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Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 K789413 1982
Something like an Autobiography is a first-hand account of director Akira Kurosawa's thoughts concerning his breakthrough film, Rashomon. About some thirty years after he directed it, Kurosawa recalls almost every aspect of the film, from the production, to the underlying message, to the film techniques used. His intentions for the film are precisely what film scholars and analysts have hypothesized in their work: that the film is about the inability of man to tell the truth without embellishment and without tendencies towards self-preservation, and that the cinematography, lighting and editing all contribute to the mood of the film.
However, what is most interesting is that Kurosawa applies these perspectives to his own life as well. In his book's epilogue, he relates the story of a studio director who boasts about the success of Rashomon, without even referring to himself (Kurosawa) or the cinematographer. The human weakness he portrayed in the film does surface in real life. He then goes on to describe his autobiography and how it is completely possible that he left out negative facets of himself and doubts complete honesty in its presentation, once again showing tendencies to show oneself in the best possible way.
The way in which Kurosawa relates the theme of Rashomon to his own life leads the reader to think about the film's relation to their own life as well. Because the director self-analyzed himself in the book, the reader's drive to self-analyze is made stronger. In addition, the degree of variation to the stories in Rashomon is large enough that it may render the film a bit unrealistic. The points-of-view of the characters are just so different that attributing it to the relativity of perception may seem like a stretch. However, Kurosawa's autobiography brings the theme of the film down to earth and emphasizes the question proposed in the film: how do humans represent themselves?
In a way, this first-hand account of Rashomon validates the analysis done on the film. The fact that the views of those behind the camera and those who only see post-production coincide is a testament to the effectiveness and success of the intent and the techniques used in the film. One should take this into account in assessing Rashomon's impact on cinema.
Riefenstahl, Leni. Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
The chapter “Problems and Worries” in Leni Riefenstahl’s memoirs describes the harassment she received from Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, during the making of Olympia. Goebbels requested that she include less footage of “niggers” in the film and that she dismiss her press chief because of his marriage to a “non-Aryan” wife. Riefenstahl ignored both demands, and Goebbels resultantly cut off her funding in an effort to take over production of the film. She appealed to Hitler, giving him a police report indicating the Ministry of Propaganda had previously had members of her staff arrested. Her work was then removed from the auspices of the Ministry of Propaganda and placed under Rudolf Hess, which, to Riefenstahl’s delight, ended any harassment and interference during the film’s production.
This chapter is significant to the question of Olympia as propaganda because it supports Riefenstahl’s claim that her work was not propaganda. Riefenstahl’s account describes her work as not an instrument of the Ministry of Propaganda, but rather a nuisance. She refused to bow to Goebbels’s demands that would have incorporated propagandistic elements into the film. When her film was removed from the Ministry’s authority, she noted that she felt liberated, suggesting that her film should be understood as artistically free and without political influence.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN2658.K52 A3 1996
Anything that Klaus Kinski has written on the subject of this production cannot be taken as fact. His autobiography, written like a diary, offers an insight into the mind of this brilliant but deranged actor. In reading his account of the production, one can gain a better sense of what working with the man on a daily basis would have been like. He sees himself as far more brilliant than anyone involved on the production. In contrasting this account with more reputable sources, one can pick out certain cases in which Kinski outright lied, such as when he claims he rejected the part, then Herzog realized he couldn’t film the movie without him. In reality, the actor Kinski won’t name, Jason Robards, had to leave because of medical issues. In reading Kinski’s account, the entire fact that Herzog moved a boat over a mountain is curiously absent, yet he devotes a substantial amount of time to complaints about the food. The four pages offer an incredible insight into the true egomaniacal nature of the man.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 A5676 1987
This book contains several essays about Woody Allen and his work. The second chapter – entitled “Will the Real Little Man Please Stand Up?” – discusses the question of the real Woody Allen versus the onscreen Woody Allen. Pogel argues that more and more critics are treating Woody Allen separately from his creation. Allen even argues that point, and in interviews, he does not appear as the man from the movies. Thus, Pogel pursues that any understanding of Woody Allen based on his films would be incomplete and unconvincing.
Pogel runs through Allen’s private, rigid daily routine, juxtaposing it to the scatter-brained characters that he writes and portrays in his films. The author paints him in the most normal actions and emphasizes the simplicity rather than the exaggerated character associated with Woody Allen. Pogel comments on Woody Allen as a writer, a comedian, a filmmaker, and a businessman drifting away from the everyday man that she initially depicts.
