Woody Allen by Martin Fitzgerald
This is useful. Martin Fitzgerald's Pocket Essential on Woody Allen (3rd Edition - so this includes brief resumes on The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001); Hollywood Ending (2002); Anything Else (2003);) starts with a short essay (Woody Allen: Dicing with Death) which is a brief overview of Allen's career to date and his method of film-making. Fitzgerald's writing is a bit portentous ("according to Freud", "consider, if you will") but decent enough. He rightly gives due respect to the team that has cohered around Allen helping him to produce 34 films in as many years. The cinematographer Gordon Willis taught Allen about using light and shade and has worked on eight films with him, Carlo Di Palma has worked on twelve films, Sven Nykvist on four. The editor Ralph Rosenblum has worked on five films, but huge respect is most certainly owed to Susan E Morse who has cut and pasted 20 of Allen's films.
Following a short but decent biographical sketch, Beau Jest, Fitzgerald then gets stuck into the films. He breaks the films into five periods, each chapter starts with a paragraph length overview of where Allen was in his career at each particular period and then each film is given a 2-3 page review. Fitgerald lists the casts, retells the story, and then reveals the subtext; sometimes, if the film has an interesting context he gives the "background". Fitzgerald's readings aren't particularly close or penetrating or controversial but he gets to the core of most of the films in an unfussy way. He then gives his verdict on the film with a mark out of five.
Part (most?) of the pleasure of a book like this is agreeing/disagreeing with Fitzgerald's verdicts. I'm with Ryan Gilbey (author of It Don't Worry Me) that Manhattan may look beautiful but it is a good not a great film (Fitzgerald judges is 5/5, I'm a four). The much reviled Mighty Aphrodite may, arguably, reveal Allen's misogyny more clearly than many of his films, but Mira Sorvino is very, very funny and the film has some excellent lines: the Greek chorus is inspired. Fitzgerald begrudges it a 2/5, I'm happy giving it at least a three. 2001's Jade Scorpion only gets 1/5 - Fitzgerald is right, Jade Scorpion doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny, but my first reaction on seeing it was that this was a film that critics had decided to hate before even viewing it. Woody was deeply, problematically unfashionable yet he didn't have the decency just to go away, indeed he had the temerity to keep making films. The confusion between the sexual roles expected in the 1940s and contemporary sexual mores - themes Fitzgerald thinks the film is confused about - are actually, I would argue, part of the tension that keeps the film funny. 1992's Husbands and Wives "may be his finest film" - well, I'm with Fitzgerald on this! Alongside Annie Hall this really is Allen at his best.