I love that Woody Allen font. Plain white letters on a black background. It's been so consistent for so long now that when I see those credits appear, I settle in, sure that no matter what follows, it'll be interesting. There are Woody Allen films I dislike intensely, but none that I regret seeing. When someone makes a film a year for as long as he has, you're going to see good and bad from them. It's inevitable. But what makes Woody Allen's full body of work worth watching is the way he constantly evolves, his voice growing from film to film, and the sheer volume of it is what's kept him so vital. And in this film, having Sergei Prokofiev play under those familiar titles only further sets me up for a good time.
In 1975, Woody was a mainstream figure of some repute. He was an acclaimed stand-up, and he had already made such hits as "Bananas" and "Take The Money And Run." As a writer, he worked on "What's Up, Tiger Lily" and "What's Up, Pussycat?", and he had made a hilarious appearance as one of many James Bonds in "Casino Royale." But he wasn't an Oscar-winner yet, and I'm sure most people wouldn't have even imagined that sort of career was possible for him. With "Love And Death," though, I think the indicators are clear that Woody was trying to find a way to move from pure silly comedy to films that aimed for something more, and this film serves as a fascinating transition for this great comic artist.
This is one of the only Allen films of the '70s or '80s shot anywhere outside of New York, and it's pretty much the opposite of "dumb" comedy. If the Marx Brothers adapted a Dostoevsky novel, it would look a lot like "Love and Death," where characters argue about philosophy while crazy-funny one-liners score consistent laughs. Woody's verbal wit was already his trademark, but this film marked the first time he started to really use the camera to help sell a joke and not just to record it. He was starting to really think about cinema and approach his movies as a filmmaker, not just as a comedian.
[more after the jump]