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Spending The Holidays With Woody Allen

Saturday, December 23----When I was growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, New York in the 1960s, Christmas Day meant only two things…..Chinese food and going to a movie. In those halcyon days when Christmas was more of a religious event than an excuse to go shopping, almost all restaurants, stores and other commercial venues were closed on Christmas Day.....with the exception of Chinese restaurants and most movie theaters. So, it became a Jewish tradition (and the only option in town) to frequent both on a day that our Christian neighbors devoted to going to mass, opening presents, eating like there is no tomorrow, and generally driving each other crazy.

While this situation no longer exists (many restaurants are, in fact, open for Christmas dinner, and even stores can be found selling merchandise on this most holiest of days on the Christian calendar), the instinct runs deep, so Christmas still is a mix of egg foo young and a dose of cinema….with the Jew-centric films of Woody Allen a special (and guilty) Christmas holiday pleasure.

Well, New York’s Film Forum obviously agrees and is offering a veritable dim sum of the films of the Woodman, starting this weekend and running through the Holiday season under the title of ESSENTIALLY WOODY. Nearly 30 of the funny man's classics, in newly restored 35mm film prints, will be shown, most on double bills that double the hilarity.

First up this weekend is Woody’s Oscar-winning ANNIE HALL (1977), his love letter to paramour Diane Keaton (who won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal), and which was a major turning point in his career. Winning triple Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (along with collaborator Marshall Brickman), ANNIE HALL brought Woody Allen out of the jokester/slapstick category of his earlier films to a new level of seriousness and respectability. The former stand up comic had something to say about human frailty and that became his great theme for the rest of his career.

Continuing this weekend are several other Allen gems, including PLAY IT AGAIN SAM (1972), an adaptation of his hit Broadway play about a film-obsessed schlemiel (do I have to get you a Yiddish dictionary to explain this term?) who takes lessons in wooing women from the ghost of Humphrey Bogart. The film, although directed by Herbert Ross, is a Woody fest all the way, in a warm-hearted but entertaining spoof of urban machismo.

Also screenings on Sunday and Monday is the wonderful PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985), with an intriguing plot about Hollywood movie characters running amok in the downtrodden New Jersey of the Depression, with a wonderful cast including Allen’s muse Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels.

Woody has always been gold for his actresses, winning them awards and jumpstarting their careers. That was certainly the case with MIGHTY APHRODITE (1995), which screens on Tuesday. Mira Sorvino won an Oscar and became an actress of note for her sweet turn as a dopey porn star in this Greek chorus satire on modern romance.

Also screening on Tuesday is MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993), his final teaming with Diane Keaton, which is a fast-paced homage to movie thrillers, said to be drawn from material that was cut from the original script of ANNIE HALL.

On Wednesday, the Film Forum offers a rare screening of Woody’s faux-Tolstoy film LOVE AND DEATH (1975), with Woody skewering the melodramatic lynchpins of “serious” Russian authors in a riotously funny and modern way. The film will be shown on a double bill with the anarchic EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK), Allen’s 1972 episodic satire on America’s obsession with sex, semen and oversized mammary glands.

Thursday offers a double bill that draws on Broadway convention to wonderful effect, making a comment on the poetic and ultimately impossible ambitions of artfulness. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994) features over-the-top performances from a top-flight cast including John Cusack as a socially conscious playwright, Jennifer Tilly as the bimbo moll of a gangster tough, Chazz Palminteri as a menacing bodyguard with artistic ambitions, and Dianne Wiest, in her Oscar-winning role as a theatrical diva/dragon. Don’t speak, indeed. The film is paired with the more recent EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, a witty musical pastiche that includes wonderful musical turns by Goldie Hawn, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Edward Norton, Alan Alda and Tim Roth.

The Friday and Saturday before New York’s features a double bill of sentimental favorites, including RADIO DAYS (1987), Allen’s loving remembrance of growing up in Brooklyn during World War II, and BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1989), with Allen a stand-out as a nerdy talent agent with an affection for lousy entertainers way past their prime.

New Year’s with Woody includes a pairing of two of his most hilarious films of the 1970s (his early, funny period). SLEEPER (1973) is a hysterically funny take on the state of the world one hundreds in the future, with Allen’s famous shtick as a house servant robot. Has there been a funnier film of the modern age than BANANAS, Allen’s 1971 classic that combines revolution, the CIA, modern love and Jewish mothers in a hilarious satire on Latin American political upheaval.

The series continues into the first week of 2007 with a group of exquisite Allen gems, which will be reported on in a future article. New Yorkers can sample Chinese delicacies at their favorite Chinatown haunt, before coming up to the West Village for their double dose of Woody Allen….sheer Holiday perfection.

For a complete list of films and their screening schedules, log on to the official website of the Film Forum: Film Forum

Sandy Mandelberger
Film New York Editor

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The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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