Skip to main content

“Men Writing Women”

Morgan Barr reviews the conference, hosted at York St Joh University, 'Men Writing Women: Women in the Work of Woody Allen and Beyond'.

BY Morgan Barr

The day started off with a table of nametags and a table of teas and coffee, all to welcome a small, but an incredibly impressive collection of academics. At the start of the year Dr Martin Hall, Senior Lecturer in Media and Film Studies, organised and hosted a one-day conference at York St John University. The conference, ‘Men Writing Women: Women in the Work of Woody Allen and Beyond’ welcomed discussion regarding the relationship between female characters and personalities, specifically within the vast body of work created by Woody Allen.

The programme for the day included passionate papers on topics ranging from the use of feminist voice to female Jewish identity in Allen’s writing. Throughout the day each paper explored a new perspective on female representations; a subject deeply saturated within contemporary culture. The conversation was founded not only in the Q&A sessions but also while eating sandwiches and pouring juice, while shy at first the atmosphere relaxed into dissertation advice and deadline horror stories. I found that this group of highly experienced academics also had at one point in their lives, walked in my shoes. Something as formal as a conference became increasingly more appealing, accessible and inspiring to me.

Professor Roberta Mock from the University of Plymouth, delivered the opening keynote. Mock’s paper focussed on the placement of Julie Kavner’s characters in Allen’s films; Kavner most famous for voicing Marge on ​The Simpsons​, often became a female Jewish stereotype in ​Radio Days ​and ​Deconstructing Harry. ​Mock’s paper was informative and well delivered and ultimately a great introduction to the day. 

The rest of the conference was broken up into parallel panels, which allowed two speakers to present at once. While this permitted a natural flow of discussion and fitted to time constraints, it was unfortunate that I only saw half of the papers. Similarly, this allowed the audience to interchange between topics they were interested in and areas of discussion that perhaps did not interest them. One presentation I was thrilled to hear was “Egghead Comedy and the Development of the Schlemiel: Elaine May’s Influence” by Peter Lederer. As an enthusiast of Elaine May and her work, naturally, I was interested in Lederer’s arguments and his introduction to distinct perspectives. I was also pleased to see a familiar face in Jessica Hannington from Sheffield University who helped organise last years ‘Remembering Annie Hall Conference’ with Jonathan Ellis. Hannington’s paper strayed away from Allen’s primary work and instead focussed on his influence on Lena Dunham, creating a more contemporary contextual understanding of film style and character.

York St John lecturer Steve Rawle discussed the importance of musical muse within ​Sweet and Lowdown​. Thomas Britt followed with arguments on the female voice in ​Deconstructing Harry. ​The conference came to an end. Professor Jason Lee presented the closing keynote discussion; tackling the importance of autobiographical representations in Allen’s films and the construction of young females. A novelist, Lee used his knowledge of storytelling to deconstruct the characters in Woody Allen’s narratives which, despite the many hours of it, allowed for plenty of questions. After a few goodbyes a small group closed the conference by eating at La Piazza in the city, where the long and successful conference was celebrated with pasta and a very large glass of wine.