-Released on September 3, 1999

-Runtime 95 minutes

-Budget $29.7 million, Gross: $4.2 million [1]

-Production Studio: Sweetland Films, Magnolia Productions

-Distributor: Sony Picture Classics

-Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1

-There are a few ways to classify Woody's films: his funny ones and his serious ones. Within that you have his good ones and his great ones. Within that are ones that scream "quintessential Woody" (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives). But there is another category that doesn't show itself as often; the non-Woody Allen-Woody Allen film. -WAW


-In this sub-category, Woody creates a masterful film that doesn't feel like anything he's done before. They don't even feel like a Woody Allen film. These are films that exist outside normal space and time. Some examples include, A Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway, Sweet and Lowdown, Match Point and most recently, Midnight in Paris. -WAW


-Woody Allen is, if nothing else, a born entertainer. As I’ve said before, his serious movies (Interiors, Another Woman), skillful as they may be, feel like effortful departures, but movies like Sweet and Lowdown — which is classic, old-fashioned entertainment — seem to flow from him naturally. Woody Allen may never be the American Bergman he so wants to be, but he should take some comfort in the fact that no one makes these types of films better than him. [2]

"Sweet and Lowdown" Screening Companion

"Sweet and Hot"


"When I was about 15, I became interested in jazz from hearing a recording by Sidney Bechet from Paris on the radio, a half-hour concert, and gradually my interest widened to include a great many musicians from the New Orleans area that inevitably led to Django Reinhardt, because he was one of the greatest American jazz musicians at that time. It was an astonishing experience for me as it had been for millions of people. I probably own just about everything he ever recorded, along with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet and those three would be the most dominant jazz soloists of my lifetime in that era of music." -WA [6]


-Hot off his 1969 directing debut Take the Money and Run, Allen signed a contract to direct a series of films with United Artists. Told to "write what you want to write," Allen (a clarinetist and avid jazz enthusiast) wrote The Jazz Baby, a dramatic screenplay about a jazz musician set in the 1930s. Allen said later that the United Artists executives were "stunned... because they had expected a comedy. [They] were very worried and told me, 'We realize that we signed a contract with you and you can do anything you want. But we want to tell you that we really don't like this.'"Allen went along with United Artists, writing and directing Bananas instead. In 1995, he dismissed The Jazz Baby as having been "probably too ambitious. In 1998, Allen returned to the project, rewriting the script and dubbing it Sweet and Lowdown. [3]


-[Woody on choosing the guitar as the film's featured instrument] "...Django Reinhardt was a quantum leap ahead of everybody in his era. And any other instrument I could think of, whether it was the clarinet, the trumpet, the trombone or piano, there were always a number of great musicians of that era. This was true of every instrument. On the guitar, for some reason, there was Django and there was nobody else in the world close to him. He was just out there by himself. So I had to pick an instrument, and that was the one I chose." -WA [5]


-"The most pleasurable part of the movie, and is with any movie for me is at the end when I get to add the music. I always make my films and then cut them and when they're done, I go into my room with all my own records - I still have all my old long-playing records - and I pick out the music and drop it into spots and if something doesn't work, I take it out and try another one. Because this movie was about music, it was an even greater pleasure to use my favorite records throughout the movie, and it livened up the whole procedure." -WA [6]


-"I knew the structure would have to take place over a reasonable period of time and as is true about Django and most other musicians, there is always a lot of conflicting and vague anecdotal material one learns about them. You hear from one person they drop out of sight for a year and then somebody else tells a story about them emerging in Texas and them someone else contradicts the other two stories. So that's typical about the lives of a great many musicians and I thought it seemed like a natural way to tell the story; just people recounting incidents, some of which conflicted with others." -WA [6]


-"[The title is from] an old George Gershwin song. And there were certain phrases that I was trying to get for this picture. The first one I thought of was "Sweet And Hot," which is a jazz phrase, and one that I felt matched the characters. But I felt Sweet And Lowdown was even better. You know, that she was sweet, and he was lowdown!" -WA [5]

