The IFI’s fairly comprehensive Woody Allen season culminates with an illustrated talk by Professor Neil Sinyard on Sunday July 25th at 17.30 (tickets €5). Although his talk will cover Allen’s entire career, Neil will be paying particular attention to the often surprising films of the past decade. The notes below are adapted from Neil Sinyard’s introductions to the three-part season.

Like all artists, Allen has his recurrent obsessions, but what is striking about his work is not its repetitiveness but its extraordinary variety. The movies in the first instalment see Allen’s screen persona shift from film farceur and comic loser to cultural commentator and embittered superstar. His style matures from the formal roughness of Bananas to the breathtaking virtuosity of Zelig, and his influences range from Bob Hope to Ingmar Bergman. The great thing about his career is that he has succeeded in being three things that are almost impossible in today’s cinema: prolific, unpredictable, and consistent.

‘Life doesn’t imitate art,’ says someone in Husbands and Wives (1992), ‘it imitates bad television.’ The line was eerily prophetic, as revelations that year about Allen’s private life, paralleled by the events in the film, became headline news. The ‘Poet-Laureate of modern neuroses’ (Andrew Duncan’s description) was now an embodiment of contemporary anxieties as well as an expert: his reputation has never quite recovered.

The second instalment of this season highlights a particularly creative period. It includes one of his most joyous entertainments (Radio Days); a fascinating stylistic experiment (Shadows and Fog); his finest drama (Another Woman); and the film many consider his masterpiece (Crimes and Misdemeanors). Civilisation and its discontents remains the recurring preoccupation: why is it that people, with all their advantages of culture and materialism, cannot find the happiness they crave? After Husbands and Wives he was never to be so confessional again, but there will be riches — and, yes, laughs — to come.

‘There he goes again: doing something different.’ So said Roger Ebert about Woody Allen, actually mocking his fellow critics who, having habitually excoriated the comic for repeating himself, now repeatedly attack him for venturing into new territory. Certainly the most recent decade of his career has been curious, with as many films made in Europe as America, some failing to achieve a cinema release (Hollywood Ending, Scoop), and others publicised so discreetly that their authorial identity is hard to discover: you would need 20/20 vision to find his name on the DVD box of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for example. The themes have shifted too, Manhattan being displaced by a preoccupation with magic and murder, reaching its apotheosis with the brilliant Match Point. The only predictable thing about him now is his productivity. Approaching 75, Woody Allen shows no signs of slowing down nor of ceasing to surprise us. You write him off at your peril.
Neil Sinyard.

A regular contributor to the IFI programme, Neil Sinyard has written books on many filmmakers, including Nicolas Roeg, Jack Clayton, Billy Wilder, Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen. A revised edition of his invaluable study of Richard Lester has just been published by Manchester Press, and he’s currently working on a new book about one of his favourite directors, William Wyler.

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