He was born Allan Konigsberg in the Bronx, but his personal destiny and some of filmdom's most celebrated comedies - Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors - have made Woody Allen the quintessential New Yorker.
This telling, new biography - the first since the tabloids headlined his rift with his long-term mistress, Mia Farrow, and his affair with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi - tells how a reclusive, melancholy kid achieved unparalleled success as a screenwriter, director, and star. It also explores the real Woody Allen, the critically acclaimed filmmaker from the Upper East Side, and his amusing movie persona of a neurotic and lovable loser.
Shrewdly and effectively deconstructing Woody, John Baxter's biography illuminates Allen's preoccupation with sex and mortality, his personal quirks and obsessions, his manipulation of celebrity, and his cinematic achievement as chronicler and court jester of Manhattan's intellectual elite.
"A splendidly written, exhaustive account and a major achievement" - The Observer
"Astute and highly entertaining biography" - Daily Telegraph
"A bracing corrective to the usual po-faced, sycophantic studies of the cult of Woody" - Mail on Sunday
"Full of interesting information for cinema enthusiasts" - The Spectator
"The saga [of Woody and Mia] makes compulsive reading" - The Guardian
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The biographer of Steven Spielberg (1997) and Stanley Kubrick sets his sights on one of the cinema's great comic minds. Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg, the filmmaker grew up in wartime Brooklyn, a period and neighborhood to which he returned in such films as Radio Days. Baxter contends that his father's unstable job situation and the family's constant shuffling between relatives early in his life left Allen with a long-standing resentment of his parents and his religion. He mines the films for examples, noting for instance that the parents of the characters Allen plays are masked when they appear onscreen. Baxter is not the first person to find Allen's personal life in his films, a hobby that has grown since scandal enveloped Allen's personal life when he left longtime partner Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, his current wife. But he suffers more than most biographers from an inability to distinguish the man from the artist. Peering into every one of Allen's films, he analyzes the repeated use of prostitutes, the references to Judaism, the jokes about therapy. For Baxter, a joke is never just a joke, but a desperate cry for help. When he does move away from a minatory pseudoanalysis, as when he describes Allen's early career as a comedy writer, his tale is at its most entertaining. Baxter tells of Danny Simon, Neil Simon's brother, who gave Allen one of his first jobs; of Allen's partnership with Larry Gelbart, who years later would create M*A*S*H; and of Allen's break writing for Buddy Hackett's series, ``Stanley.'' Such episodes, set during the heady initial days of TV, offer Allen anecdotes new even to diehard fans. Unfortunately, these are among the only chapters that offer anything fresh or unbiased. Most of Baxter's digging has a desperate, leftover look. Allen's fans, who are presumably Baxter's target audience, will prefer to let his films do the talking. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Given the maelstrom of Allen's recent life, this engaging new biography is welcome, even if not definitive. Baxter (The Hollywood Exiles) follows Allen's tangled amours and artistic discoveries from his childhood in Brooklyn through his stint as a 1950s comedy writer and onward, exhaustively detailing the making of movie after movie, from What's New, Pussycat? to Deconstructing Harry. Fair-minded but harsher than Eric Lax was in Woody Allen (1991), Baxter has done yeoman work in canvassing the published record (he lacked Lax's access to Allen and his peers). While Baxter unearths eerie tidbits about Allen's relations with two teenage girls, his psychologizing often rests on others' judgments, such as film theorist Maurice Yacowar's views on sex and death, and Allen's ex-partner Mia Farrow's take on the gap between nebbish persona and hard-nosed auteur. He considers Allen's affair with Farrow's adoptive daughter Soon-Yi more a lapse of taste than an indictable offense. Cinephiles will particularly enjoy Baxter's discussions of Allen's influences: he finds an early debt to Jules Feiffer, hears echoes of Fellini in Annie Hall and describes the brief involvement in Stardust Memories of French student radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit. (As a critic, Baxter likes the comedies more than the dramas.) Allen finds real happiness, Baxter concludes, not in his messy private life but in his work. Though the reader might wish for a broader attempt to sum up Allen's prodigious output and place in American culture, this book remains the most detailed look at an AmericanAnay, New YorkAoriginal. Photos not seen by PW. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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