Skip to comments.12 things Woody Allen just doesn’t get
Posted on 07/06/2009 3:09:44 PM PDT by Borges
1. African-American people: For a brilliant writer and perceptive chronicler of the human psyche, theres a whole lot that Woody Allen, or at least the Woody Allen we know from his movies, just doesnt seem to understand. Allens charming, maddening new movie, Whatever Works, provides another in-depth glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of his neurotic, acerbic, New York-centric worldview. Allen is a whiz at exposing the anxieties and desires of the upper-middle-class Manhattan smart-set, but his blind spots are legion. Take African-Americans for example. Allen named his son after the great pitcher Satchel Paige and has a deep abiding love for jazz. But African-Americans have, by and large, been conspicuously absent from Allens films. Allen very tardily tried to rectify that situation by casting Chiwetel Ejiofor in 2004s hopelessly muddled Melinda And Melindaa veritable master class in all the shit Woody Allen doesnt getas an impossibly suave, unthreatening musician so improbably perfect he makes Sidney Poitier look menacing. Congratulations, your progressive treatment of race just caught up with 1967s Guess Whos Coming To Dinner.
2. The American South: Complaining to a friend about the insularity of New York in Annie Hall, Allen says, Dont you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like were left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here. So if thats how the rest of the country sees New York, how does New York see the rest of the country? Based on Whatever Works, Allens vision of the South is pretty much the opposite of New York, populated by right-wing, Christian, uneducated yokels (and closeted homosexuals) who devote themselves to intellectually vapid pursuits like beauty pageants. When teenage runaway Evan Rachel Wood arrives in Manhattan from backwater Mississippi, shes an empty vessel that David can fill with his misanthropic wisdom. Her conservative parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr.) arrive later in their Sunday best, but their regressive Southern values are easily tamed by the bohemian polyamory and tolerance of the big city. Being Southern is a disease that New York City can apparently cure.
3. Great Britain: Back in 2005, Match Point was widely hailed as a major comeback for Allen, who seemed refreshed after leaving New York to stake out new territory in the British Isles. British critics were not so kind: Allens decision to repurpose a thriller set in the Hamptons for London made for a vivid change of scenery, but his cultural tone-deafness showed, too. Guardian/Observer critic Peter Bradshaw dismissed his portrait of upper-crust Brits as quaintly conceived, took issue with dialogue that sounds clenched, stilted and occasionally plain bizarre (and also contained lots of egregious mispronunciations and errors), and resented Allens tourists gloss on the city itself. Allen didnt much improve with 2007s Cassandras Dream, which attempted to tell the same reheated Crimes And Misdemeanors story from the other half of the class spectrum. The two cockney brothers played by Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell sport accents so egregiously inauthentic that Uncut critic Stephen Trousse mocked them as wavering between Dick Van Dyke and Tony Curtis doing Cary Grant in Some Like It Hot. And Allens understanding of working-class South London isnt much more nuanced. The bickering family in Cassandras Dream looks virtually interchangeable with their counterparts in Annie Hall or Radio Days; the only difference is that the brothers in Cassandras Dream have access to a yacht.
4. The Female Psyche (post-Husbands And Wives): Woody Allen is a fascinating paradox. Hes written some first-rate roles for women and guided multiple generations of actresses to their defining performances. Then, in 1994, the part of Allens brain that understands women apparently exploded and his female characters became a thinly sketched parade of castrating shrews (Christina Ricci in Anything Else being an especially egregious example) and vapid, rampaging sexpots intent on bedding Allen and his countless surrogates. With Melinda And Melinda, Allen set out to showcase the formidable talents of Australian actress Radha Mitchell and ended up giving her two terrible, borderline unplayable roles, one comic, one dramatic. Mira Sorvino picked up an Oscar playing a sentient Playboy Party Joke of a hooker with a heart of gold in 1996s Mighty Aphrodite. But the ultimate late-period Allen female creation is Samantha Morton in 1999s Sweet & Lowdown. Shes cute, sad, supportive, and completely mute. On the upside: The carefully crafted women of last years Vicky Cristina Barcelona suggest that this situation might be righting itself.
