Woody Allen: Reel to Real
by Alex Sheremet
Take2 Publishing

"In fact, I found the film, even then, rich and multi-layered, with sharp dialogue, wonderful experimentation, intellectual depth, and the kind of poetry and intuitive leaps that few works of art ever achieve."

Some people love them, others loath them, but few movie lovers are simply ambivalent about the films of Woody Allen. Many take equally polar views on the man himself, forever linking the filmmaker to his art. Much of the reason for this connection is undoubtedly because the persona Allen has carefully crafted frequently pops up as a character in his works. But there is much more to both the man and his movies than meets the casual viewer's eyes, a premise that the author expertly supports in his detailed and fascinating book.

Originating as a digital interaction between Sheremet and his audience on a website dedicated to Allen and his movies, the resulting DigiDialogue, as the eBook has been dubbed, is an exhaustive perspective of the cinema of the unconventional filmmaker and actor as well as a critique of the criticism that he has garnered over the last several decades of his career. The first four chapters divide his films into distinct periods such as his early comedies, his more "grown up" movies, etc. ranging from his first one, What's New Pussycat? (1965) to his latest release, Magic in the Moonlight (2014). The author then moves to a discussion of the "Woody" persona which appears not only in the films he has written, directed, and acted in but also in the movies he has simply starred in such as Casino Royal (1967). Sheremet next takes on Allen's six major critics in a chapter that turns the tables on the pundits by dissecting their opinions and at times even their personal qualifications as commentators. The last chapter allows Allen to speak for himself by its inclusion of opinions by the filmmaker on a variety of topics.

Much of the strength of Sheremet's book lies in the author's undisguised passion for his subject. He obviously knows Allen's films inside out and has become possibly one of the world's top experts on both the movies and the man. This does not mean that he is some starry-eyed groupie that sees no fault in the man whose career he has followed so closely. He is quick to praise what he sees as Allen's successes and artistic genius but is also unflinching in his criticism of films that don't measure up to others in the filmmaker's canon. In addition, Sheremet doesn't offer his readers a mere surface analysis of the movies but delves deeply into the characters and into what the particular film may be saying about society, the arts, or even our own human nature. Nor does he rely on the opinions of others to guide his own. For example, despite the widespread critical panning and meager box office take of Stardust Memories (1980) he rightly champions it as one of Allen's best and most thought-provoking films.

Possibly the most unique aspect of this book, though, is the addition of commentary by others. Sheremet even goes as far as to include a series of back-and-forth emails between himself and movie reviewer Jonathan Rosenbaum, one of the critics he dissected earlier. The interaction between the two makes for some entertaining reading as they cross swords and even take a few pokes now and then. Well-written, erudite, and full of insights into all of Allen's movies that one would be hard pressed to find anywhere else, Sheremet's book sets a new standard for Woody Allen studies.

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