Woody Allen and the Importance of Being Neurotic

By Asmita Goyanka, Batch of 2017

Being an insecure, fretful, neurotic, Jewish artist is always a boon.

Unfortunately, Woody Allen isn’t one, or so he claims. Woody Allen is a man of humble beginnings who wanted to be able to legitimately describe himself as an expert in something. Anything.

The Start

He began working in the show biz as a short story writer for The New Yorker. Over the next couple of years he developed a stand-up act that Allen became himself. His comic act was based on being a nebbish, insecure, fretful sort of man who complained a lot through long monologues that were punctuated with quick witticisms. The world fell in love with this short man with a wry sense of humor. He whined about life, he became nostalgic about it, accused it for being harsh on humans and accepted it for what it was. His movies, his stories, his stand up shows were all centered on the anxieties that filled his life. The audience loved him because these were the anxieties that filled their lives too.

The Movies

It is a widely accepted saying that if you’ve seen one Allen film, you’ve seen all. I beg to differ; well, somewhat. Most of his movies are mainly concerned about the same things, and are made in a similar manner, and strike the same chord with the viewer each time, but their subtle humor and keen sense of observation makes you want to watch more.

Annie Hall and Manhattan are two of his most acclaimed movies. In these he plays characters that are essentially Woody Allen himself. He looks for love, he finds love, he fails to recognize it, he pushes it away, and he leaves it behind. He has to be satisfied with moving on. He portrays himself as a man who is needy, insecure, witty, fun and yet superficially sad. This is one of Allen’s greatest achievements. He is a real person and he pulls it off.

Other movies that have become iconic to the extent of creating their own ‘Woody Allen’ genre are Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love and a dozen more. His films have created a niche for themselves.

The Direction

The Allen Movies have certain idiosyncrasies of their own. The cinematography is often as if the camera was another person in the film. The movement of the shots is reactionary, rather than anticipatory. The camera behaves as a bystander would. This is a trick he has learned from Gordon Willis, the cinematographer of The Godfather Trilogy.

Allen almost always acts in his movies too. He has played all characters from crazed-out New Yorkers to Himself to a Sperm. His acting method, for himself and for all the actors in his film, is often almost not acting at all. The actors often portray characters that are a fictionalized version of their real self. They behave as they would in real life, they dress that way, even sometimes think that way.