Friday, 8 August 2014

Mere Anarchy - Woody Allen


He is, of course, a genius. It's to be acknowledged, however, that not everyone finds him funny whilst at the same time others prefix the word 'genius' with the word 'comic' though personally I wouldn't equivocate. He's a genius and an artist to boot.

In a career that spans more than 50 years and includes such films as Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah And Her Sisters, Woody Allen has created a body of work that most other film makers can only stand in awe of. Director, actor, screenwriter, playwright, comedian, musician - he's all these things and more, and if this wasn't enough there's also his complicated and troubled personal life too.
It's for his films that he's obviously known but another string to his bow is that of writer and for many years he's been a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine, serving up short vignettes to its readership. Any publication in the world would happily accept a submission from Woody Allen but he chooses to stick with The New Yorker in the same way he chooses to dine at the same restaurant and to play jazz at the same bar. Though steeped in the influence of European art-house cinema and appreciated more on the Continent than in America, he's still at heart a native of New York who has the city's blood flowing through his veins. Or as he put it in the opening scene of Manhattan: 'He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. New York was his town and it always would be'.

Mere Anarchy is a collection of eighteen of his short stories, nine of which were previously published in The New Yorker and nine not published anywhere else before. At just 160 pages it's a relatively slim publication though this actually works in its favour, accentuating the fact that it's not anything overly ambitious. Essentially it's a collection of snapshots, observations and sketches that serves as a rebuttal to the oft-voiced criticism that Woody Allen has lost his sense of humour. His films may no longer be the stream of one-liners they once were but he's still a very funny guy who's able to concoct comedy from the most meagre and absurd sources, often being just an innocuous item in The New York Times.

On reading this collection it's apparent that he's very much a wordsmith who takes great joy in the English language, from New York slang terms to overtly highfalutin expressions. It's also apparent that he has almost a slavish attachment to specific themes; the obvious one being the neurotic, nervous intellectual who makes several appearances, alongside the mores of New York middle class society. As in many of his films there are also all kinds of intellectual references but it's invariably kept in check and prevented from entering the realms of pretentiousness by giving the characters the most stupid of names.

Though it's written by a genius, I would point out that Mere Anarchy isn't by any means a work of genius. In fact, it's more like bread crumbs from the table so I wouldn't urge anyone to rush out and hunt down a copy (or to even head over to Amazon). I would, however, urge the uninitiated to watch the films because - well, they're absolutely genius.
John Serpico

No comments:

Post a Comment