Celebrate Woody Allen's Cannes opening with his most underrated film
By Michael Sragow
Feb 03, 2011 | 3:36 AM
Woody Allen will open the Cannes Film Festival on May 11 with "Midnight in Paris," starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (yes, the French First Lady), and Léa Seydoux.
Has any American filmmaker had such a surprising career? Every time you think you're tired of him, he comes up with a surprise -- a "Manhattan Murder Mystery" or "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
Like the aliens in Allen's "Stardust Memories," I prefer his "early, funny ones." And for my money, one of the funniest (and certainly the most underrated) is "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)."
Released at the height of the sexual revolution (1972), Woody Allen's wild and woolly take-off on Dr. David Reuben's best-selling self-help book boasts some of Allen's funniest bits of moviemaking.
He answers seven of Dr. Reuben's questions in madcap episodes that have nothing to do with the book.
In "Do Aphrodisiacs Work?" Allen plays an inept court jester who love-drugs his queen (Lynn Redgrave) only to be confronted with that most frustrating and risible of boudoir appliances: the chastity belt.
"What is Sodomy?" - a small masterpiece of deadpan farce -- features an inspired Gene Wilder as a doctor who falls in love at first touch with a sheep.
"Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?" drolly offsets the lowdown plight of frustrated husband (Allen) and frigid wife (Louise Lasser) with a deliriously chi-chi parody of Italian art films.
"Are Transvestites Homosexuals?" captures Lou Jacobi at his most fearless as a proper husband and father who luxuriates in a bold orange and white ensemble.
"What Are Sex Perverts?" consists of a game show called "What's My Perversion?" whose panelists include Regis Philbin and whose contestants include a naughty rabbi.
"Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?" is a mini-mad-scientist extravaganza centering on John Carradine as a researcher who keeps fulminating that they thought he was crazy at Masters and Johnson.
And "What Happens During Ejaculation?" remains Allen's most virtuosic and uproarious example of concept comedy. He sets this sexual-slapstick fantastic voyage inside the male brain and anatomy during lovemaking, with Tony Randall as mission control, Burt Reynolds as a cocky brain-room crewman and Allen himself as the worried sperm who calms himself by playing the harmonica.
The sheep and ejaculation episodes are peak, yet each vignette is filled with puns, burlesques, and uninhibited bold strokes that are both leveling and elating.