From 1966 to 1980, Woody Allen contributed comical short stories, essays and plays to publications like The New Yorker, Playboy, The New Republic and The New York Times. These writings, along with some of Allen's previously unpublished literature, were compiled over the years in three books: "Getting Even" (1971), "Without Feathers" (1975) and "Side Effects" (1980).
Much of what Allen writes about in these short stories shows up later in his films. That is not to say he's simply recycling old material; rather, it indicates what subjects are important to him as a comedian.
In "My Philosophy," Allen shows how philosophical argument can be hilarious. In his films "Bananas" (1971) and "Love and Death" (1975), Allen took this idea and put it into witty dialogue for his characters. They banter about philosophy, as well as poke fun at the philosophers themselves. In addition to parodying the form of argumentation, Allen also makes the philosophical messages his own. For example, "Eternal nothingness is O.K. if you're dressed for it."
In "Spring Bulletin," Allen builds off "My Philosophy" and takes a crack at academia. He lists interesting names for courses, followed by parodied summaries. His own stint at college was very short, but he's continued to make fun of a college education ever since. His character in "Annie Hall" (1977), for example, blatantly criticizes college, as well as adult education courses.
In the short comedic play "Death Knocks," the Grim Reaper stops by for a visit. Death is a little clumsy, he fatigues easily, and he's basically an underachiever. The poor man in his crosshairs challenges Death to a game of gin rummy in order to stave off dying. This idea is a not-so-subtle reference to Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's 1957 masterpiece, "The Seventh Seal." That film had the characters playing chess, mind you.
Allen brings back this idea in his film "Love and Death" (1975). The title was designed to be the opposite of Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Like the book, the film centers around the Napoleonic wars, albeit in a much sillier fashion. The Death character also appears in Allen's film. Though he's not as verbal as in "Death Knocks," the intent is still to parody an immortal Bergman character.
The writings in this book pick up where "Death Knocks" leaves off. But instead of addressing the idea in a sketch, Allen approaches the subject with one-liners in several separate writings. In "The Early Essays," for example, he writes: "The chief problem about death, incidentally, is the fear that there may be no afterlife--a depressing though, particularly for those who have bothered to shave. Also, there is the fear that there is an afterlife but no one will know where it's being held. On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down."
This preoccupation with death can be seen in many of Allen's films, but unlike "Love and Death," where the topic is handled whimsically, Allen discusses the subject with a greater seriousness. See "Annie Hall," where Allen's character remarks that he is obsessed with death because it is an important subject; see "Stardust Memories" (1980), where Allen's character hallucinates his own assassination; see "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986), where Allen's character contemplates suicide.
In "Without Feathers," Allen also takes to lampooning the concerns of the pseudo-intellectuals. "Sean O'Shawn, the great Irish poet, considered by many to be the most incomprehensible and hence the finest poet of his time," he writes in "The Irish Genius." Later, in "Slang Origins," Allen asks, "How many of you have ever wondered where certain slang expressions come from?...Neither have I," he responds.
In the film "Manhattan" (1979), Allen's character reacts harshly to others' pseudo-intellectual babble. And ironically, in "Stardust Memories," Allen's character (a film director resembling the real Allen) is criticized for his criticism and latent fear of intellectuals.
"Side Effects" compiles Allen's freelance writings from about 1975-1980. Although they are hilarious and fit into Allen's style, they don't parallel his films thematically.
During this time period, Allen's films began to shift from whimsical comedies to somewhat serious dramas--rather than string together random jokes and funny non-sequiturs, he focused on the story and began to experiment with more dramatic narrative. "Annie Hall" (1977) was his first film to combine these two forces, and the film most different in tone was the tragic "Interiors" (1978).
Nevertheless, check out an online copy of "Side Effects" at this site I found online.