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May 17, 2010

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bp

could not agree more. there appears to be some small pool of ideas he's drawing from that has been reduced over the years to nothing. is the semi-constant act of filmmaking, regardless of the content, a joyous experience for woody? because it feels increasingly joyless (this beyond the jokey adolescent life-is-glum mask) and increasingly more painful to sit through. the volume of misses and disasters is now, for me at least, beginning to slowly undermine all the brilliance retroactively

Mark Slutsky

Feel like the thing about Woody's great movies is that while the characters—or at least the characters he played—may have dwelled on and been driven by the same philosophical concerns and pre-occupations, the movies themselves didn't seem to quite share them exactly. The despair was always balanced by something a little more generous, a little bigger than him.

Andrew Wyatt

Doesn't Vicki Christina Barcelona break this pattern a little? The film is narratively problematic (and way overrated), but it at least permits its two main characters some moments of personal discovery, in a manner that seems to have little to do with Allen's cynicism. While Vicki's ultimate choice--sticking with a uncertain, passionless marriage for appearances--is pretty disheartening, but Christina's choice--rejecting the libertine lifestyle she thought was essential to her identity, searching for something else--seems like an outlier in Allen's late filmography.

Zach

I've always dealt with the Woodster's glumness in a "trust the tale, not the teller" kind of way. Certainly there are examples of a deep romantic streak in much of his work - a "life might be shit, but there are such lovely moments" or, if you will, the "we need the eggs" metaphor from Annie Hall; there's also the almost shockingly upbeat (for Allen) ending of Hannah and Her Sisters - that go against such hard-line pessimism.

But yeah - lately, it has seemed like he really does practice what he preaches, and that his stated motivation for continuing to make movies - basically, to distract himself from the crushing fear of impending death - might actually be accurate. Besides their other flaws, Allen's films have become increasingly rote and even slipshod on a formal level, with weird editing flubs, half-assed camerawork, and other rather glaring lapses in the kind of simple elegance seen in films like Manhattan. It's become more plausible to me that Allen is currently directing out of a kind of compulsion, or deeply ingrained habit, as if he's afraid that if he were to stop he would keel over dead in a minute. None of which is ineligible for a creative engine, but if the work sucks, then, well, the work sucks (and it doesn't totally suck, I'd like to make clear, but it is depressingly sub-par.)

The other thing about Allen that peeves me is his willingness to complain in spite of remarkable success and good fortune. He's probably the most prolific working American director, with opportunities to work with practically any actor of his choosing, and yet you won't hear word one of gratitude. Guy's got issues, which is fine and his business, but he should at least have the good taste to, as Griffin Mill said, Keep It To Himself.

The Swede

Well, when you're working with d.p.'s like Harris Savides and Vilmos Zsigmond, the camerawork is hardly going to be "half-assed."

They're doing a fine job. It's the overall visual intent of the director that could be considered half-assed.

Noam Sane

" I do feel that it's a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and the only way you can be happy is if you . . . deceive yourself."

Dude. Get out of the city and take a walk in the woods sometime.

Seriously.

bill

Quentin Tarantino believes that Allen is enjoying a creative rennaisance. I wouldn't call it THAT exactly, but I've enjoyed, to one degree or another, more of his recent work (haven't seen the last three, counting the one at Cannes) than almost anybody I know.

I think that MATCH POINT is wildly overpraised, and that Allen's motivation for making it -- to "fix" CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS -- is deeply foolish, but, for instance, I thought SCOOP was perfectly entertaining, and that the much-hated CASSANDRA'S DREAM, if you discount a weak performance by Ewan McGregor, was a valid and gripping take on the age-old crime story idea of decent people moved by desperation to do something evil. Colin Farrell is on fire in that film, and the actual murder scene is composed with a chilling grace. It was good stuff, I thought.

Even so, yes, I freely admit that his heyday is well in the past. No more CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS or BROADWAY DANNY ROSE or PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. Which is a shame, but I do not think the guy is just treading water.

Diane Rainey

I have enjoyed much of Woody Allen's work. Annie Hall and Manhattan and that genre are my favorites. I also liked Husbands and Wives, Radio Days, Hannah and her sisters and even that one whose name escapes me Match Point?? about tennis? He seems to play from the same sheet music all the time, and doesn't go out of his comfort zone. It's repetitive. That being said, I believe he will go down as a beloved film maker. His time of making a real impact has passed.

