The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Comic Allen turns tragic

New York, March 18 (Reuters): Woody Allen, a comic symbol of neurotic New Yorkers to film buffs everywhere, gives vent to a new syndrome with Friday's release of Melinda and Melinda.

Call it 'opus envy' ' a condition in which a highly esteemed comedic artist questions his own value compared to 'serious' dramatists.

In Melinda and Melinda, Allen delivers a cinematic serving of double vision, spinning separate comic and tragic treatments of an anecdote about a character named Melinda that are intercut with one another.

Australian Radha Mitchell, of Phone Booth, and Finding Neverland, plays both Melindas with otherwise distinct casts, including Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet in the comedy and Chloe Sevigny and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the tragedy.

A Sophoclean dialogue about the relative virtues of comedy and tragedy punctuates the piece, revealing some of Allen's own inner turmoil.

'Emotionally, comedy will never have the same impact,' former stand-up comic Allen said.

'You can take the greatest comedies, and it's never the same as the impact when a curtain comes down on 'A Streetcar Named Desire' or 'Death of a Salesman.' You're pulverised by what you've seen. Comedy is just fun and entertaining.'

Allen, nominated for 13 Oscars for best original screenplay and six times as best director, said he wishes he thrived on the other side of the spectrum.

'I feel less comfortable when I'm doing dramatic things. But that's my real aspiration, my secret dream. I wish I had been a tragic poet instead of a minter of one-liners.

'So whenever I get a chance to do something dramatic, I do it with such passion for it. But I don't move as gracefully in those circles as an Ingmar Bergman does or Tennessee Williams did.'

At 69, Allen is still moving forcefully in films and while he says it is harder to write roles for himself to play as he ages, he has no plans to slow down.

Melinda and Melinda is the 35th film he has directed since debuting with Take the Money and Run in 1969.

'When you finish a film you sit around for a couple of weeks and then what do you do' I write,' he said. 'I enjoy it. I start to write, I finish it and then I go and make the movie. Then it starts all over again.'

The bespectacled Allen is a creature of habit.

He has played his clarinet in a swing band that has performed weekly in Manhattan for decades. He is a courtside fixture at New York Knicks games at Madison Square Garden.

And he churns out New York-based comedies about doubt and yearning, marital infidelity, the inability to communicate and the spectre of death, all elements in Melinda and Melinda.

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