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September 23, 2010


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Kurosawa had almost 30 years of decline in him when his golden period came to an end following the splits with Toshiro Mifune and screenwriter Ryuzo Kikushima.

We should be grateful it's only been a decade or so since Allen last did interesting, innovative work.


Your definition of decline and mine are very different.


Don't blame me, blame Donald "Red Beard was Kurosawa's last great film" Richie. :-)


At the very least, DODES'KA-DEN and RAN strongly refute that. You'd think Donald Richie, of all people, would know better!

James Keepnews

Hai, what Bill said, adding DERSU UZALA, KAGEMUSHA and a good 60% of DREAMS in the bargain. And, are you effing kidding me, Oliver and Donald? RED BEARD? Three hours of facile, utterly predictable gruff-but-loveable country doctor homiletics? I suppose STAR TREK spoiled me for such things in this wise forever. DREAMS is heavy on the homiletics, but is also passionately heartfelt in its humanist concern, and it's here that sensei is most notably explicit about the connection for him between cinema and choreography.

I like much of Mr. Ritchie's work, esp. SMILE, FLETCH and a good 60% of THE COUCH TRIP, but this notion of Kurosawa's "decline" may be a consummation devoutly to be wished -- "Shakespeare said it!" -- but is otherwise without any demonstrable evidence


You're mixing up your Ritchie's there, James. You're thinking of Michael Ritchie. Donald Ritchie is an expert, or whatever, on Japanese film, and Kurosawa in particular.


GAK! Please ignore the useless apostrophe in the above comment!

James Keepnews

GAK! Read closely before posting, James...my apologies.

Tom Russell

"We should be grateful it's only been a decade or so since Allen last did interesting, innovative work."

I'll grant you his work hasn't been particularly innovative as of late-- though there's a question of what constitutes "innovative". If by innovative one refers to the shock of the new, to something that's markedly different than what's come before (which I don't put much stock in as a critical litmus, distrusting as I do this idea that filmmakers must exhibit "x" amount of growth over "y" amount of films in order to not be, I dunno, worthy of automatic dismissal), I'm not sure if that really applies to Allen's work, as he often revisits (and, most importantly, revises) not only themes but methods, to the point that his films could be grouped together, and compared-contrasted, via tonal and formal methodology: there are the jumble films, often with a strong sense of surreal asides-- Annie Hall, for sure, but also Stardust Memories and Deconstructing Henry. You have the magic realism of Purple Rose and Alice. Bifurcated structure films, and ensemble romances. The Bergman-y films. Zelig is the only odd-man out, I think, a truly remarkable film with no precedent or ancedent in Allen's career. What I'm saying is, I don't think even something like Deconstructing Harry or Melinda and Melinda constitutes "innovative" work in the context of his career; in the larger context of "innovative" in terms of creating something approaching completely new ideas in film and form, in terms of audacity, well, I don't think he's _ever_ been really innovative. And, again, THAT'S FINE. I don't think that's a bad thing, at all, because I don't think the man _needs_ to innovative, I don't think anybody _needs_ to be innovative, if they're good. Which is, of course, a determination that's certainly up for discussion and subject to matters of taste and opinion.

Which brings us to another formal grouping of his films, which we could call Straightforward Old-Fashioned Comedies-- no bifircuated or jumbled or otherwise particularly eccentric structure, no surreal asides, just actors and actresses photographed attractively exchanging one-liners with varying degrees of felicity, and if by "innovative" you mean, "anything but those", well, I guess I can see your point; for some Allen fans, his Dreamworks period in the early aughties was a particular nadir. Personally, I found Anything Else to be not without interest (worth seeing once, I think, for the spectacle of Woody Allen beaming a car with a baseball bat), and I liked both Hollywood Ending (great pratfall!; interesting structure w/r/t the character's son) and Curse of the Jade Scorpion very much, and found them both to very interesting in that I never stopped smiling from start to finish. I know this seems to be a minority opinion, however. The last comedy of Allen's that I saw was Whatever Works, and I found it so abysmal-- largely because I think Larry David is one of the least funny men on the planet-- I think I know what it felt like for some of my friends who really couldn't stand Hollywood Ending.

Or, the TL,DR version: I don't think the man's been in decline for ten years. Maybe four or five years, though if the reviews of VICKY etc. are to be believed, he's still quite capable of batting 'em out of the park.

And while this doesn't help my argument (such as it is), there's something that's been bugging me for a while and perhaps someone can help me out here. I'm pretty sure that in one of Allen's films from the 90s, he re-uses his "polymorphously perverse" joke from one of his 70s films-- which would be the very definition of literally repeating himself, if only for the duration of one gag. Does anyone know which 90s film it was? Or did I just imagine it?

Matt Dutto

@Tom, it was in CELEBRITY. Either Kenneth Branagh said about/to Charlize Theron or she said it about herself.

Also, re: Kurosawa, his decline began with DREAMS. DERSU UZULA and RAN rank among his best work and I like KAGEMUSHA quite a bit. DODES'KA-DEN is problematic, but ultimately worthwhile.

Kent Jones

Gak - Donald Richie's name is spelled without a "t."


What the hell, I got it right the first time.

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