James Keepnews

Bill, I think Woody's condition is worse than treading water -- he sunk in his own straw-(wo)men characters and haute-bougie, Euro-financed rut, the sort of thing the Woody of Love and Death, much less Annie Hall, would have made mincemeat out of. The last time he really did seem to be trying for me was Everyone Says I Love You -- strangely charming in its graceless movie-musical set-ups, though Sweet & Lowdown does have its moments. I've long since stopped listening to the "Woody's back" meme that seems to pop out every two years with whatever cine-doody he evacuates into theaters.

D.P.

Creative renaissance or not: MELINDA AND MELINDA is easily in the running for Worst Film Ever Made.

lazarus

Have to agree with Bill here, esp. with regard to Scoop and Cassandra's Dream. The latter was just as good if not better than Match Point, and I think Woody & Scarlett had great comedic chemistry in the former (I'd also argue that it's her most enjoyable work to date). And I think there's a great metaphor with Scoop which relates to what Glenn has said about Woody's worldview: At the end of the film, (SPOILERS!!) Woody may be on the River Styx boat, but the Scarlett Johansson character he has mentored solves the mystery and triumphs. So while I agree that Woody has personally capitulated to his own pessimism, he at least has the ability to let some of his characters see past and/or overcome it. Not always. But sometimes. I mean, isn't that also essentially what happens in Whatever Works?

Kiss Me, Son of God

Count me among those who rather enjoyed SCOOP, ScarJo's adorably misguided attempt at Woodyisms and all. WHATEVER WORKS really worked for me, too, in large part due to Larry David, one of the few Woody surrogates who just did his own thing rather than aping Woody. Allen can still be counted on in the comedy department, I think; it's when he turns to those self-important, not-nearly-as-deep-as-he-thinks dramas that the unintentional laughs start flowing. MATCH POINT looks dumber with each passing year, and VICKY CRISTINA equally facile despite the wonderful performance by Rebecca Hall (easily the best female character in an Allen film...but still a mediocre film). New one sounds similarly uninspired.

Hugo

Wow. What a cold shower! Too bad there is nothing substantial that was said about the films. Woody's set of skills and concerns have very little to do with his philosophy of life than with the craft of cinema and storytelling.

If we're here to talk about his cinema, then I'll have to come again.

The problem I understand is that very few writers take Woody seriously. But I guess that's the beauty of it too. How he's elided institutionalized criticism. I wonder if it's because many still see him as a comic. But his jokes are adornments. Let's not forget he starred in Godard's King Lear!

The narrative experiment of Melinda and Melinda! (How to tell the same story on two different levels and confound realities!)

The humor, character development, and narrative economy of Vicky Cristina Barcelona!

The murder mystery of Scoop!

His self-conscious usage of sex starpower Scarlett, and how the narrative always comments on it!



Jeff McMahon

My take is that Cassandra's Dream is the worst thing he's ever done, if for no other reason than because he went to the Crimes & Misdemeanors well for the THIRD time, to even more diminishing returns. I'm not sure when exactly he became so cocooned and ossified but at this point the only spark in his films comes from the actors bringing their own sparks (Penelope Cruz in VCB for example).

Glenn Kenny

@ Hugo: He didn't "star" in Godard's King Lear. He's in the picture maybe five minutes, tops. But you're right in the sense that it was awfully nice of him to get involved in the project, which he admits in interviews he was entirely flummoxed by.

On the off-chance that your comment wasn't some sort of put-on, let me suggest that if the "narrative experiment" of "Melinda and Melinda" (a film I don't entirely disdain, incidentally) blew your mind, you ought to try some Raoul Ruiz. Or Jorge Luis Borges. Or Nagisa Oshima's "Three Resurrected Drunkards," out this week from Criterion. Or...

