But, But, But . . .

Woody Allen film series a mere cross-section of a career

Yes, it won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, but Woody Allen’s hit Midnight in Paris was a safe place for film viewers to go. Really, the Parisian fantasy was just a pleasant echo of the muscular, sensitive comedies Allen was making a couple decades ago.

Starting this week, Summerfield Cinemas is reviving five of those Allen films. One is semi-canonical, directed by Herbert Ross: Play It Again Sam (1972; March 15), starring Allen as a San Francisco film critic, dreamy about Humphrey Bogart and in love with his best friend’s wife (Diane Keaton). Strange that Allen hasn’t filmed in San Francisco since.

This was the first of eight movies pairing Allen with Keaton. As famous as they were, it’s still scarcely appreciated what a team they made. Even the lesser-known Manhattan Murder Mystery, released in 1993, the year after Allen’s well-known scandal, now looks like one of Allen’s best films. No one matched Keaton’s ability to scold, cajole and charm the Allen character, to shake him out of being the man making jokes on the sidelines.

Keaton is the sweet ditherer of the title in the proto-multimedia comedy Annie Hall (1977; March 22), as well as a harsher pseudo-intellectual in Manhattan (1979; March 1)—both watch as eloquent defenses of New York City. If President Ford was telling the city to drop dead, Allen was celebrating the life still left in it. In both films, Allen was an old-time romantic taking full advantage of the sexual revolution—and yet he was somehow dismayed by it all.

When Allen turned 50, that dismay turned to nostalgia. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985; March 8) stars the protean Mia Farrow as a Jersey housewife, escaping her grim life with the physical manifestation of a movie star. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989; March 29) is the later-life moralist Allen at his most likable. It’s the film where Allen tackles Einstein’s solemn quote “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” “No,” Allen retorts dryly, “he just plays hide and seek.”

For more series info., see www.summerfieldcinemas.com

Sonoma County Library