We watched Woody Allen’s “Play it Again, Sam” the other evening – one of my favourite films for its witty take on the power of films to inspire us to be the best of who we are.
In the movie, Allen plays, erm, Alan, a klutzy, neurotic, overly vocalising film critic whose hero is Humphrey Bogart – specifically, Bogey as Rick in “Casablanca”, the strong hero with few words who loves deeply but is prepared to sacrifice his personal happiness for the sake of the greater good. We follow Alan as he tries to date different women without much success – he is a bundle of nerves and too conscious of his personal failings, putting on a persona that he thinks is smooth and cool but ends up being ridiculous and embarrassing. Through it all, Bogey appears to him in his imagination, giving him advice and listening to his anxious, neurotic, worries. In the end Alan learns that it is only by being his authentic self that he can get the girl and that, without having to be Bogey, he has it in his own heart to make a big sacrifice for the sake of the woman he loves.
This was the film that first introduced me to Woody Allen. I was in my early teens, at that moment of transition when we all begin to transform into the adults we are to become. I’ve watched almost all of his films since then. His social anxiety and self doubt spoke to me – and still do! – as well as evident love of the world of the city: specifically New York but also other major cultural cities like San Francisco, London, Paris and Barcelona.
Alan in “Play it Again, Sam” holds in his imagination his hero, Bogey and looks to him as a mentor. His life begins to take the shape of the movie “Casablanca”, especially the wonderful dynamic of the scene at the very end where “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans” and he finally gets to be the hero he has always longed to be.
Watching Woody Allen again, it struck me that as Alan in the movie was inspired by Bogey, I’ve been inspired by Woody Allen and the world of his films. His vision of life has shaped mine. As a teenager, I wanted to grow up to be a New York Woody Allen type intellectual! Why? Because:
His films have been love letters to cities of culture, arts, film, and books. In his cities, you can meet quirky, interesting, intelligent and brilliant people. You can be all those things yourself! I’ve lived my life in London inspired by that theme.
His message to me was also that you can be anxious, nervous, socially awkward and still be smart, funny and have a bunch of interesting and supportive friends. You can be kind of funny looking and not very tall and still be a hero. It gave me hope as an awkward, anxious and bespectacled teenager.
Which film heroes (and I include both male and female heroes in this word) have inspired you? Who is the hero who mentors you inside your imagination?
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