Stephanie

I don't think Allen is interested in other people and their problems and maybe he never was to begin with. The statements he made for public consumption during the time of the Farrow scandal were painful indicators that he was completely out of touch with more than the Zeitgeist. The characters in his movies aside from those not played by himself tend to be very thinly written, usually fleshed out by wonderful actors. Penelope Cruz imbued her walking cliche of a character with life in VCB, but back when Michael Caine had to work the same kind of magic on his role in Hannah and Her Sisters. At least they both got Oscars. It's nothing new, it's just worse now because the pictures are worse.

bill

@Jeff - How is CASSANDRA'S DREAM going to the C&M well again? Because it's about a murder? Or because the characters are driven to it by desperation? That accounts for most real-life murders that have ever occurred, and almost the entirety of film noir would be considered moot if that was the criteria.

But regarding MELINDA & MELINDA, yeah, the only thing surprising about that idea is that Allen had it. Which is not a knock on the guy or his work, which I obviously still like, but more that he's not generally one to experiment in that way.

Michael Adams

"Dude. Get out of the city and take a walk in the woods sometime."

"I am as two with nature."--W. Allen

Steven Santos

I have to admit that my estimation of Allen's entire filmography has fallen considerably because I'm finding less and less about it that means a whole lot to me anymore. Despite most of his characters living in the same city as I do, they feel like they live in another universe. His Upper East Side neuroses (his European movies are just the same neurotic people dropped into different settings) was funny when I was younger, but now it just comes off as a bit immature and pathetic.

What has made his recent work so hard to watch is that he often seems to not care about shooting a visually engaging film. His camera setups are pedestrian and the editing is sluggish. Plus, someone who puts out a film every year is probably going to have a tendency to recycle his own ideas. There have been many debates about the idea of growth in filmmakers and Allen, to me, represents what happens when a director stops exploring and experimenting. It results in a beyond stale body of work.

joel_gordon

It's strange that the most common criticism of late Woody--that he lazily recycles material--has been lazily recycled for nearly twenty years now. However, I certainly prefer the later, blunter nihilism to the earlier, more pretentious nihilism. His attitude toward life is not a philosophy; it's an instinctual revulsion, and it doesn't need any of that blindness-of-God bullshit from Crimes and Misdemeanors. Too many people loved his movies in the seventies and eighties because the movies flattered them: all that cooing over architecture and Schubert, all that moneyed solipsism. The later films might not stand up as works of art, but I think that they're more honest. I'm not convinced that Allen ever bought the sentimental "I needed the eggs" moral of the earlier films, so there's something bracing to me about Deconstructing Harry (other than its barely concealed envy for Philip Roth) and Anything Else (a scene-by-scene remake of Annie Hall that repudiates all that was charming and life-affirming in earlier film). I'm not trying to argue that he's undergoing an artistic renaissance; just that he's doing something different now, something other than a tired old artist going through the motions.

Hugo

Hey Glenn!

Why does it have to come down to Woody vs. Ruiz, or Oshima, or Borges?

Setting up this opposition simply suggests that Woody may also be interested in narrative structure! Personally, watching Oshima and Ruiz, and reading Borges, only helps inform my appreciation of Woody's films!

Like I said, let's talk about what really happens in the films, instead of dismissing them through general impressions of his career, references to other filmmakers, or empty statements!

Hugo

@joel_gordon

"Anything Else", I thought, was very good. You said it's a scene-by-scene remake of Annie Hall. That is totally absurd!

It is a story about an older man named Dobel (read "double") who travels back in time to warn and advise his younger self! That's very narratively ambitious!

The same idea is reflected outside the story too! Jason Biggs playing Woody being mentored by Woody himself !!!

Part of the thrill too are the characterizations! The personalities ! The characters are fleshed out in a way that is engaging! That's something, for example, that I hardly experience with Ruiz!

----
Not playing devil's advocate here. Really believe a new Woody is as exciting as a new Godard or Wong Kar Wai! He tinkers with popular narrative and understands formula, which means he understands cinema in a classical way. But every single film is a comment on that understanding.

DUH

I think Hugo may be the internet's first positive troll. Instead of derailing a thread with constant negative attacks, he's enthusiastically hugging it to death with affirmation and exclamation marks.

Tom Russell

I wasn't a big fan of ANYTHING ELSE-- and I agree it's like a bizarro Annie Hall, not so much a retread as an inversion-- though the spectacle of Woody Allen-as-a-crazed-survivalist going apeshit on a car with a baseball bat was certainly something different and quite amusing.

