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Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

Smart, funny, satirical, and engaging in its exploration of art and artists, Bullets Over Broadway is an excellent piece of work by director Woody Allen. Centering around the funding, preparation, and staging of a Broadway play, the film puts us on the side of a writer-director as he brings his creation to fruition. Or is it his creation? In Bullets, our protagonist has to fight to keep the play as he intends for it to be. It was great fun to watch, besides which I came away strengthened against compromising in my work, and also strengthened in understanding how important it is to maintain distance from and humility toward my work.

The film explores two major questions: 1. Where is the difference between fine art and commercial entertainment? 2. Is the artist separate from the person, such that you can like one and not the other? Around these revolve several other questions: What sorts of pressures and compromises can turn fine art into commercial entertainment? Are these pressures always bad? Can a work be both fine art and an entertainment success at the same time? Are there rules for art? Are there rules for the artist? How does the artist know if the work has worth? The excellency of Bullets Over Broadway is that, unlike some other Woody Allen films (e.g., Crimes and Misdemeanors), it succeeds without relying on quasi-contrived dialog to explicitly discuss the film’s themes. In Bullets, any such dialog comes off as quite natural to the situations and characters.

One specific bit of wonderful filmcraft opens the film quite well. When we first see the playwright (during the argument about his play) and into the next scene, we never get a good look at his face. He talks only of art, and we know him only as an artist. It is when he first makes a personal remark, to his girlfriend, that we finally see a good profile shot — we begin to know the man. It works very well to establish the artist-person dichotomy, and such filmcraft is strong and frequent throughout the film. Bullets Over Broadway is well worth the time, and it is very much well worth the time for artists and those interested in artistic concerns.

David Shayne is a playwright dedicated to his craft, meaning that he will not stoop to achieve commercial success by compromising on his artistic intent and sensibilities. As a Serious Artist, he is certain that, for his success, his work needs merely good production and sufficient exposure. The film opens with an argument over whether his latest play, God of Our Fathers, will be produced. His last two plays have flopped, he contends, because of inept directors that misinterpreted his work. It doesn’t look good for David’s play until a mobster offers to finance the show — if his aspiring but untalented actress girlfriend can play a significant role. When push comes to shove, how much will David back off from his Serious Artist commitment? Running time: 98 min.

Although there is no nudity and no actual sex, some dialog is clearly sexual. Multiple gangland shootings occur on- and off-screen, but there is no blood or gore. Some strong language, though it is far from pervasive.

  • Director: Woody Allen
  • Screenplay: Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath
  • Leads: John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Tilly, Chazz Palminteri, Mary-Louise Parker, Jack Warden, Joe Viterelli, Rob Reiner, Tracey Ullman
  • Cinematography: Carlo Di Palma


NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
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