Woody Allen

Love him or despise him, Woody Allen is an American-Jewish filmmaking legend.

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In addition to simple literary parody, the humorous style of the stories is extremely Jewish. Allen, for example, reproduces the es­sential strategy of linking disparate realms, especially the sacred and the profane. Often, he applies this tactic overtly to Jewish mo­tifs, as in "Hassidic [sic] Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar." Generally, however, the metaphysically se­rious rubs up against the hopelessly mundane, as when the philoso­pher Metterling proves "not only that Kant was wrong about the universe but that he never picked up a check."…

The New Yorker sketches clearly reveal a tension that structures Allen's entire career: his ability to link disparate realms for his own interests. As he began writing popular film comedies, he also created humor out of parodies of serious, intellectual subjects. In his works, Allen would also move between the high-brow and the popular, although eventually his parodies of the serious would turn toward genuinely serious attempts at similar subjects. He then found himself in a struggle between intellectuality and popularity, as well as the serious and the humorous.

Finally, his early New Yorker writings confronted Jewishness and Judaism in a way that his films would only later. They reveal, through humor, an attitude toward Judaism that veers toward ir­reverence if not yet hostility. In the "Hassidic Tales," for instance, a woman asks a famous rabbi why Jews are not allowed to eat pork. "We're not? Uh-oh," he responds.

In "The Scrolls," Allen rewrites Abraham's command to sacrifice Isaac, with God telling Abraham that He was only kidding, and chiding the patriarch for his gullibility: "Some men will follow any order no matter how asi­nine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modu1ated voice" (Without Feathers 27).

First Films

Between the writing of What's New, Pussycat? (1965) and Casino Royale (1967), Allen redubbed a Japanese spy thriller to create the comic What's up, Tiger Lily? (1966). What's up, Tiger Lily? also clearly demonstrates Allen's debt to Sid Caesar, particularly to a Your Show of Shows sketch parodying samurai movies, a cultural coup for a writing staff creating skits in the late 1950s. One of the least of the concerns in Tiger Lily was Jewishness.

Yet, even here, Allen's ethnic sensibilities appear. The (Japanese) hero is called Phil Mos­cowitz, and a character calls for his rabbi after being shot. The film critic Douglas Brode concludes that this film enabled Allen "to introduce what will be­come a key theme: assimilation of Jews into non-Jewish lifestyles." But such a comment, although astute, fails to see the larger issue. Rather than simply thematizing the issue of assimilation, Al­len introduces Jewishness as a source of humor, the wellspring from which his unique comic perspective will derive its particular vision.

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David Desser is the director of cinema studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and former editor of Cinema Journal.