“We’re not like other people”: A Guide to Struggling Artists in Woody Allen Movies

The “struggling artist” is one of the most common archetypes in Woody Allen movies. ‘Struggling’ is not always the right word, as many of his characters are incredibly successful, but Allen loves to portray writers, directors, actors and entertainers that wrestle with creative block and love to talk about it.

In addition to their creative hurdles, the artists that occupy Allen’s movies also like to talk about their special role in society. In Shadows and Fog, a clown (named simply “Clown”) says it most succinctly: “We’re not like other people. We’re artists. With great talent comes responsibility.” In Interiors, Frederic discusses the burden he feels, being such an important member of society. Bullets Over Broadway’s Sheldon Flender alleges that conventional morality doesn’t apply to artists (“an artist creates his own moral universe”).

For many of Allen’s non-artist characters, the fact that they never pursued an artistic career is something that haunts them. Another Woman’s Marion Post longs for a painting career she abandoned. In Don’t Drink the Water, Axel Magee resents his father for making him become an ambassador, despite the fact that his art school teacher told him he could be “the next Michaelangelo.” Interiors’ Joey mourns her mother’s prioritization of artistic accomplishments, which is why her poet sister Renata was always the favorite. Annie Hall wants to be a singer, and while she’s sort of back on track by the end of the movie, she’s mostly pushed that particular dream aside, with much regret.

Woody Allen’s artists also have the near-universal tendency to inject their own lives into their art. In Annie Hall, Alvy Singer stages a play that blatantly re-enacts his own life (albeit with a happier ending). Holly’s first script in Hannah and her Sisters makes Hannah uncomfortable with the explicitness of the personal detail. In Another Woman, protagonist Marion Post is moved by the portrayal of a character based on her in her friend’s novel. Deconstructing Harry is a movie almost entirely about one novelist’s scathing portrayals of his friends and family.

A few of Allen’s characters make their living doing what they love — Marcia Fox (Manhattan Murder Mystery), Emmet Ray (Sweet and Lowdown), among others — but many of the artists have demeaning day-jobs that warp their souls and distract them from their real art. Mary in Manhattan writes novelizations of movies. Peter of September writes commercials. Gil Shepard writes stupid Hollywood movies in Midnight in Paris. In Anything Else, both Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) and his mentor David Dobel (Woody Allen) write for TV shows. In Hannah and her Sisters, Crimes and Misdeanors and Manhattan, Woody Allen played three different characters that sacrificed their integrity to work on low-brow television fare (in all three instances, they storm out dramatically).

“But,” you may find yourself asking, “despite the common themes, there are many differences between the artists, so how am I supposed to know which one to relate to most?” Well, despite the fact that some jerks don’t appreciate it, visual representations of things are awesome (“story” or otherwise). So, to find out which artist you most resemble, use this simple chart:

Guide to Struggling Artists in Woody Allen Movies (click for full view):

Woody Allen Struggling artist flowchart
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