Whatever Happened to Woody?

I just recently read something that shed a lot of light on the work of a man who was at one time one of my favorite filmmakers, a writer-director-actor named Woody Allen.  Maybe you’ve heard of him?

It was an article in L.A. Magazine by their film critic Steve Erickson.  You can find it online here.  It concludes with this sentence: "Allen will be 70 this year, and time may have run out on not only his creativity but his integrity; in the end being an artist is as much about character as it is about talent—not character as defined by conventional social mores or their self-anointed caretakers but by the relationship an artist forges with hard truths about himself and the world around him, and his commitment to telling them." 

Ostensibly a review of Allen’s latest film, the article is actually a retrospective of Allen’s career and reading it helped me understand on a rational level what I’ve been feeling on an emotional level about Allen’s work for some time.  Namely, that his films have become soulless and entirely unconvincing, not to mention not nearly as funny.

I particularly like the commentary on CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS which I feel is the best Woody Allen movie that I’ve ever seen.  It’s a strong analysis because it points out that the now tired self-justification that overwhelms Allen’s recent films and my accompanying resistance to it is independent of the fact we all know he sleeps with his stepdaughter.  The patterns and themes had all been there for a while.  It seems like when the news broke that he was having an affair with Soon-Yi Previn, the daughter he adopted with Mia Farrow, that there was no rush of fans to wish it wasn’t so.  I mean, my word, even Michael Jackson has his defenders.  Maybe to those of us who were long-time fans it wasn’t much of a surprise.  It figured.

In STARDUST MEMORIES Allen’s on-screen persona mocks his fans who wish he’d go back to making pure comedies like his early pictures instead of more serious films.  Whatever, Woody.  I’d rather watch TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN than your latest rationalization for a life without responsibility or consequence anyday.   

Take some time, read the article, and tell me what you think.


8 thoughts on “Whatever Happened to Woody?

  1. Being a mere 31 years old, I can’t remember a good Woody Allen film. Ants was ok, I guess, but I don’t know if it counts. Sweet and Lowdown was entertaining enough. We have actually not finished watching several of the other films of his that we’ve rented. They were tedious and a waste of time. Perhaps one day I’ll have the time to go back and watch the films that made him famous, but what I’ve seen recently doesn’t lead me to think that I want to. Would someone watching Woody’s movies in reverse chronological order even want to get to the start, or would they give up in 1990?

  2. I recently scanned some of Woody Allen’s old comedy books (Without Feathers, Getting Even, Side Effects) and found myself really enjoying his sense of humor and intelligence. And yes, I found myself laughing out loud. True, his act about the insecure guy who is always in counseling can get a bit old. Then again, he is the living embodiment of the little man, the shlemiel. Regardless, he has material that deals with a lot of other subjects and its worth a study.

    Some of his material is available online. If you want to find a comedy sketch where noir meets up with lit crit, you might want to try reading “The Whore of Mensa”:


    The thing about Woody Allen is that I can appreciate his work … but it is rarely my first choice. To this day I’m not sure how my wife and I ended up watching his comedy “Small Time Crooks” together. This was years ago but I think I might have argued her into it a bit. The nice part was that my wife said she was surprised how good it was. I don’t mean it was so good we went out and bought our own copy (though I considered the possibility). Nor did we arrive at the conclusion that we were going to watch other Woody Allen films. But we both laughed quite a bit and genuinely enjoyed the film.

    Perhaps one other factor that should be considered to an extent is Woody Allen’s Jewish background and the influence Jewish culture has on his comedy. It is truly amazing to realize how many of the great comediens are Jewish. Regardless of what one thinks of his personal morals and decisions, Woody Allen is one of the icons and geniuses of this group.

  3. Brian: Crimes and Misdemeanors over Annie Hall? Or Manhattan?? Wow…

    Very interesting article though, I’m still processing it. It’s sad to think of Woody Allen as some sort of has-been, but is it rational for people to expect his creativity and skill to last indefinitely? Is it fair to demand such of any artist?

  4. It’s certainly not fair to dismiss Allen based on his last five movies. He makes almost one a year, so it is only recently that his work has been falling off.
    I think Woody Allen is one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century, and I think history will vindicate that view. No one judges Michael Jordan for his career with the Wizards; they only remember his Chicago years.
    The man who made Annie Hall, Manhattan, Mighty Aphrodite, and Bullets Over Broadway deserves a little slack in his old age.
    That being said, I don’t particularly care for Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives, or Celebrity.

  5. I’m sort of with NFlanders (except that I thought Hannah and Her Sisters, and Husbands and Wives, were great). But certainly his last 6 or 7 movies (with possibly the exception of Sweet and Lowdown) were disappointing. I saw Melinda and Melinda last week and was disappointed. But much of the intense public scorn for his movies, I think, is a result of audience not really knowing what he’s going for. For example, everyone is a method actor now, and Allen’s movies are intentionally a bit more stilted and non-naturalistic than people are used to.

  6. I was 20 years old when Annie Hall was released, and it tapped in my consciousness the way no movie before or since has been able to do. I saw it 20 times during its original release, which is quite something considering that I was a college student with no money.

    Woody Allen isn’t a very good filmmaker though, or let’s say, he’s an awkward filmmaker. He has ideas, good story ideas, good philosophical ideas, and he writes good dialogue, but he hardly knows a good picture. There is very little of visual interest in his films.

    And ultimately, he doesn’t know how to develop his story ideas. They are presented quite simply towards the beginning, and then we must sit through the remainder of the film.

    I too think his best serious film is Crimes and Misdemeanors, which resembles no other movie, of any genre. But I do love Annie and Manhattan the best.

    By the late 80s, Woody was turning out one dull overdone work after another. The nadir, and first movie of his that I do not own, is Shadows and Fog, a bald exercise in German Expressionism. I own very few of Woody’s output since that movie.

  7. I really do think the Soon-yi affair was the turning point for Allen, and for a lot of fans. I used to be a big fan. I made a point of seeing all his films in a theater, even “Shadows and Fog”, which is the last one I saw that way. When the news broke about his relationship with his semi-step-daughter it was like a switch got turned off in my head. All at once I just lost interest. And I haven’t seen a new Woody Allen film since 1992, except for the occasional glimpse as I surf through cable TV channels. I still treasure the early films for their humor. But as to looking to Allen for moral or spiritual guidance, or taking his world-view seriously, forget it.

  8. How can anyone badmouth Woody Allen? That scene in Annie Hall where Christopher Walken confesses his reoccurring urge to drive into oncoming traffic to Woody Allen, that gets me every time. Later, when he drives them to the airport through the dark and pouring rain and Woody’s tearing his hair out. That just kills me.

    I think about that scene a lot…usually, when I’m driving on a narrow two lane highway at night…

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