5. Gentiles: Despite the fact that the goyim of America make up a large chunk of his audience, Woody Allen doesnt quite seem to get them, despite his romances with people named Farrow and Keaton. In Annie Hall, its easy to get the impression that Alvy Singer gets off on dating a non-Jewish girl from the Midwest in the same way he would if he showed up at a party with a space-alien on his arm. Gentiles are so lacking in neurosiswhich, in a Woody Allen movie, is essentially the trait that defines humanitythat they might as well be robots. Indeed, Woodys robot butler in Sleeper seems more natural and unaffected than the chilly, affected Gentiles who populate films like September and Alice.
6. Los Angeles: Woody Allens films seem to be funded by a mysterious cabal of Europeans, well-heeled New York comedy buffs, and clarinet aficionados. He therefore has no use for the motion picture industry, or for its Los Angeles headquarters. His characters seem vaguely aware that there is a place called Hollywood, and that its geared towards the production of movies that people in Woody Allen movies would never see, but otherwise they react to any suggestion of La-La Land with the kind of revulsion that most people reserve for Best Fascist Dictator Adolf Hitler. Woodys famous line about Californiathat its only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red lightonly rings false because obviously, hes never driven a car in his life, and wouldnt know that you cant do that in New York, too. Speaking of
7. Driving: Its hard to imagine Allen behind the wheel, but maybe thats because 1977s Annie Hall made his driving neuroses a fundamental character trait. As a kid, Allens Alvy Singer worked out aggression via bumper cars, impeding his ability to drive as an adult. When he attempts to drive during a trip to Los Angeles, he cant leave a parking lot without ramming other cars and smarting off to a police officer. Hes uneasy as a passenger, toofirst with a flighty Keaton behind the wheel, then with her potentially psychotic brother Christopher Walken, who confesses to him, Sometimes when Im driving on the road at night, I see two headlights coming toward me fast. I have the sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The flames rising out of the flowing gasoline. Hmm, Allen should probably stay off the road.
8. Violence: For a guy whos made a handful of murder-mysteries, Woody Allen seems to have the same attitude toward violence that most people have toward sewage disposal: They know it exists, but dwelling on the details is unpleasant and probably offensive. Whenever his movies make reference to war, they might as well bring up Yakety Sax on the soundtrack; references to the Holocaust are generally used as punchlines. And in his murder-mysteries, the violence itself is usually handled with the lightest touch this side of Agatha Christie. Crimes And Misdemeanors begins this tradition, and it hasnt gotten any less ridiculous over time; in Woody Allen movies, violence is something that happens to other people, and then its only to get the plot rolling so he can do what hes really good at. Its this reluctance to portray things that make him feel icky that made Joe Queenan observe: The only thing Woody Allen has in common with Ingmar Bergman is Sven Nykvist.
9. Bob Dylan: Give him this much credit: It takes a certain kind of courage to mock one of the best loved and most respected musicians in the history of modern pop music. In 1977, Bob Dylan was still very much in the public eye. Hed released Blood On The Tracks, one of the all-time greats, only two years before, and was still touring regularly when Annie Hall hit theaters. But despite Dylans critical acclaim, Allen wasnt a fan, and theres no greater way to slander an artist than through the praise of an idiot. While trying to get over his breakup with Diane Keaton, Woody Allen goes on a date with music reporter Shelley Duvall. She throws out words like transplendent, shes nearly impossible to please sexually, and worst of all, shes a devoted Dylan fanatic, prone to quoting from Just Like A Woman in rapturous, vapid tones. And she aches just like a woman / But she breaks just like a little girl, is beautiful when sung, but in this context, it sounds like the brain-dead meanderings of some college poet high on empty profundity.
10. Modern music in general; rock music in particular: The vast majority of Woody Allens films are set in New York, a city that gave us Brill Building pop, American punk, and hip-hop. But as far as hes concerned, the music scene stopped evolving approximately three years after he was born. Every time contemporary music rears its ugly head in a Woody Allen movie, its the subject of scorn and derision, from his mockery of Annie Halls Fillmore East program to his reaction, in Hannah And Her Sisters, to Dianne Wiests taking him to a punk club. He acts like rock music was invented specifically to get on his nerves. Even his famous love of jazz, documented in the inappropriately named Wild Man Blues, focuses on traditional New Orleans styles from the teens. In Woodys universe, even post-bop and cool jazz seem like intolerable intrusions on music as it should be; if Charles Mingus or Miles Davis ever showed up at one of his parties, hed probably call a cop. Allens beyond-arms-length distance from rock did lead to the one funny line in Hollywood Ending, though, when Allen told his silly cartoon of a punk-rock son, I love you Scumbag X. Punk might just be silly names and abrasive noise to Allen, but the bond he shares with Scumbag X remains profound.
