Sunday, July 8, 2007

Knocking On Woody

An edited version of a review that appeared in today's Hindustan Times


Woody Allen’s first collection of pieces in over 25 years shows that when it comes to prose, he continues to display the impish inventiveness and sense of the absurd that animated some of his earlier films such as Bananas or the under-rated Love and Death.

If one were able to step into the pages of Mere Anarchy in the manner of the nebbish professor in ‘The Kugelmass Episode’, one would find oneself in a universe populated by rapacious Hollywood producers, private eyes on the trail of precious truffles, New Age gurus, envious hacks and Manhattan nannies writing tell-all memoirs.

Here, there are satires on Russian novelists and the New Journalism; spoofs of rags-to-riches screenplays; parodies of existentialist philosophy; riffs on newspaper headlines, one of them inspired by a report on Veerappan’s kidnapping of actor Raj Kumar; and. examinations of quantum physics that pose the questions: “How does gravity work? And if it were to cease suddenly, would certain restaurants still require a jacket?”

All of which means that Allen covers much familiar ground, and also hasn’t stepped out too far from the shadow of S.J. Perelman, one of his self-confessed influences. Though some of the subjects are contemporary – custom-made prayers for sale on eBay, for example – Allen brings to them a distinctive but somewhat dated Yiddish sensibility that occasionally comes across as more quaint than droll.

Worth your while? Admittedly, none of the pieces (most of which first appeared in The New Yorker) are in the league of ‘The Kugelmass Episode’ or earlier gems such as ‘The Whore of Mensa’. Nevertheless, Mere Anarchy will definitely please fans of the man who once said: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

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