We are excited to welcome Alex Sheremet to the Highlighted Author this week. His third book — Woody Allen: Reel to Real — comprises over 600 pages of cinema criticism and commentary covering every Woody Allen film every made. This book also stretches the bounds of electronic publishing by offering an interactive forum where readers can add their own articles, essays, and commentary.
Enjoy the feature and feel free to get involved in this amazing project!
Reel to Real
Woody Allen: Reel To Real was published as a DigiDialogue™ via Take2 Publishing on 11/12/2014, and will be updated with new essays, articles, and reader/critic feedback every 6-12 months, thus ensuring that others become a part of the publishing process, and that Reel To Real continues to grow with the critical discourse surrounding it. These updates will sync automatically with all purchased copies — one of the benefits, really, of electronic publications over print.
A Note from Alex
I am a young writer from NYC and the curator of IDEAS ON IDEAS. Although a poet and novelist, first, I became interested in film as a means of furthering my own art, and chose to stay because of everything else that film has taught me.My debut novel, A Few Streets More To Kensington (2012), deals with classic tropes of childhood — nostalgia, curiosity, and the wars of self — now transposed to the streets of Brooklyn, and examined through an artist’s reluctant gaze. Rich, melancholy, and contemplative, the tale follows its protagonist well into his teenage years, and inevitably asks the same questions that have already been parsed for millennia. Yet for all that, violence, friendship, video games, femme fatales, 9/11, and Hasidic Jews abound, for while this may not have been your reality, it certainly was the narrator’s, and that of many others. The book, therefore, subsists on the ‘magic’ of the 1990s, and remains one of the few comprehensive depictions of that era — even as it transcends it, too.Doors And Exits: A Study Of Two Extremes (2013) is a ‘docudrama’ that probes the follies and accomplishments of the 21st Century, all within the world of a single, fictional school in New York City. Beginning with three philosophical axioms that, in the narrator’s mind, define the universe and its machinations, the book adjusts, rejects, and renews them till the very end. But while the book’s ‘place’ may be a fabrication, its conflicts are not, for its characters (kids, teachers, and those somewhere in between) have a reality someplace, somewhere, and will repeat themselves — ad nauseam — for as long as we’re recognizably human. This is the little-known difference between Truth and Reality, and my second novel — a ‘genuine fake’! — straddles both.Woody Allen: Reel To Real (2014) is my first work of criticism, and will be followed by my third novel, Thousand Rocks, in summer 2016. It will be set in China’s Tang Dynasty.I also write a political column for Cosmoetica called “Tooth & Nail.”
Connect With Alex
Reel to Real Excerpt
The purpose of this book is two-fold:
First, as it references a large number of contemporary reviews — most of them online — it gives a snapshot of Woody criticism as it exists now, instead of merely relying on perspectives from thirty or forty years ago, often part of ‘schools’ and ‘cliques’ that are no longer relevant. Quite often, great art needs some distance and some time before it can be properly evaluated by the masses, which invariably includes critics, as well, since they’ve been elected to speak for the very same people negatively impacted by such closeness in the first place. This is one of the values of online publishing, as it can be ahead of the curve in some regards.
Second, it is clear that so many of Woody’s films have not even been properly seen, much less talked about. This needs to change. I’d spent a long time with films such as Interiors, Stardust Memories, Another Woman, and many others long before I’d read any reviews, or had been biased against these films, pro or con. It is shocking, then, to finally read what has been written, from the utter meagerness of the discussions, themselves, to the way critics seem to steal from one another — down to the very exact phrasing, often originating in one or two reviews that spiral out of control, reproducing, like memes, into what gets termed ‘the critical discourse’. After a while, however, this has less to do with the films in question than in the way ideas travel, affect, and afflict, thus ensnaring otherwise smart people who can’t see just how they’re being compromised.
Naturally, one should not engage with art while wearing these sort of blinders. Not being a ‘professional’ critic, a member of some status quo, or emotionally invested in this or that opinion or film, but a regular guy who goes to work, comes home, and writes, I won’t regale you with film-speak or other ills, but talk to you as one informed human being to another about what’s truly relevant to the art-form. I will assume you know what you know, and that you are, for lack of a better word, open. Most importantly, I will obviate the ‘I’ of this foreword, and let the films speak for themselves as best as they can, until they are their own best evidence. This is why I’ll often track the ‘big’ films scene by scene, letting them play out via print before they are subjected to my analysis, so that readers can see just why, exactly, I make the claims that I do. Too often, a critic would write something, and I’d wonder whether or not they’d even watched the scene in question. At other times, I’d marvel how a critic’s purported evidence would undercut the very claim being made. These are major flaws, no doubt, but they can also be avoided if a work of art is merely allowed to be itself, first, before the deductions start rolling in.
