"What do you believe in?" "Sex and death. Two things that come once in a lifetime. But at least after death, you're not nauseous."
The BFI Woody Allen retrospective continues tonight with Sleeper, one of Allen's earliest films - and one of the most quintessential. From its opening scene, in which a man (Woody Allen) is woken up in the future after being cryogenically frozen (complete with signature glasses), you can tell it's going to be a very silly affair. You'll also note a lot of the elements that have popped up in Austin Powers, as well as in Allen's future films.
Awake and disoriented, Allen's health food store owner staggers around the 22nd Century lab, eating rubber gloves and running people over in a wheelchair. All the while, he wears a manic grin on his face. It's genuinely hilarious, clearly inspired by comedians such as Benny Hill and Buster Keaton, as loud jazz honky tonks over the top of near-silent slapstick. Early on, instant pudding takes over the kitchen; later, Allen flies away from government officials before going on to win the Miss America beauty pageant.
Sleeper is stitched together loosely, a patchwork of gags and occasional plot. Satire is in there somewhere too, but so are giant bananas, scientific experiments and machines that cause orgasms. It's the epitome of Allen's "early, funny ones" and he has rarely exhibited such an open love of anarchy since.
In that sense it compares well to the initial output of fellow silly-to-serious helmer Pedro Almodovar.