For three decades, no American filmmaker has been as prolific -- or as paradoxical -- as Woody Allen. From Play It Again, Sam (1972) through Celebrity (1998) and Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Allen has produced an average of one film a year, yet in many of these films Allen reveals a progressively skeptical attitude toward both the value of art and the cultural contributions of artists.
In examining Allen's filmmaking career, The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen demonstrates that his movies often question whether the projected illusions of magicians/artists benefit audience or artists. Other Allen films dramatize the opposed conviction that the consoling, life-redeeming illusions of art are the best solution humanity has devised to the existential dilemma of being a death-foreseeing animal. Peter Bailey demonstrates how Allen's films repeatedly revisit and reconfigure this tension between image and reality, art and life, fabrication and factuality, with each film reaching provisional resolutions that a subsequent movie will revise.
Merging criticism and biography, Bailey identifies Allen's ambivalent views of the artistic enterprise as a key to understanding his entire filmmaking career. Because of its focus upon filmmaker Sandy Bates's conflict between entertaining audiences and confronting them with bleak human actualities, Stardust Memories is a central focus of the book. Bailey's examination of Allen's art/life dialectic also draws from the off screen drama of Allen's very public separation from Mia Farrow, and the book accordingly construes such post-scandal films as Bullets Over Broadway and Mighty Aphrodite as Allen's oblique cinematic responses to that tabloid tempest.
By illuminating the thematic conflict at the heart of Allen's work, Bailey seeks not only to clarify the aesthetic designs of individual Allen films but to demonstrate how his oeuvre enacts an ongoing debate the screenwriter/director has been conducting with himself between creating cinematic narratives affirming the saving powers of the human imagination and making films acknowledging the irresolvably dark truths of the human condition.
"Demonstrating an extraordinary grasp of Allen's work, Bailey argues that the heroes of the films have matured from stammering, insecure clowns... to older men and women who struggle to create order in their lives through some form of art, while their personal lives continue to disintegrate around them." -- America
"[Bailey's] detailed treatment of Allen's work in the nineties is an especially welcome addition of the critical literature. [His] investigation of Allen's debate over the redemptive powers of art ultimately addresses crucial questions about American popular culture and entertainment. An important contribution to American film studies." -- American Studies
"Bailey is a perceptive, sensitive, original commentator, who makes a convincing, often brilliant, case." -- Canadian Review of Comparative Literature
"A splendid compendium of critical insights, production details, and sympathetic if frank appraisals of many films." -- Creative Screenwriting
"An in-depth look at the films and the internal struggle that helped create them." -- Hollywood Inside Syndicate
"Bailey knows Woody Allen's work backwards and forwards, and his book makes many illuminating connections among the films in the Allen canon. In particular, Bailey reveals the significance of Allen's treatment of the role of the artist and the cultural function of movies in American life." -- Christopher Ames, author of Movies About the Movies
"Bailey engages Allen with a serious, intelligent, and creative critical imagination. Fans and students of Allen's films will gain new insights into both the most popular as well as some of Allen's neglected works." -- Sam B. Girgus, author of The Films of Woody Allen
"Bailey's rigorous study will please the serious student of film and of 20th-century artistic impression." -- Virginia Quarterly Review