Friday, Jan. 25, 2013

Love and Death and Woody Allen

By David Luhrssen
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  At first glance, the latest Woody Allen films released on Blu-ray, Sleeper (1973) and Hannah and her Sisters (1986), represent entirely different aspects of the writer-director’s work. Sleeper is a sci-fi spoof and Hannah is like a Chekhov play transposed to the milieu of Manhattan’s intelligentsia. Allen is the protagonist of Sleeper’s zaniness while in Hannah, he’s only one member of an ensemble whose characters are linked by marriage, blood and desire.

Sleeper is the future many imagined in the early ‘70s—a dystopia of shiny chrome and molded white plastic with articulate computers a la 2001’s HAL. Much of the screenplay is clever but of a moment long past, including references to the era’s television commercials. The funniest bits are the wordless scenes of silent slapstick with Allen as a 22nd century Charlie Chaplin. Hannah is more enduring with humor pitched in a sophisticated key and a story shown from multiple perspectives. Sleeper features only one other actor of note, Diane Keaton as Luna, the center of a bubble-headed, drug-addled Warholian contingent of untalented artists unconcerned with the world they inhabit. Hannah boasts Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and many others.

And yet, despite many differences, continuities between the two films are apparent, starting with the stark white credits over a black backdrop and continuing with the old jazz soundtracks and Allen’s neurotic characterizations as well as his undying themes of sex and death and bafflement in the face of life’s mysteries.

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