Woody Does Expressionism: Shadows and Fog (1991)

November 26, 2015 | By

ShadowsAndFog_posterWay back in film school, I remember most (or it seemed like most) of my classmates had not only seen a fare share of Woody Allen films, but were big fans, but I stayed away from his work because at the time, at least from critical and audience breakthroughs like Manhattan (1979) and Annie Hall (1977), I just didn’t get the attraction to his screen persona, nor his humour, which seemed niche.

I did pay to see Small Time Crooks (2000), which I didn’t mind, and kind of enjoyed Deconstructing Harry (1997) for being so venal (not to mention a running gag about a character who’s literally out of focus), but I think I knew those weren’t the most ideal reference points for a man many film historians feel is a comic genius.

The recent wave of Allen titles via Twilight Time professionally mandated I take a dip into his massive filmography, and see if 1) I could review them objectively, and 2) maybe like them – seeing them fresh with very different sensibilities from a twentysomething film school snot, whose tastes were very much tied to mainstream and classic cinema.

In both cases, the results were positive, and I have to admit, going through the catalogue of a filmmaker I didn’t necessarily shun but ignored for more than 25 years ago, has been a lot of fun.

Oddly, it’s very similar to when I dove into Ingmar Bergman when MGM released a packed boxed set, another filmmaker whose work I thought was boring at 21 became mind-blowing and emotionally wrenching to me more than a decade later. I’m still scared of the screaming and agonizing in Cries and Whispers (1972), but it is funny when a film one pegged as a major snooze – like The Seventh Seal (1957) – becomes a work of art decades later.

Is it worth questioning or seeking a tangible reason for such a shift?

Not in my case, because just like music, tastes change. Life experiences pull you to works that provoke and have a kind of sudden personal meaning, and imagery you may have written off as pretentious crap becomes riveting. I guarantee that I’d have hated Elio Petri’s A Quiet Place in the Country (1968) at 21.

I remember being baffled by Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) at that age as well… but in the case of Argento, that film and its music never left my subconscious, because while the imagery disturbed my little brain, it also puzzled it, and planted a time-triggered need to revisit the film when my sensibilities were right.

Suspiria introduced me to Goblin, then Italian prog-rock and giallo soundtracks, and the giallo genre itself. It’s a peculiar journey one takes before revisiting and appreciating something that was shrugged off, and that’s certainly been the case with Allen.

I love Bergman, but the smart-ass inside me has grown since 21, which is why I can love a film yet see the beauty in lampooning a classic work or genre at the same time. Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956) is extraordinary, but there’s a satire that’s screaming to be committed to film. (Give me a year, and I’ll prove it in a short.)

Perhaps that’s why Allen’s work clicks at this stage in my film watching. There’s a special brilliance in being able to craft a homage and sputter raspberries at just the right moments, staying reverent to the source material, but also being a little stinker.

I’ve posted a review of Shadows and Fog (1991), Allen’s homage to German Expressionism, which is new on Blu from Twilight Time, and I’m sure just as there are fans of the Cannon Films catalogue, a variant exists for Orion Pictures, a company that I remember as a good mini-major who produced and released an eclectic mix of films by often stellar directors, and had one of the coolest corporate logos in film history.

The fact Allen’s film was released during the company’s last year of active production is baffling, because Orion had Oscar nominees and winners under its belt, and yet it went kablooey.

The same in fact could be said of Britain’s Goldcrest Films, which won Oscars and within a few years was dead, undone by pricey duds, egotistical directors, and a tough market. Goldcrest’s highpoint was Chariots of Fire (1981), but the end came fast when the period film Revolution (1985) and the musical Absolute Beginners (1986) went over-budget and bombed at the box office.

My next Twilight Time review will be their special edition of Absolute Beginners, Julien Temple’s near-career killer which I remember being an absolute travesty of Colin MacInnes’ great novel. I read and saw both around the age of 21, so we’ll see if the movie has aged well or remains a garish trainwreck.

Before  Temple’s film, though, I’ll post a series of soundtrack reviews, and some sexploitation film reviews. It’s been a while since I delved into some gratuitous nonsense, and to be a well-rounded writer and cineaste, you have to watch nonsense. There’s nothing worse than an elitist who poo-poos artistry in other realms, and really, why deny oneself something designed to be fun and ridiculous?

And before I beg off, I’ve posted some stills taken while creating live and recording the last round of glitch-laden footage and feedback effects for BSV 1172 at Big Head Amusements.



Perhced atop stack of vintage Showtime Video Ventures processor boxes is Fuzzball the Swedish Tiger, Big Head Amusement’s official mascot.


There is video footage of the live effects rendering, but it’ll have to wait until the experimental short’s done the festival rounds, and the doc is ready for viewing and sale.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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