Still, as the chapter continues, Pogel begins to draw similarities between Allen and his “little-man” characters. The discussion at the end of the first section of this chapter comments on Allen’s feelings about politics, being Jewish, and romance, using small references to their infusion into his films. However, Pogel continues to resist the temptation to equate Woody Allen with his onscreen persona. Quotes of Allen’s comments on those subjects are taken from interviews rather than films, although his films do bring up the same opinions to some degree.
The second part of the chapter draws a line between Allen and his characters citing the ambiguities that surround Woody Allen’s personal life, particularly his childhood. The author ponders why Allen would withhold private details, suggesting that Allen may want the audience to consider the broader implications of the film rather than focus on the film as a personal introspection. The chapter goes on to detail Allen’s childhood and written and stand-up comedy career, never mentioning the similarities to his film persona.
This source opposes the idea that the filmmaker Woody Allen is the Woody Allen character in his films, and despite its sound arguments, the essay can also be seen as the extent to which one must avoid the connections between Allen and his onscreen persona to uphold this perspective in this debate.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.A45 W66 2001
This collection of essays on Woody Allen contains one particularly relevant essay, entitled “Woody Allen: The Relationship between the Persona and its Author” (Marie-Phoenix Rivet). This essay considers the creation of the persona that Woody Allen wrote for many of his films and portrayed in many of his films. The writer quotes Allen, who describes the emergence of this persona as unintentional and molded by Woody Allen’s physical appearance. Allen’s comedy and his comic persona place him in the ranks with the comic stars of the silent film era, including Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and Allen even admits to his persona’s modeling after these past, great, successful characters/filmmakers. The influences of their films are also evident in Allen’s own film gags. The connection between Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin even reaches to their filmmaking styles, artistic temperaments, the level of control that they possessed over their films, their negative world view, and the split between two fictional characters – one onscreen, one off-screen.
The essay shifts from describing Allen’s film influences to his cultural influences on his persona. His Jewish origins and his contemporary American life identify his character, and although Allen says that his Jewish origins are simply part of his subconscious, the writer argues that Allen manipulates this element of the persona purposely, which is often portrayed negatively in his films.
The third issue that the writer brings up in this essay about the Woody Allen persona is the reflection of Allen’s personal life on his films. Although Allen denies this self-referential aspect of his films, the many resemblances and the creation and portrayal by Woody Allen are difficult for the writer to deny, and the writer emphasizes that a major part of the persona is precisely egotism. Elements of the narrative style, such as the direct address to the camera in Annie Hall, creates the illusion that the writer, director, and actor is the character that he plays. He hires friends; he invokes psychoanalysis, of which he has been under for thirty-five years; and he shares the persona’s ambivalence to fame.
The writer describes the major facets of the persona and then analyzes the audience’s relationship to the persona, describing it as a mixture of identification and rejection. Ultimately, the writer concludes that the persona is so influential and ingrained that audiences continue to seek Woody Allen in them and do so successfully, whether or not the real Woody Allen was actually or meant to be put into the work at all.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.A45 L44 1997
This book analyzes Woody Allen’s films based on philosophical theories and trends, and the second chapter is entitled “A Therapeutic Autobiography: Annie Hall (1977).” This chapter is a particularly useful analysis of the scenes in the film that have specific, directed commentaries about Woody Allen’s views on life, love, values, and responsibility.
The beginning of this chapter brings up the important point that Woody Allen rejects the idea that Annie Hall is autobiographical. Allen claims that all his films have a few true facts in them, but presumably that is the limit. Although Lee acknowledges this point, the chapter continues to remark on the continuity within Woody Allen’s film repertoire and refers to Allen’s private life within the commentary on the film and the philosophical ideas. The elements of philosophy are attributed to Woody Allen himself, presumably because he co-wrote the film, but throughout the chapter, the sense that these are part of Woody Allen’s philosophy is always present. Lee even comments on the name “Alvy” sounding much like the beginning of “Allen” with the ending of “Woody” and how Diane Keaton’s real last name is Hall. Lee refers to other Woody Allen films to support the philosophical ideas and explain some offhand comments in these movies. For example, Lee explains Rob’s calling Alvy “Max” by referring to the film Hannah and her Sisters and Woody Allen’s admiration of Ingmar Bergman, who worked frequently with actor Max von Sydow.
