Book Review: Woody Allen: Reel to Real

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Woody Allen: Reel to Real is a new e-book from Take2 Publishing. Written by Alex Sheremet, the author examines, in-depth, the Woodsman’s complete film career, right from its earliest days to the present. He examines, not only  Woody’s directed films, but those he had a role in as an actor. The book is the most far-reaching analysis of Allen’s career so far.

Sheremet explores Allen’s early years beginning with the over blown, but popular at the time, What’s New Pussycat? for which Woody wrote the script. He also included a part for himself in the film.  Sheremet calls the comedy “lackluster,” and he notes, Woody has pretty much disowned the film. During the filming, Woody was in a constant battle with producer Charles Feldman over changes made to his script. Sheremet does defend another early film, Casino Royale, in which Woody played Little Jimmy Bond. He writes, “It’s gotten more criticism than it deserves. Overall, I’d consider it more ambitious than the true Bond films albeit less successful than most of them.” Whether you agree with him or not, it makes for  fascinating reading.

From here Sheremet dives into Woody’s early beginnings as a filmmaker, and then on to what is considered Woody’s best period, the late 70’s and 80’s. As expected, it begins with Annie Hall which Sheremet writes, Woody for the first time, “takes many of his now-classic preoccupations with sex, death, relationships, inevitability, and intellectual posturing (including his own!) and creates a genuine narrative out of it, not by force or gags, but simply by dropping some great characters into a landscape, and seeing how a narrative unfolds out of them.”  He goes on to superbly defends some of Woody’s films that have met with disdain from either critics or audiences, and sometimes both, over the years. He provides erudite, yet easy to read, defenses of films like Interiors and Stardust Memories placing them well within Allen’s upper echelon.

Sheremet, in separate chapters, also analyses, takes on, various film critics who have loved or hated Woody. These include, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Jonathan Rosenbuam and James Barardinelli among others.

While Sheremet goes into analytical discussions on Woody’s work, his references and influences, it always remains easily readable. The book is informative, intelligent and just plain enjoyable to read. If you are a Woody Allen admirer, this book is a must for your library. It is available in all e-book formats, and at over 600 pages, well worth the $7.99 price.

One other note I want to pass on. Just to make sure there is full disclosure. I am one of several writers who is quoted by the author in the book on a couple of Woody’s film.

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12 comments on “Book Review: Woody Allen: Reel to Real

  1. The Lady Eve says:

    Though I understand why the late ’70s and ’80s are considered Woody’s “golden period” (“Annie,” “Hannah,” etc.), he certainly has delivered some of his best since. “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Match Point” and “Midnight in Paris” are all absolute classics, and there a few lesser gems, too.

    Though the movie is disjointed and silly, I’ll always be a fan of “What’s New, Pussycat?” (sorry, Woody) for personal reasons. When I first saw it – on the big screen – it just seemed to me so…cool (it was the ’60s, I was a kid). But I’ll never be able to tolerate “Interiors.” The first time I saw that one I thought Woody must be satirizing Bergman. It seemed soooo pretentious, I was sure he had to be kidding. On the other hand, I’ve always loved “Stardust Memories.”

    I’ll have to read this book, John, thanks for the heads up and congrats on being quoted in it!

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    • John Greco says:

      Eve, we are pretty much in synch, I love BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, MATCH POINT and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. I have a particular fondness for MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY which while not in the same class as the others is a fun watch for the reuniting of Woody and Keaton as well as the THIN MAN style storyline.

      It’s been years since I watched PUSSYCAT, but it doe have it’s fun points. I think Peter Sellers and Woody are the best things in the film. As for INTERIORS, I have not seen it since it first came out and had the same thoughts as you. I should watch it again. STARDUST MEMORIES I did not like when it was first released. A while back I re-watched it, wrote about it here, and changed my entire opinion. A great film!

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    • Yes, Woody has a definite golden age, but it’s also just not accurate to deride everything that’s come after it, either. “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Celebrity,” “Match Point,” “Cassandra’s Dream,” and “Sweet And Lowdown” are all very good films, at minimum, with a 3-4 of those having some argument for genuine greatness. Many others of the last 20-25 years are also pretty good, either in whole or substantially.

