Woody Allen: His Underrated Past, European Present, and Upcoming Return to New York
|Allen's latest, To Rome With Love|
I'm hardly alone in associating Allen with the Big Apple. But for nearly a decade now, Allen has taken a cinematic break from the American metropolis and shifted his films' focus to European cities -- namely London, Barcelona, and Paris. His most recent offering, To Rome With Love, opening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema July 6, is set in -- you guessed it -- Rome. The film features a layered story line brought to life by an impressive ensemble cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Judy Davis, and Allen himself.
It'll be hard to beat the success of last year's Midnight in Paris, his biggest box office success ever. But though film critics haven't been falling over themselves with praise, To Rome With Love will undoubtedly still pack that Woody Allen charm that makes his films incredibly watchable even when they aren't exactly his best work. So as we wait for Woody's latest cine a la Italiana why not revisit some of his earlier stuff? I'm just going to assume you've seen Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crime and Misdemeanors, and Bullets over Broadway. (If you haven't, well, we can't be friends.) Those classics aside, here are some unexpected favorites.
Wild Man Blues
This film has the distinction of being a Woody Allen film that is not by Woody Allen. Rather, it is a film about Woody Allen, or more specifically, about Woody's love of jazz. Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple (whose film Harlan County U.S.A is a seminal work of American documentary filmmaking) follows the filmmaker as he embarks on his first tour of Europe playing the clarinet with his jazz band. What makes this film so particularly great is seeing Allen as himself: interacting with wife Soon-Yi and sister Letty, and displaying his love of music and performing, a passion that may rival his love of cinema. You also get to discover that Woody is actually quite good with the clarinet. This isn't a self-indulgent celebrity hobby, but a rather accomplished musician taking it on the road. Yet, for all the wonderful behind-the-scenes moments, what truly makes the film is when we get to meet Woody's parents, whose home is where all his countless accolades end up. This hilarious exchange underscores where all that remarkable wit and inspiration for so many of Woody's characters must have come from.