WOODY ALLEN’S fame for extracting humour from the serious side of life is well-known. And in many of his films, humour is noticeably absent as he mines the darkest recesses of the human psyche and relationships. So, a return to his earlier work, at a time when he was writing and performing stand up comedy is extremely refreshing.
His unique viewpoint is the equivalent of surreal cartooning while often underlining many universal wisdoms. All this in an admirably economical use of language and cunningly crafted storylines. Although the style is sometimes dictated by his Jewish/American heritage, the subject matter is too wide ranging to be contained within such a narrow definition. And the subject matter is diverse.
On psychic phenomena: “There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtrown and how late is it open?” On compassion: ” Needleman…was capable of great compassion, and after witnessing a particularly horrible mine disaster once, he could not finish a second helping of waffles.” Sex: “…I found myself in a state of waxy flexibility as the last piece of bikini underpants slid noiselessly to the floor around her ankles while I lapsed inexplicably into the Dutch National Anthem.”
Every paragraph contains extraordinary flights of imagination. One short story, The Kugelmass Episode could have been one of his screenplays. It concerns a professor, trapped in a loveless marriage, who discovers the existence of a machine which allows one to actually exist alongside the characters of any book in the machine at the same time. Hence, Kugelmass has an affair with Madame Bovary, prompting students across the country to wonder “…Who is this character on page 100? A bald Jew is kissing Madame Bovary?”
The flight of fancy ends with the hero accientally jettisoned into a copy of Remedial Spanish and being chased for the rest of his life by the word tener (‘to have’), “a large and hairy irregular verb”. Essential study for humour writers to this day!