Sean Penn as Emmet Ray


"I've always had an easy time directing actors, because I always hire ones that are great...before I get my hands on them! And mostly what I do is stay out of their way. That's why, if you've seen interviews with actors who have worked in my films, they'll sometimes say, he never spoke to me. And sometimes that's true. You hire someone like Sean, who's been great for years before I met him. The thing that you want is not to mess him." -WA [5]


-"You know, I want him to do that thing that Sean Penn does, that he's always been great at. So I hardly had to do anything at all with him. People think that I'm joking when I say that ninety per cent of my direction is either 'faster' or 'louder.' They think that I'm joking, but I'm not joking. That's really what it is. I had no discussions with Sean about who this character is, or, what his prior life was." -WA [5]


-"I don't really know the answers to those questions a lot of the times. And I just would say to Sean like, could you do this a little faster. Or, you're getting a little too much within yourself. Could you speak up a little bit, the sound man is telling me he's having a problem hearing you. But I hardly had to do anything. And I hardly had to say anything to Samantha Morton. Once she got the Harpo Marx thing in the first two days, then she did all she did by herself. There was really nothing that I had to do" -WA [5]


-Sweet and Lowdown is about Emmet Ray in a way that no Allen movie has been about one person since Alice. Penn is on-screen for nearly the entire film, and he’s a far more engaging presence than Farrow as Alice Tate. It’s not a deep character study, but its subject is complex, unpredictable, and equal parts frustrating and endearing. [2]


-Emmet Ray is relatively unique in the canon of Woody Allen artists in that he’s incredibly — perhaps unreasonably — confident, and also in that he doesn’t over-think his work. He doesn’t talk theory or worry about approach, he just plays.  [2]

Samantha Morton as Hattie


-In an October 26, 2009, appearance on Howard Stern's radio program, Rosie O'Donnell claimed that Allen offered her the role of Hattie, despite the fact that she had been vocal in her disgust over Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. When Stern asked if she was at all tempted to take the role despite her personal feelings, she replied that she was "not for one minute tempted." [4]


-Samantha Morton had never heard of Woody Allen before she got the part in this movie. [2]


-Allen typically only lets actors see the script pages that apply to their characters, but Morton wouldn’t agree to the movie unless she could see the whole thing in advance. [2]



[Woody on Samantha Morton] " It's so funny, it shows how old I'm getting. I said to her, I want you to play this exactly like Harpo Marx. And she never heard of Harpo Marx! I couldn't believe it. And I said, well you should take a look at him some time, you'll enjoy it! And she did. Then the first couple of days she was so much like Harpo Marx, all the moves, that I had to take her down from it! But I saw her face and thought, she would be perfect. I never heard of her, I didn't know anything about her. I was completely introduced to Samantha on tape. And I said, get this one. She's got the right face." [5]


-"I wanted her mute because I wanted Sean Penn's character to be able to talk the whole time so we could see him brag and be self-involved and insensitive. He can create great beauty but be a completely insensitive person and that is interesting to me because so many people in life are capable of such great beauty but are so insensitive and self-involved at the same time" -WA [6]




-Sweet and Lowdown was filmed entirely in New York and New Jersey but set in the Chicago area and California. [4]


-First of three collaborations with Cinematographer Fei Zhao. It was his first American film and has been said about him he doesn't speak English. [1]


-The film was the first of Allen's that was edited by Alisa Lepselter, who has edited all of Allen's films since. Lepselter succeeded Susan E. Morse, who edited Allen's films for the previous twenty years. [4]


-The production designer was Santo Loquasto, also worked on Bullets Over Broadway and Radio Days. [1]


-Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) was uncredited for producing the special effects. [1]


-The plot mirrors that of Fellini’s La Strada so closely, it could almost be considered part of a Fellini Tribute Trilogy, along with Stardust Memories and Celebrity. [2]


-Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage were both considered for the lead role. [2]


-Allen had originally planned to play himself. [4]


-"Sweet and Low-Down," by George Gershwin, is a song on the soundtrack of Woody Allen's Manhattan. [1]