Lots of people talk of what they ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. In between these two words, however, there’s the far more fruitful territory of what ‘is’. Not everyone will have the same background, politics, personal aesthetic, or philosophical bent, so to force a work of art into one’s preferences is meaningless and self-absorbed. But if we watch a film, we all see the same characters, visuals, and ideas which, while certainly multilayered, are not infinite in possible interpretations, bounded, as they are, by the parameters of the film. We therefore have the choice to take them on their own terms, as part of their own internal universe — our egos be damned! This is really what I mean by the word ‘open’, and I hope that it still applies.
This book has well over two hundred references, alluding, as it does, to a lot of writing on the subject of Woody Allen. As is natural, not everything is good, with some writers being guilty of the very things I’ve described. Yet they’ve been chosen for a reason, as they are representative of ‘Woody’ thinking ca. 2014, for good or ill, and probably will be for a while longer. The book, therefore, corrals these references into chapters, and uses them to help shape a narrative of my own crafting. I often agree with what the writers say. But, just as often, I don’t. This, again, is only natural, for a critic’s job is to teach, and confidently, at that. Now, it is good to be right. Let’s not kid ourselves here. But it’s even better to have a cogent and unique argument that will take the reader to fresh insights about things that really matter. And, of course, the better the argument, the closer it will approximate the truth.
Woody Allen: Reel to Real is broken up into seven chapters. The first five deal with Woody Allen’s films chronologically, including one chapter reserved for Allen’s actor-only appearances in films like Casino Royale and Antz. The sixth deals with Woody Allen’s major critics, focusing on where, exactly, they have been right, and where — perhaps even more importantly — they’ve erred. The final chapter comments on Allen’s influences, as well as the man’s own viewpoints on art, life, and film.
Too often, a piece of writing about an artist will begin with what, ironically, is considered most essential: the background noise. Yet I don’t begin talking of Woody’s life, influences, or opinions until the very end, wherein I finally take the man to task. That’s because the most important thing, by far, is what’s ultimately on the screen, and not where it is derived from — especially since, in most cases, Woody betters his derivations in ways that older filmmakers simply had no opportunity to do. The bottom line, then, is the films, for a well-wrought work of art communicates its meaning without too much trouble. Sure, it’s always good to be a seasoned movie-goer if one decides to tackle a complex film. But if someone tells you — no, downright insists — that you ‘need’ to watch Federico Fellini or Ingmar Bergman to really ‘get’ Woody Allen? Run. They really don’t have your best interests at heart.
For everything I tackle, however, it seems that this book asks only one central question: Just where — and what — is the real Woody Allen? Certainly, he is not merely where the critics say he is. Nor does he sit where the viewers do, given how his most popular films have only come about in the last few years, and have, in some ways, been his most consistently lackluster. But, worst of all, Woody Allen is not where he thinks he is, either, as his self-effacing comments will go on to show. Yet, for all that, I don’t always believe it. I think his words are a put-on, as Manhattan’s illusionary ‘loveliness’ was; as Stardust Memories is the sum of others’ self-deceit. He dismisses himself, and yet, he “keeps his nose to the grindstone”, as he’s often said, for there must be something, however slipshod, vague, that lets Allen know he’s done much good, and thus keeps the man going. Reality, after all, does not care for your approval. It only tolerates it, even as you ask — as Allen must — ‘So what?’
Praise for Reel to Real
“…a seminal book in film criticism that eschews the Lowest Common Denominator Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down approach to film criticism…in favor of an in depth and objective look at the films, themselves, as works of art. This is a welcome, and hopefully, revolutionary tool that will inspire a younger generation of art critics, in all forms and genre, to transcend their own limits, just as every cineaste and art aesthete hopes to do for themselves.” — Dan Schneider, poet, critic, novelist, and founder of Cosmoetica
“…damn good writing…It’s not only a great book on Woody Allen, but on art and the art of criticism, which will serve as a great resource for those interested in the ways film operates.” — Andrew J. Geary (AndrewGearyWrites)
“…erudite, intelligent…the most far-reaching analysis of Woody Allen’s career so far.” — John Greco (Twenty Four Frames)