IN PRAISE OF WOODY ALLEN
This article is written by MARSHALL FINE at THE HUFFINGTON POST
MARSHALL FINE is, of course, a distinguished film critic of long standing with his own website HOLLYWOOD & FINE
This is a gorgeously crafted tribute to one of my cinematic idols (not the living filmmaker that I admire most, but my all time favourite director) and it is my privilege to put this up in honour of him.
Let us now praise WOODY ALLEN.
I know how unfashionable that seems.
Once upon a time, a WOODY ALLEN film was an occasion, an event even – something to be longed for and anticipated and, once it arrived, to be seen more than once and savoured.
These days, however, WOODY has fallen into something approximating critical disfavour.
My impression is that this is particularly true among younger critics, whose own youthful senses of humour weren’t shaped by the anarchic comedy that WOODY offered in his days as a stand up comic in the 1960s and then with early films such as TAKE THE MONEY & RUN, SLEEPER and LOVE & DEATH.
But even among colleagues closer to my age, I detect a certain weariness with WOODY’S perpetual output. Since TAKE THE MONEY & RUN in 1969, he has averaged a movie a year. About to turn 75, he seems to have no less energy or imagination than he did in his 30s. Where his films once excited a certain keenness, I often read reviews of a new WOODY ALLEN film these days that convey the attitude of, “Oh, give it a rest all ready.”
Yet, to me, his films just get better and richer: funny, certainly, but with an increasing sense of melancholy and emotional depth.
While he continues to explore the subjects that have always fascinated him – the ephemeral nature of love, the meaning and absurdity and randomness of life – he also finds new and innovative ways to tell his stories and different styles in which to work.
Indeed, I would maintain that WOODY ALLEN is the most significant independent filmmaker of his generation.
While WOODY himself often tells interviewers that only a tiny fraction of his own films satisfy him, I can’t think of anyone as prolific and profound at the same time – someone whose filmography contains as many memorable and significant films.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing here that WOODY has never made a bad film.
But you cannot name a filmmaker – a writer/director who has often appeared in his or her own films – with the kind of prodigious output WOODY has had whose batting average is anywhere near as high. And he has done it while making exactly the films he wants to, working with what are, by today’s standards, tiny budgets and yet attracting the cream of the actors working in film today.
Nobody, it seems, doesn’t want to work with WOODY ALLEN.
WOODY is frequently accused of making the same film over and over or of being obsessed with only a couple of topics (the love of an older man for a much younger woman being one of them).
Yet I would argue that, in fact, he has frequently experimented with storytelling techniques: from the mock documentary (in TAKE THE MONEY & RUN and ZELIG) to novelistic chapters (HANNAH & HER SISTERS, DECONSTRUCTING HARRY), from edgy black and white (the underrated CELEBRITY) to sunset drenched colour (A MID SUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY).
He has used first person narrators who talk directly to the camera (from ANNIE HALL to last year’s WHATEVER WORKS). He has experimented in drama, from the Chekhovian to the Bergman influenced (INTERIORS).
He has made farces and comedies of manners, always injecting wry notes of social satire as throwaway gags that puncture balloons of pretension.
His subject matter – the unknowability of one person’s heart by anyone else, the inability of humanity to understand their place in the universe – is consistent exactly because it is so deep.
I would compare him, in that respect, to such modern authors as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, both for the breadth of his seemingly narrow focus and for taking what once was an almost niche viewpoint (the American Jew in the 20th – and now 21st – century) and making it mainstream.
I almost never watch movie trailers on line, usually seeing them only when I take my wife to a movie at our local multiplex. While there recently, a trailer began that made me sit up, mostly because it featured such a strong cast: NAOMI WATTS, ANTHONY HOPKINS, ANTONIO BANDERAS, JOSH BROLIN. And then the title flashed on the screen: WOODY ALLEN’S YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER…and my heart leapt.
I’ve all ready RSVP’d for a press screening this week and can hardly wait to see it.
The prevalent attitude these days among critics seems to be “I’m so over Woody Allen” or, more likely, “Woody Allen is so over.”
But I disagree.
WOODY ALLEN is one of the great American filmmakers, whose achievements are unparalleled by any director before or since.
As long as he keeps making them, I’ll keep seeing them – eagerly and with joyful anticipation.