-The scene towards the end of the film in which Emmet Ray is drunk in a New York bar was filmed in "Chumleys," a bar on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village. [1]


-In the scene where Emmet Ray faints at a gas station, right behind the trees is the Nyack High School Football team. They were asked to be quiet during the filming of the scene and had a stop their practice a number of times.  [1]


-Woody Allen pays a clever homage to Federico Fellini's La Strada. The characters of Emmet (Penn) and Hattie (Morton) correspond to Zampano (Quinn) and Gelsomina (Masina) including the final scene with Emmet's/Zampano's breakdown and repentance. [1]


-The guitar that Sean Penn plays in the movie is a Selmer Maccaferri of about 1932 (though it seems likely that it's a reproduction of the rare instrument and not an original) This is the same kind of guitar played and made famous by Django Reinhardt. [1]


The guitar that Emmett destroys at the end of the movie is (thankfully) not a genuine Selmer Maccaferri. The shattered fragments clearly show a bolt-on neck. The genuine instruments used a bolt during construction, but this bolt was removed before the guitar was completed, leaving an empty hole. (The instrument actually destroyed was a disposable prop created by Michael Dunn.) [1]

Critical Reception


-Roger Ebert: Emmet Ray is a fictional character, but so convincing in Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown'' that he seems like a real chapter of jazz history we somehow overlooked. Sean Penn, whose performances are master classes in the art of character development, makes him into an exasperating misfit whose sins are all forgiven once he begins to play.


-Roger Ebert: The guitar playing in the movie is actually by Howard Alden. You will want to own the soundtrack. Alden taught Sean Penn to play the guitar, in lessons so successful that Allen's camera never has to cheat: We hear Emmet Ray and we see Emmet Ray's fingers, and there is never reason to doubt that Penn is actually playing the guitar.


-Sweet and Lowdown is incredibly funny, and also has great music, romance, pretty people, bold cinematography, and a simple but satisfying emotional arc going for it. It’s pure escapist fantasy, effortlessly crafted. As has increasingly been his tendency, Allen throws in just enough roughness to prevent the movie from feeling safe or timid, but not so much that the material comes across as challenging. [2]


-Sean Penn, depending on how you judge such things, is one of the best actors around. He isn’t the warmest, most charismatic performer, but he’s capable of transforming every aspect of himself into a completely different human being. If you watch Sweet and Lowdown, Mystic River and Milk you’ll see three different people that don’t have a single mannerism, inflection or intonation that overlaps (although they all have distractingly large hair). [2]


-I love Sweet and Lowdown. It would be easy to say I love it because of its inspired performances (god, Samantha Morton breaks my heart) or because of its fantastic soundtrack (which I’m listening to right now … there is really nothing like good, authentic jazz) or because of its delicate, dark, Allen-to-the-core humor. But while all of those things are true, they’re not it. [7]


No, I love Sweet and Lowdown because, as I was watching it for the first time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it before. Not in a bad way, or even in a creepy way—but in a comfortable way, like when you visit a new city and you round a corner and see a restaurant or a hotel or something that you’d only seen before in postcards. It felt like this, I realized after the credits began to roll, because I’d told myself this story a thousand times before, and would tell it to myself again thousands and thousands of times in the future. [7]


-Woody Allen claims that his musician friends (of which he presumably has many) all think this is his best movie. [2]


-Samantha Morton received an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress and she has no spoken lines at all. [1]


-Sean Penn also received an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination.


-This movie has the strange distinction of being Allen’s second highest-ranked movie on IMDb (after Annie Hall). [2]


-78% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes


[1] - imdb.com

[2] - www.EveryWoodyAllenMovie.com

 [3] - Bjorkman, Stig, ed. Woody Allen on Woody Allen: Revised Edition. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, 2004. p. 36-7.

[4] - Wikipedia

[5] - http://www.woodyallen.art.pl/eng/wywiad_eng_11.php

[6] - http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=3802&s=interviews

[7] - http://brightwalldarkroom.com/post/391322321/woody-allen-week-sweet-and-lowdown-1999