Of his recent films, I rather liked HOLLYWOOD ENDING; there are some really great gags, including a wide-wide-wide screen pratfall that's as elegant and understated as it is hilarious, that provides for me the same sort of formal pleasures as Tati's best gags. The narrative structure is looser-- the son sub-plot seems to come out of nowhere, but makes perfect sense in that Gangs of New York Draft Riots way in that the film reflects the character's own myopia, and the resolution of the character relationships are a little messier. A very enjoyable picture, I think-- the last Allen film I really really clicked with.

(Haven't seen any of his thrillers, couldn't stand more than a half-hour of WHATEVER WORKS. Larry David is, for me, a comic void. Ditto Ricky Gervais. No, I don't understand why, either.)

Ryan Stewart

About two years ago I got Woody on the phone for an interview, and I asked a couple of questions that I thought might illuminate his state of mind a bit. I asked if he was still in the habit of buying tickets and going to his local movie theater, and he said that he absolutely was and that it was a semi-regular thing for himself and Soon-Yi. I also asked if he could see himself taking an interest in sprucing up his biannual DVDs with commentary, deleted footage, any of that stuff. His agitated response to that one was something along the lines of "No, and they can't make me."

The man is just set in his ways, but I don't think intellectual rigidity necessarily equates to artistic staleness. I actually prefer the kind of filmmaker who will keep running in his own groove and shutting out the world, letting his work warp and change into something completely hermetic. I see more value and honesty in a jazz piece like Scoop -- which couldn't possibly have been made by any other filmmaker -- than in something that aspires to be topical and clever. When I hear about David Fincher doing the history of Facebook, I have to stifle a yawn -- give me the new Woody Allen over that.

d.a.

I don't really see how anyone could take the "philosophy" in the films seriously. I liked his films when I got the impression he didn't entirely either, like way back in Love and Death. Now I just look at it as one of the givens of his films, just like beautiful actresses. My enjoyment of the films doesn't and has never really hinged on their having "something to say."

Someone here said that Woody has managed to slip through the serious critical treatment other filmmakers have gotten. I think that the reverse is true - that he's been convinced what people love in his films is their depth rather than their lightness.

lipranzer

I've been a Woody Allen fan since I was a kid, and even I have been dispirited by his output in the last decade or so. I don't mind that he recycles material or themes as much as I mind (1) when he's not writing funny lines for people who know how to deliver them, he has no idea how people talk anymore, and (2) whereas the characters in his films used to be modulated enough to be recognizable, now they're just one note, and when Allen is playing one of his characters (which apparently he's not doing anymore, so he says), especially hitting that one note rather loudly. Compare, say, Allen in ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN, where you saw him actually not ranting and having regular conversations with people, and in SCOOP, where he's all tics and yelling. I realize the former movies are more realistic in tone and the latter is farcical, but it still grates to watch. And back to the first point, I realize Allen has never really been in step with his times (even with all the then-current cultural references he dropped in his stand-up days), do his characters all have to sound like they just read a philosophy book before they came onto the stage?

christian

One of the reasons why MATCH POINT was a big hit was because it was the first Allen film in a long time to have such a different style. The last shot is one of his rare "movie" moments.

I'm glad he's still around and I'm not a fairweather fan. We'll miss him when he's gone so let's be happy there's an American film artist still working it out into his 70's.

James Russell

"MELINDA AND MELINDA is easily in the running for Worst Film Ever Made."

I presume you didn't see "Anything Else" before you saw "M&M", cos if you had you would've realised the latter is a masterpiece by comparison.

Glenn Kenny

Just to clarify: I yield to no man in my admiration for Allen's earlier, funnier films; I happen to think "Love and Death" is really one of the all-time greats. And while I'm not at all thrilled by Allen's recent output, I'm not counting him out by any means; I'm still open to the possibility that he'll surprise me with something great. I was merely airing some thoughts concerning probable cause of a hardening of the creative arteries, as it were. Which in turn has generated some lively discussion. So I don't know why I'm even making this comment in the first place, other than I'm up at 5:30 in the morning and can't think of anything better to do...

As you were...

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