It is always of interest to review the choices that artists make. It is always easier in hindsight to work out what the filmmaker was trying to achieve. It is a sign of a true talent that they do not try to cover the same ground time and again. An artist who is trying to improve his or her art through experimentation and taking risks with their material is to be applauded. This is not always the case. Some reap the rewards of their efforts. Others are misunderstood by the masses only to be rediscovered some time later, if at all. Looking back on Woody Allen’s career it can be said that by taking risks early on in he was able to hone his later style which would gain significant critical praise and commercial success sustaining his career to the present day. Off the back of the relatively successful Bananas in 1971 Woody followed up with Every thing you always wanted to know about sex *But were afraid to ask.
The film comprises seven pieces based on the chapter titles of the self-help book of the same name by Dr David Reuben.Their the similarity ends. The titles such as Do Aphrodisiacs work? and What are sex perverts? are the launching point for Woody to craft comic tales around. In the first we have Woody as a court Jester trying to get it on with the Queen (Lynn Redgrave) while the King (Anthony Quayle) is taking an afternoon nap. As a jester he is rubbish but he has high hopes of being a lover when he slips the queen a potion designed to make him irresistible to him.
The second segment is probably the most famous of the whole film. In What is Sodomy? Dr Doug Ross (Gene Wilder) covets and seduces another mans sheep. We see how the good doctor changes his total personality as he discovers the pleasures to be had with a woolly beauty.
The next, Why do some women have trouble reaching an orgasm?, features the difficulties faced between a newly married couple Fabrizio and Gina (Woody and Louise Lasser) who cannot enjoy intercourse in a conventional way. After consulting friends and the medical community it becomes apparent that Gina only feels amorous in public places. Shot entirely in Italian with subtitles this is my favorite of all the pieces.
Are transvestites Homosexual? centres on a cross dressing middle-aged man who decides to try on women’s clothes while he and his wife are visiting the parents of their daughters fiance. As he enjoys the new look in the upstairs bedroom, fear of discovery leads to him leaving the house by the nearest window. He is mugged almost immediately and the police get involved.
Spoofing a nineteen fifties game show, What’s my perversion features members of the public answering questions to a celebrity panel who are trying to guess their secret. For every wrong answer the guest receives five dollars. The segment ends with a viewer, in this case a Rabbi, being allowed to act out their perversion live on television.
Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate? is a spoof of the mad scientist films of the Universal horror era. Featuring Allen as a medical researcher who arrives with a reporter (Heather MacRae) at the house of Dr Bernardo (John Carradine) a pioneering researcher in the field of sex. After seeing several bizarre experiments it becomes apparent that Bernado is nuts. They escape but find that a giant breast, the latest creation from the mad doctor is chasing them across the countryside.
The last segment is a Sci-Fi spoof where a man is controlled by a NASA style mission control set up. The man is on a date and the control centre made up of controller (Tony Randall) and technicians including Burt Reynolds,must ensure that it all goes well from making sure that the food is dealt with by the stomach team to the man being able to perform sexually. Woody appears as a sperm in the staging area awaiting the word to go for a ‘launch’.
The quality and strength of the pieces varies. There are some very good ideas in here and there are a number of very funny moments. The cross dressing, the Jester and the mad scientist segments are the weakest. There is not enough humour or invention to sustain your interest over the relatively short run time. The best in my opinion is the Italian themed segment. Clearly filmed as an homage to the Italian cinema of Fellini and Antonioni it shows a real grasp of the style of these directors in the shooting of the conversations between Fabrizio and his friends. It uses space and depth to great effect. It doesn’t hurt that it is also very funny. It is nice to see woody as a cool guy instead of the usual clown personae he adopts. He carries it off very well.
Of the other pieces the Sheep segment is also very strong. Gene Wilder is superb as Doctor Doug. His interactions with the Sheep are really funny and the seduction scenes in the hotel room show off both Wilder’s and Allen’s comedy in the best light.
Overall a bit of a patchy affair. It shows Woody Allen still developing his style. His film making skills have grown since Bananas and he is showing a some very nice stylistic touches that can only come from confidence in his own abilities. Recommended.