These days it is both deeply uncool and hugely problematic to mention almost anything to do with Woody Allen. In my teens and through my early 20s I was such a fan of his work. I continue to be a fan of that work that I loved then – most of it, anyway. He’s made more good films that I care about on some level than many of the other ‘great’ filmmakers. And Allen isn’t even a great filmmaker. But at his best he was a great comic writer with a strong set of ideas around how to frame drama too. And my favourite works by him are the comedy-dramas, or the straight dramatic films. Those early, screwball comedies were a delight once upon a time but they just seem so silly now. And most of the films from the last thirty years are just riffing on the same thing, tougher to watch now than ever before and some of them were tricky to watch at the time (Husbands & Wives).
A favourite, always, has been Hannah And Her Sisters. And it’s one of the great Woody Allen soundtracks too. I call it “A Woody Allen Soundtrack” when in fact it’s not a score at all and it’s a compilation of Great American Songbook classics and classical music; classic Allen guide tracks that end up staying in the film. You imagine him writing the scenes to this music and then just keeping it in the frame. You imagine him listening to this music when he writes, well, anything – those funny columns and the plays and the books and other scripts.
And I like that.
One of my all-time favourite CDs is a compilation called Soundtrack Music from Woody Allen’s Movies. I bought it for a cheap price some 25 years ago. And have held onto it ever since. I’ve owned a few of the individual movie soundtracks on vinyl and mostly on CD. I’ve tossed many of them – as the years have tumbled by. Just pruning the collection, not due to being dissatisfied with the music or too embarrassed to admit to any Allen appreciation (as this should surely show).
I can’t remember when I first saw Hannah And Her Sisters exactly, but it was during that early thrill of discovering all of this great work; being blown away by the consistency of his work across that 70s decade and into the 1980s. A few misses here and there, but at a film a year (on average) the very best of it and the cumulative effect of it just startling. Anyway, Hannah was in the first wave for me. And its music was noticeable. It was certainly the first Woody Allen Soundtrack I owned on vinyl.
Somewhat foolishly, I parted with it a while back – but I guess I got my fill from it.
It’s Harry James and Count Basie with his Orchestra. It’s Roy Eldridge and Dick Hyman. And it’s Johan Sebastian Bach conducted by Yehudi Menuhin. This music also had a huge impact on me in my teens and through my 20s – the years of discovery. And so much of it continues to – both when connected to movies and completely distanced from them. Jazz is my true love when it comes to music. Classical is forever a work in progress. I’m no purist, and I never want to be, but I know what I like. And I’m getting there in terms of accruing some knowledge.
Recently, I found a copy of Hannah And Her Sisters on CD. That will do for now, I thought.
And it is. It does. I’ve been playing it often.
I don’t so much think of the movie when it plays – though the film is fantastic and if I ever felt like revisiting an Allen classic this would be the one, strangely, or not so strangely, I really don’t feel like it at all – but it does set up the ‘world’ of Allen’s films. He’s been mocked and parodied for many things, including the music in his films. But I love the way he was basically creating inbuilt playlists, movie mixtapes within each film.
And Hannah And Her Sisters’ sublime selections – Derek Smith’s delicate Isn’t It Romantic to conclude – are right for almost any occasion.
I love the way A Woody Allen Soundtrack is so obvious to spot. And yet it’s just a songbook collection. The Great American Songbook though. The standards. The classics. Always with some deep cuts, some of the lesser known players or composers from within that wide net.
I love the way A Woody Allen Soundtrack both puts you in the world of the film and his way of working – and can stand alone, can just be a wonderful compilation of beautiful music.