After his initial film making efforts which richly drew from his experience, not only as a sketch writer, but more importantly as a stand-up comedian, Woody Allen comes to terms with the episodic nature of the his directorial work with his deliberately sketch based film of Dr. David Reuben’s highly popular non-fiction sex manual “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)”, a film which emphasizes the invention of Allen’s talent for short form humor while relieving him of his (at that point in his career) difficulty in cohesively structuring his often thematically unrelated jokes into a singular narrative. The film also emphasizes that much of Allen’s formative talent (and the beneficiary of his observational eye) is in the parodistic referencing of literature and cultural iconography; certainly a rich lode of humor which he exploits in this film not only in the disparate directions in which the seven individual vignettes unfold, but also in the very basis of the movie’s source itself, this being Allen’s only film directly taking its basis from a specific, published work.
Reuben’s book is written in the form of a question and answer session, which provides Allen with his means in which to structurally remain faithful to his source, while executing his satirical riffs with his own imagined responses to the books questions. As expected, the different segments vary in quality, though it is interesting to note that those which have more of a basis in direct cultural parody are more successful and sustained, thus the opening portion answering the question “Do aphrodisiacs work?” in which a court jester’s (Allen) amorous advances at the Queen (Lynn Redgrave) are thwarted by a chastity belt, or the next segment entitled “What is sodomy?” involving Gene Wilder’s destructive affair with a sheep, are less satisfying and tend to run out of comic steam as they are beholden to not particularly imaginative comic conceptions, the humor deriving from neither of Allen’s more appreciable comic gifts: to derive comedy from his own life or, as previously mentioned, cultural parody.
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