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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Without Feathers - Woody Allen There is a moment around mid 1990s in which I discovered Woody Allen and at the same time lost track of everything else he subsequently did as a director (he worked quite a lot with Scarlett Johansson, didn't he?). It happened just after the release of "Bullets over Broadway".

It was 1994 and I remember how I was having Easter vacations in Rome with my parents. We were caught in a rainy Easter in typical Roman fashion and one evening we decided that it was pointless strolling around under downpours. Therefore, as it was too late to find shelter in any museum, we went straight to watch the last Woody's movie.
I think that was also the last time I went to the cinema together with my parents. I was 12 years old and kind of a bore. My parents were both big fans of Mr Allen while I was vaguely aware of his background thanks to the Soon-Yi affair that was hugely gossiped around Italy.
I don't have any special memory of "Bullets over Broadway" apart from the fact it was rather gloomy, with a few jokes which I was able to get, but overall ok.

And yet from that moment on, I started watching more Woody Allen. I went backwards as far as Take the Money and Run and particularly liking "Bananas", "Annie Hall", "Zelig" and - on a far different level - "Manhattan".
"Manhattan" became quite soon the first movie I watched more than twice and also the first movie I watched in original language (with English written subtitles to get it better) due to that awful dubbing business which made three generations of Italians unable to get any English.
I briefly fell in love with Diane Keaton (!), quoted too many times Muriel Hemingway's final sentence "Not everybody gets corrupted" and still know large bits of "Manhattan" by heart.
When a few years ago I heard the Italian dubbed version by mere coincidence I couldn't tolerate it. They simply cut most of the Isaac Davies / Woody Allen brilliant lines, probably thinking that our local audience was too stupid to get the jokes about, say, the August Strindberg Award or the references to Ingmar Bergman and Gustav Mahler.

"Without Feathers" came out in 1975, four years after Bananas and four years before Manhattan in the same year in which Mr Allen directed Love and Death, which I've never seen. According to the cover of the book, this is supposed to be "The Hilarious Bestseller by Woody Allen". And it is, at some point. I mean, it certainly sold quite a lot.
As for being hilarious, I wouldn't be that sure. In its best moments "Whithout Feathers" is outrageously funny and witty, but there were also several pages that I couldn't help but skip.

Certainly "The Whore of Mensa" is a gem, just like "The Scrolls", "A Guide to some of the Lesser Ballets" and "Fabulous Tales and Mythical Beasts" are all very high and classic standards of Woody's repertoire. But the almost Dickensian "God" and the Beckettesque-Pirandellian "Death", the two plays that cover half of this thin book, are far too long-winded and wordy for my taste. I guess how they would sound better while performed on stage than black printed on paper.
Moreover, there are a few minor episodes in this book which simply give no justice to the talent of Mr Allen like the amateurish "Slang Origins" and that tedious parody of Strindberg which is "Lovberg's Women Considered".

Still, this is a book that in its best parts will make you laugh quite a lot if you like what early Allen brought on the big screen in the golden 1970s and silver 1980s. While if you're looking for the less stressfully self-obsessed and more continentally-sophisticated Allen that came out of the 1990s leaving his beloved New York behind for London, Venice and Barcelona, "Without Feathers" is definitely not kosher.