The explanation of the chapter's title is made clear in the onset of the chapter as Lee describes the film as a series of psychotherapy sessions, in which Alvy tries to explain all his actions and free him of confusion or guilt. This idea is linked to the basis of some autobiographical documentaries, according to Jim Lane's book. This theory is that filmmakers make personal films to attempt to impose order, understanding, and rationality on their lives.
This discussion of Annie Hall describes the film thoroughly, and the continuity that the writer draws between the life of Woody Allen, a philosophy on life that emerges in other Woody Allen films, and the events in Annie Hall supports the argument that the image of film Woody Allen is almost inextricable from the real Woody Allen.
Written by the psychologist Dee Burton, this book compiles and analyzes her patients' dreams, which involve Woody Allen. This source describes the many facets of the Woody Allen persona while identifying the place that Woody Allen holds in the minds of his audience and what he has come to symbolize. Woody Allen is perceived as an artist, a friend, a lover, and a quiet thinker that one wants to get to know. The many incarnations of Woody Allen in his films have made him identifiable, relatable, and a moldable image.
Burton points out that Woody Allen’s philosophy on life – on morality, mortality, sexuality, and constant struggles between the self and society – delve into the subjects that people consider everyday on a subconscious level. Woody Allen, known to be an avid fan of psychoanalysis, bled his philosophy and his psychoanalytical tendencies into his films, and as a result, he has become a symbol for openness, genius, and an aspiration toward understanding oneself. As Woody Allen absorbs himself into his films through his roles, writing, and marginally (or not so marginally) autobiographical touches, Allen begins to feel like a friend who one is comfortable with but who one desires to know in even more depth. Some element of his personality – whatever element from whatever personal perception or Woody Allen film – touches his audience members, and the dreams compiled in this book are a testimony to the influence that Woody Allen has had over his audience in a lingering way, particularly through his roles and the illusion of autobiography in his film.
Another interesting fact from this book is that Annie Hall is favorite film among these compiled Woody Allen dreamers, perhaps because Annie Hall is one of his most autobiographical films, where he even addresses the audience with private thoughts and his imaginative portrayals. Still, Burton makes a clear distinction between Woody Allen and Dream Woody. These dreamers have simply identified with the Woody Allen film persona and internalized this identification, which supports the argument that through his films, Woody Allen has created a variation on the auteurist cinema, where he has not only made recognizable films in a recognizable style, but he has also created an onscreen persona that has rendered a lasting offscreen impression.
Call#: Van Pelt Library CT25 .L27 2002
Jim Lane’s book on the autobiographical documentary briefly mentions Woody Allen as Lane discusses the move from literary to cinematic autobiography. However, this source is mainly used as a reference to the development of the film autobiography in America, its techniques, and the issues with producing these kinds of films.
The first chapter is particularly helpful in a discussion of Woody Allen’s autobiographical elements. This chapter is concerned with the historical connections between the written autobiography and those on film. Lane discusses the film history that preceded and influenced autobiographical film, and these movements in film in the 1950s and 1960s are also strong influences on Woody Allen, whose films arrive around the time of the autobiographical films discussed by Lane (around the 1960s-1970s and further into the 1990s). Lane writes about the avant-garde of the 1960s documentaries and how these filmmakers sought a more personal take on their society, their lives, and the events in the world. He also discusses the influence of European films, which brought reflexivity to the autobiographical documentary. This technique is particularly relevant to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, as Allen constantly acknowledges the camera and comments on the fantasy world that can be created by filmmaking.
In this same chapter, Lane discusses the motivations of the autobiographical documentarian, writing that they seek to expand their personal perception into a broader cultural or social frame. This motivation is often applied to Woody Allen’s work in other sources, particularly stating that the topics of his films and the underlying themes comment on the society at large.
The film techniques mentioned in another chapter of Lane’s book are also used in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. These include the aforementioned film reflexivity, direct address to the camera, strong narrative voice, and open or loose endings.
