Friday, December 27, 2013

Woody Allen Retrospective

Anyone who knows me well (and cares about movies) knows that I detest Woody Allen. Not because he screwed his adopted daughter behind Mia Farrow's back (though I thought he was even creepier than usual with that one) but because his public and celluloid "stance" has always put me off. He's what I would call a professional Jew. Not just a professional who happens to be Jewish, but a man who makes his living off New York Jewish Schtick. If you lived in N.Y.C., as I did for two and a half decades, you would know there is a "real" nerdy hypochondriac Jewish man-boy on every corner complaining about not getting laid. Woody is a monumental cliche who bores and irritates me as a personality.

But knowing that my own schtick is likely not how I'd like to be remembered, I decided to be fair and try not to be a hater when a retrospective of Allen movies came on cable this Xmas season. (Since I'll not have cable tv after the 1st of the year, I figured I'd dive in and watch as much as I can in these final weeks (between packing boxes and schlepping them to the new house.)to see if I can find redemption for Woody who certainly doesn't need MY approval, but maybe I'd be a better person for it.)

So far I've watched a few: Manhattan, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Interiors, and I have a few more to go. I had seen (years before) Hannah & Her Sisters, and Annie Hall already. Here's the truth of it. Some of these films are beautifully made, beautifully created and are worthy movie fare. I guess Allen's popularity as a director and writer make that obvious. But I just can't get past Allen. What bothers me about any of them is when Allen casts HIMSELF in the role of lover, husband, hero and carries on like he's George Clooney. If he would just direct, as he did in Interiors, it all comes out much more excellent and unspoiled. Even as the secondary story in Crimes & Misdemeanors (Allen and Alan Alda's dispute), a movie I almost loved, it would have been better with another actor playing the brother in law. Allen's just too broad. He can't resist overacting, overstepping the boundaries of what's believable to his audience. He's vulgar.

In Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex Allen found his own element. Slapstick, vaudeville, broad bathroom and sexual humor-- it was perfect. I had to turn it off halfway through. I couldn't find anything funny. Compared to what Mel Brooks does with the same impulses, this comes out a total failure.

Interiors is another matter altogether. Here we have INCREDIBLE actors (Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, EG Marshall, a serious Diane Keaton) doing a tour de force about love, life's meaning, death and divorce-- and no Woody in sight. A wonderful film, and to be my favorite unless I find another of his films with him absent. There is no doubt of his intelligence, talent, ability to create art. He's just got a public presence that would best be kept behind the camera and out of the tabloids.


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