Following their recent release of films from 1979-85, Arrow bring out their third collection from Woody Allen, concentrating on the period 1986-91. This time around, seven movies, all featuring Mia Farrow, offer serious Chokhovian drama, whimsical fantasy, nostalgic charm and two utter masterpieces. It also shows Allen's love of other great artists, Chekhov, Kafka and Bergman.
Say what you like about Woody Allen, he's certainly got range. The prolific writer director's output may vary in quality but, as at least two of the films in this excellent collection shows, when he's good, he's simply one of the world's most gifted and interesting film makers.
Two films here eschew the laughs all together, with both September and Another Woman pitching Allen as a straight dramatist. September, based on Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, is a reflective piece telling of the recuperation after a failed attempt at suicide brings Mia Farrow to her country house where various relationships unfold. It's a hard film, beautifully acted (Elaine Stritch is tremendous), with the feel of a play.
With Another Woman, Allen again coaxes a superb lead performance, this time from Gena Rowlands, with great support from Gene Hackman. Inspired by the films of Ingmar Bergman, it sees Rowland play a respected philosophy professor, examining her own life and its shortcomings as she accidentally overhears the therapy sessions of a woman in despair. Looking back, she regrets some of her choices, realising that she might have led a kinder less cerebral life.
Alice is a fantasy, one of his most whimsical films, as light and playful as he gets, in which magical herbs help to bring Mia Farrow's marital dilemmas into the open. For one of his most unusual films, Allen gets an unbelievable cast in the Kafkaesque expressionist comedy Shadows and Fog, perhaps the most stunning visual feast of his career. Featuring Jodie Foster, Madonna, Kathy Bates, John Malkovich and many others, it's origin, a one act play called Death written by Allen years before, betrays the slight plot, but it's a magnificent looking film. Much warmer is Radio Days, a film steeped in nostalgia and wit, as a family lives its life in the golden age of radio. It's utterly charming.
Which leaves us with the masterpieces and they don't come much better than these two.
Somehow, Crimes and Misdemeanours weaves two plots, one comic, one tragic, and combines Allen's own obsessions with the meaning of life, religion, love, integrity and conscience. Following two men in separate stories, Allen and a brilliant Martin Landau each wrestle with moral dilemmas only to cross paths as their stories meet. It's as complex and meaningful a film as Allen has ever created whilst retaining a lightness of touch and enough great one liners to rank it as a super comedy. It's an astonishing achievement.
But it's Hannah and Her Sisters which will probably go down as the jewel in this box. An extended family centred around three sisters has two years of its story told to us. Relationships change, affairs happen, or don't, people change, and Allen gifts us with one of the warmest, funniest, sweetest, most complex and moving films in his, or anyone's career. If the final scene doesn't leave you with the warmest of glows, get to a shrink...
WOODY ALLEN: SEVEN FILMS - 1986-1991 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: WOODY ALLEN / STARRING: VARIOUS / RELEASE DATE: 20TH FEBRUARY