WOODY ALLEN by John Baxter

WOODY ALLEN

A Biography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-7867-0666-X
Page count: 512pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999




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