The Twisted Library — April 13, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Woody Allen: Reel To Real- A Well-Formed Critique About a Controversial Figure’s Work

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Woody Allen, the man, the myth, the filmmaker. Respected by some, adored by others, hated and judged by many. Chances are whichever way you feel about him, you are partially right. The man himself is a mystery, one that will divide audiences for years. The one thing about him that is not surrounded by that mystery is his five decade long work in the film industry. A master writer, a great filmmaker, a delusional actor, Woody Allen has managed to always keep your interest when it comes to his work, and that’s what Alex Sheremet sets to explore in his book, Woody Allen: Reel to Real.

Sheremet critiques the man through his work, shunning his personal life, and focusing on Allen’s evolution as an artist. Art is subjective, and this is something Sheremet proves with his work. Starting with his unique reviews of films all the way to the discussion of Allen’s major critics, Sheremet doesn’t shy away about going in depth with his reviews. He picks apart Allen’s filmography like an engineer; he looks at them, forces us to acknowledge them and ultimately opens the door for our own opinions to be formed. His take on Woody Allen’s progression as an artist is well traced, from his early, more amateur work, his film Midnight In Paris, where his weaknesses are exposed in the casting, and beyond. Following this journey through Sheremet’s word, we get to understand the complexion of Allen’s character, his philosophy, and how those affect what ultimately is put on screen.

This book is also important because of its format. This is a “Digidialogue” ebook by Take2Publishing, which lets Sheremet ask his readers to take part of a discussion that relates to the book. Because of these discussions, the book will be expanding and updated regularly, publishing the comments his audiences make in later editions. The possibilities this book have to understand a man that may be only really understood through his work are endless, and in a sense, make it valuable to the cinematic community.

Whatever your feelings about Woody Allen, his work speaks for itself and that’s what the author intends to dissect for and with us. I recommend you read it, and in the end participate in it. This controversial figure is leaving an incredible legacy behind, and while it might be tainted by his life outside the screen, in this book it is still intact.

Twisted Talk: What are your thoughts on Woody Allen, the filmmaker? What’s your favorite of his films? Discuss below!

One Comment

  1. I’m glad to see the book get positive press, but your review misrepresents the very raison d’être of the book’s existence. You say this – “Art is subjective, and this is something Sheremet proves with his work. Starting with his unique reviews of films all the way to the discussion of Allen’s major critics, Sheremet doesn’t shy away about going in depth with his reviews. He picks apart Allen’s filmography like an engineer; he looks at them, forces us to acknowledge them and ultimately opens the door for our own opinions to be formed.” – but the latter part of the statement contradicts the beginning. Sheremet’s entire reason for approaching the movies “like an engineer”, scene-by-scene and even with attention paid to specific lines, is precisely because he wants to let the art, itself, guide the discussion, rather than individual viewers’ own biases and blinders. Here are the second, third, and fourth paragraph of the book:

    “Second, it is clear that so many of Woody’s films have not even been properly seen, much less talked about. This needs to change. I’d spent a long time with films such as Interiors, Stardust Memories, Another Woman, and many others long before I’d read any reviews, or had been biased against these films, pro or con. It is shocking, then, to finally read what has been written, from the utter meagerness of the discussions, themselves, to the way critics seem to steal from one another — down to the very exact phrasing, often originating in one or two reviews that spiral out of control, reproducing, like memes, into what gets termed ‘the critical discourse’. After a while, however, this has less to do with the films in question than in the way ideas travel, affect, and afflict, thus ensnaring otherwise smart people who can’t see just how they’re being compromised.

    Naturally, one should not engage with art while wearing these sort of blinders. Not being a ‘professional’ critic, a member of some status quo, or emotionally invested in this or that opinion or film, but a regular guy who goes to work, comes home, and writes, I won’t regale you with film-speak or other ills, but talk to you as one informed human being to another about what’s truly relevant to the art-form. I will assume you know what you know, and that you are, for lack of a better word, open. Most importantly, I will obviate the ‘I’ of this foreword, and let the films speak for themselves as best as they can, until they are their own best evidence. This is why I’ll often track the ‘big’ films scene by scene, letting them play out via print before they are subjected to my analysis, so that readers can see just why, exactly, I make the claims that I do vis-a-vis those of other writers. Too often, a critic would write something, and I’d wonder whether or not they’d even watched the scene in question. At other times, I’d marvel how a critic’s purported evidence would undercut the very claim being made. These are major flaws, no doubt, but they can also be avoided if a work of art is merely allowed to be itself, first, before the deductions start rolling in.

    Lots of people talk of what they ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. In between these two words, however, there’s the far more fruitful territory of what ‘is’. Not everyone will have the same background, politics, personal aesthetic, or philosophical bent, so to force a work of art into one’s preferences is meaningless and self-absorbed. But if we watch a film, we all see the same characters, visuals, and ideas which, while certainly multilayered, are not infinite in possible interpretations, bounded, as they are, by the parameters of the film.
    We therefore have the choice to take them on their own terms, as part of their own
    internal universe — our egos be damned! This is really what I mean by the word ‘open’,
    and I hope that it still applies.”

    The very crux of the book lies in showing that while we may experience art subjectively, it also is an object whose content is finite and woven together in a particular, effable – and, yes, objective – way. In other words, there’s not necessarily any lone comprehensive interpretation of a great work of art that precludes all others, but there are certainly many wrong ones! At least, that is Sheremet’s contention, and it seems to me a disservice, to both Sheremet and to your readers who may be interested in the book, to not only not mention the philosophical backbone of the work, but to make a claim re: the book’s relationship to the idea of subjectivity that is 180 degrees different than what Sheremet wishes readers to take away.

    Anyway, as I said, I’m happy the book is receiving attention, and that it’s resonating with people, but I did feel the need to provide that correction, as it’s a major, not a minor, difference.

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