There's a scene towards the end of Woody Allen's film Manhattan in which his character, Isaac, lists the reasons that life is worth living. For Isaac, they are Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the Second Movement of the Jupiter Symphony, Louis Armstrong's recording of Potatohead Blues, Swedish movies (I'm guessing he means ones like this, not ones like this), A Sentimental Education by Flaubert, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, the apples and pears by Cezanne, and Tracy's face.
Well, that's a pretty good list. But of course there's something missing: the films of Woody Allen. Even his most committed fans can admit that the quality is - shall we say - variable (I don't know anyone who got to the end of Curse of the Jade Scorpion), but on a cold night, or a miserable day, or just one of those times when things aren't going right, there are few things more charming or comforting than a Woody Allen film.
Part of it is how much they're the same - I only have to see that typeface (it's Windsor Light Condensed, font fans) to be thrown into his world - and part of it is how much they're different, from farce to tragedy, period to contemporary, New York to Barcelona. But all of them are clearly the work of the same artist: witty, wry, sophisticated, soaked in art and culture, perpetually disappointed but perpetually hopeful.
Is there anywhere in film a more cynical romantic, or a more romantic cynic (you can see why Woody loves Bogart so much)? And perhaps that's the real secret of his work: as we head towards awards season, and the Big Message movies lumber into cinemas to tell us what to think, Woody has carved a career out of asking the questions that all of us wrestle with: What is the point of life? Can we ever love one person? And how the hell do you catch a live lobster?
But more than all these things, of course, he's funny. The BFI's Woody Allen season in January 2012 was a rare chance to see his best films as they should be: on a big screen with a live, loving audience. But his films aren't the only measure of his talent. He's a terrific short story writer and playwright, and a legendary stand-up comedian. Here he is performing one of the most famous routines ever written:
That's why we're celebrating Woody's birthday on Saturday (he'll be 77) with a screening of Manhattan, followed by an evening of original stand-up by some of today's most exciting comics, including Friday Night Dinner star Tom Rosenthal and 2012 Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee Tony Law, plus readings from some of Woody's best prose work. These short pieces, mostly written for The New Yorker, present a different, equally witty and inventive side to Woody Allen, and we're thrilled to be bringing them to life. So if you're a Woody fan, do join us at Hackney Picturehouse on Saturday 1st December to wish our favourite comedy film-maker a very happy birthday.
Jonathan Wakeham is the co-founder of LOCO
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