POSTED July 9 2012

Woody Allen’s City Symphonies

Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg on the beach at Ostia in "To Rome, With Love"

Woody Allen has written and/or directed 42 feature films in 41 years, which has to be some kind of record for diligence.  A decade ago Allen movies such as Curse of the Jade Scorpion  and Hollywood Ending suggested that his creativity was thinning faster than his  hair. But the filmmaker, now 76, is enjoying a luminous twilight with the city symphonies Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris and To Rome, With Love, films that capture the shades and rhythms of metropolitan life in the way of 1920s works such as Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a City.

Allen has been working in this key at least as far back as Manhattan (1979), with its beloved opening montage of the island’s skyline and most celebrated sites set to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” the ideal music to complement the pearlescent black-and-white cinematography of Gordon Willis. And he played around with these city sketches in the Venice and Paris sequences of Everyone Says I Love You (1996), an imperfect but perfectly pleasurable collection of cinematographic postcards.

Some of his critics have slammed Allen’s recent efforts as lightweight entertainment. This sounds like the flip side of the complaints lodged against Interiors by those nostalgic for his “earlier, funnier films” — as the aliens describe 1970s Allen movies in Stardust Memories. Sorry, I don’t see Allen’s city symphonies as crimes against cinema. In fact, I rate Vicky Cristina among his best films. Admittedly, Purple Rose of Cairo and Crimes and Misdemeanors are vintage Allen next to the unpretentious vino novello that is To Rome, With Love, nothing wrong with that. One can appreciate an artist’s masterpieces as well as his sketches. One just appreciates them in different ways.

Next, I’d like to see an Allen movie set in the Swedish capital: Home, Sweet, Stockholm, with allusions to 1950s Ingmar Bergman films in the manner that To Rome pays homage to the movies of Fellini and Monicelli. Your nominations? Thoughts about Allen’s late career?



  1. I strongly prefer Allen’s “earlier, funnier films” myself. I think his talent and originality are on strongest display in his jokes and most wildly humorous situations, and when I view (sometimes reluctantly) his later efforts, I know there will be at least a couple of very funny jokes (I guess he can’t help himself), which raises my impression of them slightly. I wish I could think of Woody Allen as unpretentious, but I can’t. He was once laceratingly direct, but then with Manhattan slipped into the worst kind pretentiousness, creakiness and cliches.

  2. Gary Kramer says:

    I like Allen’s serious work–INTERIORS and ANOTHER WOMAN, especially, and even CASSANDRA’S DREAM, though not SEPTEMBER. I think MANHATTAN is his best, but MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY is enjoyable, too. His recent “city” films are delightful, but a mixed bag like ROME. (Some work better than others). I would love to see Woody in Rio or another Latin American city (shades of BANANAS) or revist Tokyo (shades of WHAT’S UP TIGER LILY). I’ve not missed seeing a Allen film in the theatre in 20+ years. I go every year because one day he will stop making them.

  3. Eden Umble says:

    While I truly enjoyed “Midnight in Paris,” I found “To Rome With Love” to be an almost complete waste of time. Repetitive, dated, disjointed, utterly predictable, lazy writing (could he possibly reference Kierkegaard one more time?), too many tiresome, neurotic characters, it felt that Woody Allen ultimately had nothing new to say. I admire that he makes a film a year – but that in itself isn’t enough. I more admire filmmakers who wait until inspiration strikes and provides a reason to make a film in the first place.

  4. wwolfe says:

    “Midnight in Paris” was more nimble and warm than I thought Allen could be at this point in his career. I was happy to be mistaken about that. Before he hangs up his megaphone, I’d like to see him return one time to Manhattan, just to see how his view of it has changed over the past decade or so.

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