allen, Deconstructing Harry - Copyright: Imago/United Archives

Characters are literally out of focus: "Deconstructing Harry"

His films became more profound. While keeping the witty scenes, he'd add more profound sequences on the meaning of life. The decade following "Annie Hall" was one of Allen's most fertile and artistically exciting creative period. He filmed nearly a dozen masterpieces in those years. For other filmmakers, this output would have been enough for a whole lifetime. "Manhattan," "Stardust Memories" and "Zelig" were all created during that period.

In the 90s and at the beginning of this century, Allen kept churning out one film after the other. A few very good ones were among the lot ("Bullets Over Broadway" and "Deconstructing Harry") but in some cases, one could notice that not much new was coming out through his eternal variations on the plights of troubled intellectuals. It was often amusing and entertaining, but it had lost the stunning originality of the previous films.

A new start with 'Match Point'

Ten years ago, Woody Allen managed to reinvent himself through a thriller called "Match Point" set in London. The film launched his European decade. The director was no longer as successful commercially in his home country as he used to be, while he could count on more fans in Europe than in the US. He certainly felt more at home in Europe than in Hollywood.

2015 Cannes Film Festival, Copyright: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Woody Allen with Emma Stone and Parker Posey in Cannes in 2015 for the world premiere of "Irrational Man"

His enthusiasm for the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman is legendary. Allen also directed a few very serious films in the style of the Swedish filmmaker ("Interiors," "September"). These were not very successful. He quickly gave up trying to imitate Bergman, noticing that something went missing when he did - the humor which characterized his films.

Woody Allen and his actresses

His work would not exist without the actresses, who often were also his partners in life, such as Diane Keaton and later Mia Farrow. For many actors and actresses it is a honor to work with him. One of his most recent favorites was Scarlett Johansson.

Woody Allen Irrational Man - Copyright: Imago/Independent Photo Agency

The professor and his muse: Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in "Irrational Man"

His latest muse in Emma Stone, who also turns other men's heads in the film "Irrational Man." Here, the disillusioned philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) lands in a small town university and falls under the charm of the young student Jill (Emma Stone). He gets entangled just like so many other Woody Allen characters.

Despite having accumulated so much knowledge about the world, these characters quickly turn into helpless young boys in the face of temptation. Through his witty and heartwarming films, Woody has brought the world on a unique cinematic journey, and that's a great gift.

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