This project is a collection of sources that discuss the idea of Woody Allen as one of Hollywood's most auteurist of filmmakers, because his films, particularly Annie Hall (1977), are autobiographical, based on his personal philosophy on life, and have a recognizable style. The recognizable Woody Allen style and persona is exemplified in the Academy Award-winning Annie Hall (1977), in which Woody Allen writes, directs, and stars. The sources cover information about autobiographical documentary, whose techniques are used in Allen's films; timely written articles about Woody Allen before and after he became a filmmaker; essays that discuss Allen's career and other similarities between his personal life and films; and writing that discusses both sides of the argument for and against the autobiographical quality of Annie Hall. With all of these sources and the quotes from Woody Allen himself, one must admit the amount of self-reflection Allen uses, but the extent to which film events are impressed upon Allen's private life may be exaggerated. The final sources gauge the reception and reaction to Woody Allen's work - how his persona and style have seeped into the consciousness of his audiences and created an image and brand name (which was created and has endured whether or not one can conclusively say that it is factual) out of the real Woody Allen.
Discussing the film Drunken Angel, Kurosawa recounts, “As background to the characterizations, we decided to create an unsightly drainage pond where people threw their garbage” (156), which is an image that returns in Ikiru, although it has a different allegorical meaning. Many plot elements and images from Kurosawa’s films were taken straight from his life (a point made by Goodwin in his book ), and Ikiru is no different. Kurosawa says of the studio he began his career at, “Management theory at P.C.L. regarded the assistant directors as cadets who would later become managers and directors” (95). The bureaucratic elements in the management system at P.C.L., that Kurosawa criticizes, has echoes in the stagnant and immutable Japanese civil service in Ikiru.
Events from his life also influenced Kurosawa in the existential themes he deals with in Ikiru. Kurosawa recounts, in the chapter “A Horrifying Event,” an early scene from his childhood, when he and his brother walked around the city looking at the death and destruction caused by the Kato Earthquake. His brother uncomfortably forces him to look at the hundreds of dead bodies, but when Kurosawa goes to sleep, he does not have any nightmares. When the young Kurosawa asks why he didn’t have any nightmares, his brother responds, “If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened. If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of.” This message has deep significance to Ikiru, because Watanabe is only able to live when he confronts his cancer head on. When he lies in his bed at home and cries himself to sleep, when he goes with the writer to experience the decadence of modern Tokyo, he is, in effect, trying to ‘shut his eyes’ to the cancer and ignore its existence. Only when he faces it head on, does he realize that he has the power to give his limited life meaning. There are many other events in Kurosawa’s life that have relevance to Ikiru, because it is a film about life itself and the search for meaning in life. Kurosawa’s past offers insight into not only why the author chose to write about this subject, but also why he comes to the conclusions that he does.
Burns’s autobiography recounts his traumatic experiences on a Georgia chain gang: Burns returns from WWI, can’t find work, is sentenced to ten years of hard labor in 1921 for petty larceny, he escapes, makes good as a magazine publisher in Chicago, is exposed as a fugitive convict by his wife with whom he has an antagonistic relationship, is tricked into returning to Georgia and denied his promised reprieve, escapes a second time, and is laying low in New Jersey in 1932 when the book was published.
His brother, Reverend Vincent Burns’s asserts in his introduction the book’s intended impact on its reader. “If people will only read his story with sympathetic understanding and pass it on for others to read there will inevitably be a wave of great indignation against this most inhuman, most un-American system—the chain gang. The public, once vividly conscious of the horrors and brutalities of chain-gang life, will rise in its wrath and force a clean-up” (35). This statement represents a fair assessment of the book’s political logic: wage struggles for political change based on subjective arguments that appeal foremost to a reader’s emotions by evoking vague senses of myth and patriotism. In fact, this book and its subsequent adaptation to film by Hollywood did launch a national reform movement against the chain gangs – which some argue was successful although evidence suggests that the Southern penal system’s eventual reform was motivated by economic factors.
Of course, there is little doubt regarding the injustice of Burns’s individual experiences on the chain gang. Evidence too confirms the ethical dubiousness of the chain gang’s political-economic ties to Georgia’s government and reigning elite citizens, as well as its inhumane and violent treatment of its prisoners. However, Burns completely misrepresents the chain gangs, which he condemns, in the words of H.L. Mencken, as “so archaic and barbarous as to be a national disgrace.” The chain gangs were far from archaic; their corruption and violence were deeply motivated by modernity (see my post on Alex Lichtenstein’s book, Twice the Work of Free Labor). Furthermore, Burns’s story overshadowed other considerably more radical condemnations of the Southern chain gangs. It participated in a 1932 myth-making culture that distracted the public from revolutionary or historically accurate arguments, and propagandized New Deal politics.