Sunday, May 18, 2008

Target #209: Love and Death (1975, Woody Allen)

TSPDT placing: #877
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Mildred Cram (uncredited), Donald Ogden Stewart (uncredited)
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Jessica Harper, Olga Georges-Picot, James Tolkan

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

It's always interesting to observe Woody Allen in his various "early, funny movies." In the period beginning with Take the Money and Run (1969) and ending with Annie Hall (1977) – a major turning point in both his film-making and how his talents were perceived by the public – we can see the director's work growing in maturity and intelligence. In Bananas (1971) just several years earlier, Allen had melded an assortment of random gags into something of a political satire; many of the jokes worked, some didn't, and the resultant film was a funny, if bewildering, anarchic comedy with a clumsy narrative structure. With Sleeper (1973), Allen looked towards the future, and his dystopic vision of a society gone haywire provided a comfortable combination of witty dialogue and nostalgic slapstick humour, even if some sequences retained touches of juvenility. Love and Death (1975) is the most profound of his "transition" comedies, and, in the classy setting of nineteenth century Russia, the comedian delivers his thoughts on life, death, God, war and sex – but mostly sex.

Love and Death (1975) was obviously produced shortly after an Ingmar Bergman marathon, and the film is both an affectionate homage and an enjoyable spoof of The Seventh Seal (1957), Bergman's memorable meditation on the nature of religion and death. The perfect bittersweet ending sees Death, cloaked in a white sheet, leading our hero in a Danse Macabre across the countryside. Also targeted by Allen's razor-sharp flair for parody are the epic Russian novels of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, such as "Crime and Punishment," "The Idiot" and "War and Peace." A singularly-absurd recreation of the Battle of Waterloo, which – among other anachronisms – is catered by a New York hot-dog vendor, is also an amusing send-up of Sergei Bondarchuk's impressive box-office disaster Waterloo (1970), and even Bonaparte himself makes a surprise appearance as both an assassination target, and to demand the completion of the pastry to be named in his honour {we call them vanilla slices down here in Australia}.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, in their third of many collaborations, work together perfectly as cousins (and later partners) who like to bicker endlessly about the meaning of life, their conversations descending swiftly into dubious pseudo-philosophical ramblings of which I was able to make neither head nor tail. With the exception of one bottle gag that wouldn't have been out of place in a Chaplin film, most of the humour is purely verbal, and Allen even experiments with breaking the fourth wall, a style of comedy that he would implement with astonishing success in Annie Hall. In terms of story, Love and Death, in spite of its episodic nature, comes together more completely than any of Allen's previous films, and the jokes are consistently funny enough to draw a laugh. Considerably funnier than that other famous historical comedy released in 1975 (if I may be so bold), this is one of Woody Allen's funniest movies, with more than enough intelligent humour to go around.

Currently my #4 film of 1975:
1) One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman)
2) Dersu Uzala (Akira Kurosawa)
3) Pasqualino Settebellezze {Seven Beauties} (Lina Wertmüller)
4) Love and Death (Woody Allen)
5) Jaws (Steven Spielberg)


ressot3 said...

I added this somewhere near the top of my queue.

I've so far only seen Annie Hall and Scoop, and neither has really appealed to me too much. Hopefully there's a Woody Allen movie out there for me...

ackatsis said...

If you didn't like "Annie Hall," I'm not sure how much hope there is for you. Most of Allen's films are centred around his trademark "neurotic Jewish New Yorker" persona.

Anyway, you should check out his early, funny movies ("Bananas," "Sleeper" and "Love and Death") and then follow that up with "The Purple Rose in Cairo (1985)" - in which he doesn't even appear, but it's my favourite Woody Allen film.

My top ten [I'm stilling missing a lot of his famous ones] looks like:
1) The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
2) Annie Hall (1977)
3) Stardust Memories (1980)
4) Love and Death (1975)
5) Manhattan (1979)
6) Sleeper (1973)
7) Bananas (1971)
8) Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
9) Scoop (2006)
10) Radio Days (1987)

Outside the top ten: Take the Money and Run (1969), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

ressot3 said...

The Purple Rose of Cairo is the one that interests me the most, by far. I might check that one out after I get Love and Death from netflix.