      I disagree re: “Midnight In Paris.” Owen Wilson is a bad actor (especially there), and Woody’s script sets up far too many suspensions of disbelief: that Inez/Gil could ever see anything in each other, that Gil could be ‘followed’ by a private eye merely because he likes to stay out in the city, that Gil’s near-meltdown at stealing Inez’s earrings is glossed over by the other characters instead of raising the red flags that it realistically should. And that’s just a minor issue, compared to the predictability of the film’s main narrative arcs (which can be seen in the first 10-15 mins), the stereotyped nature of the characters (Inez as a super-shrew; Gil as a confused romantic, yet without Isaac’s deep flaws and subsequent excoriation that made a film like “Manhattan” so rich), etc. Yeah, it’s enjoyable, and in the book I go into detail re: some key visuals that raise the film past its poor scripting, and other misfires, but overall, it’s kind of shocking how much praise it’s received, and how many comparisons to “Manhattan” — a much superior film, for precisely the opposite reasons.

      “Stardust Memories” is a film I champion in the book, and makes up one of the largest essays, within. At a mere 92-93 mins, it’s one of cinema’s most condensed films, it comments on so much beyond ‘mere’ romance/relationships, it covers transcendental themes, it innovates structurally, visually, and with characterizations… a great film, one that I’d argue is one of the top 20 in all of cinema.

      Re: “Interiors,” perhaps the book can change your mind. A great film, and one that uses Bergman rather than apes him. The worst I could say of “Interiors” is that it has 3-4 moments of poor, clunky symbolism, such as Renata’s hands trying to break ‘free’ of the glass windows (similar to the ‘cage’ at the end of Antonioni’s “The Passenger”). Yet amidst dozens of other great moments, great acting, subtle visuals, and wonderful script choices, such flaws become minor.

      You guys might also be interested in my top 10 list of Woody films, with some in-depth justifications for my choices. Some expected ones, and some surprises:

      http://alexsheremet.com/woody-allens-top-10-films-analyzed-explained/

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for the review, John.

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      • John Greco says:

        Alex, your thoughts and your book make me want to rush out and take a look at the Woody films that I have ignored or thought less of. I do think more of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS than you do, however, I agree about Owen Wilson. He is weak as an actor. You are never convinced, in anything he appears in, that he is not “acting”. If there is one film of Woody’s that I had a 100 percent turn around on, it is STARDUST MEMORIES. It would probably be in my top 10 Woody’s list is I ever do one.

        Thanks for you thoughts here and for the fantastic book which I recommend to any Woody Allen admirer.

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  2. Rick says:

    John, it’s sounds like a fascinating read. I seem to have a love-and-hate relationship with Woody Allen’s films. Often, I like the ones panned by the critics, such a A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY (an amusing take on Bergman’s SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT). So, I’d be interested in reading what Sheremet has to see about his filmography.

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    • John Greco says:

      Rick, Alex does not see A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY as top Woody, but he does hold it in higher regard that a lot of critics do. Like he says, it happens way too often that many of Woody’s films are ripped simply because they are not as good as Annie Hall. In style, he sees it closer to Woody’s early films (Bananas, Love & Death) than to his later comedies like Sweet Low Down and Broadway Danny Rose. As for me, I have not seen the film since it first came out and just remember liking it but not overly enthused about it. Should take another look.

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      • “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” — not “Dream,” which is Shakespeare! 😛 — is a solid/good film, overall, and would have been more praised if it were released by a lesser director. It reminds me of “Alice” and “Shadows And Fog” in that regard: good for what they are, but because Woody is Woody, and the purveyor of “Manhattan,” “Stardust,” and “Crimes…”, such ‘smaller’ films can never be good enough. It’s unfair, and critically negligent.

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      • John Greco says:

        Alex, your right. Woody being Woody, we expect more and when they are “only” good, they come across to some as not good enough. High expectations are not met. I have always had a soft spot for SHADOWS AND FOG. Thanks for catching the error. Fixed.

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  3. classicbecky says:

    John, I would like to read this one. I am a Woody Allen fan indeed. I liked Interiors very much, Annie Hall as well, Crimes and Misdemeanors I thought was wonderful. For funny, I also just love Love and Death! Nice review, and thanks for the heads-up!

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