“Bullets Over Broadway” (1994)

By Daniella Nichinson, Staff Writer

Can you distinguish the man from the artist? In “Bullets Over Broadway,” Woody Allen ponders this question as young playwright, David Shayne (John Cusack), faces the struggles of making a play without losing all creative jurisdiction over it. By intertwining a tale of Broadway and the mafia, Woody Allen masterfully balances the turbulent time of 1920s New York, leaving the audience with their own fondness of a bygone city.

In this film, Woody Allen romanticizes the Roaring Twenties: it was an age filled with jazz and great literature, especially in New York City. Born in 1935, Woody was just shy of this decade, which provides reasoning for him to glamorize it. Since he was never able to experience it, he creates a film that places him in the shoes of a 1920s artist. Though most likely presented too idealistically, it supplies the story with a whiff of romance and an apparent adoration that is found in all of Woody’s films.

Dianne Wiest, in a show-stealing performance, plays an over-the-top Broadway actress, Helen Sinclair, who stars in David’s play. She represents the dazzling side of theatre, always donned in only the finest attire, demanding to be the center of attention. Sinclair is reminiscent of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” seemingly out of place in her current time. She serves as an over exaggerated version of Broadway performers, even more so highlighted by the oftentimes absurd dialogue that Woody Allen has infused her with.   

The 1920s were partly defined by the strong presence of the mob. After all, this was when Al Capone rose to the notoriety that is now a major part of American history. Though depicting the brutal killings done by the mob, Woody manages to put a comic and human twist on the gangsters. One who works for the biggest crime boss in town, Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), turns out to be essential in the much-needed rewrites of David’s script and turning the play into an instant hit. In the midst of crime, Woody is still able to portray New York as an unsullied city.

‘20s Jazz music may be the most exceptional of recent time and Woody Allen is known for utilizing its swing-style nature in as many places as he can. Music always holds a significant presence in his films and to him, this era specifically displays how great New York was before it was tainted by the distasteful loudness of punk rockers. Woody’s sense of nostalgia is sprinkled throughout “Bullets Over Broadway,” which reveals his longing for a past he missed out on.

What lengths is an artist willing to go to for the sake of his art? Some would argue that the creation of art is more important than one’s own life and happiness. As Cheech says, you can’t let anyone ruin a beautiful thing like that. In “Bullets Over Broadway,” Woody comes to the realization that you cannot be a great artist, a genius, until you are willing to put your art above all else.

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