11. Independent And International Cinema After 1975: Allen studied at the feet of the masters and makes no attempt to hide it. Many of his films recall the style of great directors like Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavetes, paying homage whileusually, anywaynot letting the mimicry get in the way of his own artistic personality. But the films of others, or at least others to which Allen likes to pay tribute, pretty much ends with late-period Federico Fellini. Allens casting choices could double as time capsules for which actors were bubbling up at the time of the films production. (If thats Juliette Lewis, this must be 1992.) But when he wants to try on another directors tricks, he tends to return to the same sources, the stuff that made the deepest impression while he was still finding his own voice.
12. Recreational Drug Use: Woody Allen worships all things intellectual; for him, life isnt something to be experienced so much as catalogued, criticized, and over-considered. Its not really a surprise then that hes not much into things that make analysis an after-thought. But its not just that Allen abstains from spirits and drugs; the very concept of other people willingly clouding their judgment for pleasure baffles him to the core. In one scene mid-way through Annie Hall, he tries to explain his reservations. Diane Keaton isnt much interested in sex, and wants to get high before they screw, and Allen isnt having any of it. First he dismisses pot (Yeah, grass, right? The illusion that it will make a white woman more like Billie Holiday), then complains that making love to a woman whos high makes the whole experience a cheat, like getting a laugh from a stoned audience. As always with Allen, hes a little ridiculous and a little right at the same time.
Film buffs do.
He's about as funny as a Shakespearean comedy.
Allen is an example of all that is dysfunctional in NYC, but he may be the closest thing to normal they can produce!
Shakespearean comedy isn’t supposed to be funny.
Can’t stand the old pervert.
Good night, I couldn't disagree more!
Thank the Lord we have choices so we can both have our favorites.
He was OK for a while, he ran into problems when he started believing his own press. Mel Brooks has a similar problem. Woody’s problem has been made worse by the fact that he’s deeply neurotic and seems to have a hard time finding anything to write about other than his severe emotional problems. The only good thing he’s done lately is put Scarlett Johansson in a lot of movies, not that she’s any good, but she’s hot, I think he thinks by putting the biggest boobs in Hollywood in his movies we’ll forget about his under age girl issues.
I bet we share a lot of those favorites, minus Allen who’s obviously not on your list.
The point being that in the 60s and 70s Allen was funny.
Brooks stayed pretty much the same from the start of his career to the end. Just less effective.
People did a lot of drugs in the 70’s.
I’ve liked many of Allen’s movies, but his “relationship” with his daughter was morally wrong. He’s a flawed, flawed man.
I’m surprised that anyone’s paid that much attention to Allen in the last twenty years. I liked Bananas, Play It Again Sam, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Sleeper and Annie Hall, but after that, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. None of the films has aged particularly well, either.
And this is supposed to be a bad thing? This happens to be one reason I like Allen's movies. I abhor violence in movies and TV.
Brooks’ career, unfortunately, hasn’t ended yet. He recently managed to get Spaceballs The Animated Series going on G4. Thankfully it seems to have been canceled, it’s terrible, it’s beyond terrible. Mel’s output really dropped in the 80s, To Be or Not to Be was brilliant but other than that mediocre to awful.
Brooks was an old school Jewish vaudeville comedian. Whenever a new trend would come out, he would overlay the same jokes on the new trend. Many of the jokes were awful, but that was part of their charm. No matter how bad the line was, who can ever forget, "Please. It's just plain Yogurt."
You kidding me? I didn't even realize that he was still drawing breath (guess I don't care enough to know).
Woody Allen has always been the perfect picture of a modern liberal, in my mind.
And you claim to like classic movies? :)
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