Today! Because I bought Polaroid at seven, it’s probably up millions by now –
Directed by Woody Allen (x6)
Starring Woody Allen (x5), Diane Keaton, John Beck, Don Keefer, John McLiam, Mews Small (x2), Brian Avery (x2), Jerry Hardin (x2), Jackie Mason (x2), Douglas Rain, Spencer Milligan
To date the only science fiction movie Woody Allen has made, Sleeper came at the apex of his fascination with pure silliness in film. Sure, Bananas is wacky too, as is Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but after Sleeper things would start trending more and more toward realism and relationship comedy. Okay, Love and Death is still pretty crazy, but you can see the shift happening, as that begins incorporating more and more satire. Part of it is certainly just a change in his interests, but also you have to factor in the influence of teaming with Diane Keaton. They appeared in Play it Again, Sam the year before (which Woody wrote but did not direct), and would make five straight films together from ’73 to ’79, over unquestionably Woody’s most successful period. So at least in part, you’d have to guess that the transition to more serious filmmaking was aided by having such a major actress involved in every movie.
But as for Sleeper, it’s pure nuttiness. Woody’s Miles wakes up two hundred years in the future and is immediately thrust into a plot to overthrow the totalitarian regime now running what’s left of America. It’s full of acrobatic Allen-esque jokes (“A Trotskyite, who became a Jesus freak, and was arrested for selling pornographic connect-the-dot books.”) while skewering the early ’70s through a cracked lens of history. But what really makes this movie work – and makes it stand out in the canon – is the marvelous physical comedy across the picture. So linked is he with more high brow verbosity, it is forgotten how gifted Woody was using his squirrely appearance and sight gags to great comic effect. From his sequences sluggishly awakening in the future to dangling out a window from a length of film, this is great wordless comedy in the tradition of a Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton.
Now, it doesn’t totally hold up – it’s a pretty dated effort from the heavy ’70s references to the low grade futuristic setting – but there is still plenty to like in Sleeper. Even if you’re not particularly a Woody Allen fan, this is an interesting entry from him because he didn’t really make anything like it again. Some of his early films are as silly, and some feature wacky physical sequences, but couple those with the science fiction and taking a disembodied nose hostage and you’ve got a pretty distinctive picture. I find his fantasy movies intriguing, just to see what angles he takes on them, and as his lone film in the future this presents a fun insight not only on how he views a comic progression of time but also as a reflection of 1973 – what might’ve been considered interesting issues or topics to address by this scenario.
And yes, again, I know there are a lot of Woody Allen movies on this list, and I’ve got some struggles with that. I can’t even say for sure when I first seriously got into Woody’s films – college, I suspect – but so many of them have had a significant enough impact on various pieces of my life that I can’t let them go, despite all the swirling issues around them. The wife got to a point where she simply refuses to watch any of his films, and she really seemed to enjoy them, in the years leading up to the present (well, the present when I’m writing this – I obviously can’t know what happens over the fairly long course of time until this is published). House divided! But I get it.
This is Woody’s sixth directorial effort on the list, following #180 Hannah and Her Sisters, #304 Take the Money and Run, #203 Purple Rose of Cairo, #349 Broadway Danny Rose, and #320 Match Point, and his fifth acting appearance, adding #270 The Front, subtracting Purple Rose and Match Point. There are also a bunch of new Two-Timers, including The X-Files’ Deep Throat Jerry Hardin (#294 1941) and today’s spotlight holder, #182 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest‘s Mews Small!