This week Will reconciles the fact that he doesn’t want to go to Therapy with Woody Allen…but still is attached to his films.
Regardless of what you think of Woody Allen, Woody Allen won’t think of you in less regard. He probably wont think of you at all. He’s too busy. His job list unfold something like this: screenwriter, director, actor, comedian, author, playwright, and musician. Yes, yes, I know. Every time you hear someone lauded today, a long list of descriptors and slash-categories normally follow their name to instill artistic gravitas. (Ben Affleck: actor/ director/ producer/ screenwriter/ Mallrat/ Batman. James Franco: actor/ director/ screenwriter/ producer/ teacher/ author/ experimental filmmaker/ weirdo/ body-pillow lover.)
You get the idea.
However, in Woody Allen’s case he’s been doing this for over 50 years. His pace clocks in at almost a film a year…and that’s just directing. His writing credits are another abundant story. I’ve been acquainted with the films of Woody Allen for near 20 years and had no idea he wrote plays. So much of what he creates can fly under the radar simply because there is so much of it. He doesn’t stop making film or writing plays or playing jazz.
Last week, I was able to sojourn to the east bay and see the Actors Ensemble of Berkley production of Relatively Speaking. This showcases three one act comedies: “Talking Cure” by Ethan Coen, “George is Dead” by Elaine May, and “Honeymoon Motel”by … you guessed it… Woody Allen. Each of these three writers excel in their craft. Yet the JPM (jokes per minute) count falls easily in Allen’s court. He delves into his own creative archetypes (The wise cracking rabbi, the shrewd wife, the witty but morally questionable leading man, the baseball-loving best friend, the young mistress, the wise everyman who shows up with the moral, etc) and then packs in as many jokes as possible.
It’s terribly funny and the physical hilarity is very well orchestrated. Colin Johnson, who directed “Honeymoon Motel” had this to say, “Our play is gonna feel like the early, funny Woody. Even though he wrote the play in 2011, it’s more in the vein of [his films] Bananas (1971) and Sleeper (1973) and padded with a lifetime of punch lines.” Having watched Bananas recently I can tell you that similarly to “Honeymood Motel” the jokes are rapid, the physical comedy is ridiculously and the plot is…there to hold up the jokes. Since it is comedy, the thin plot works. To quote the movie, if anyone were taking this story seriously it would be “a travesty… a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” Seeing Woody deliver that line in Bananas never fails to crack me up. Hell, even reading it in plain white print makes me chuckle.
There is no doubt he knows his craft. He’s been nominated for 24 Academy Awards, four of which he won. Six different actors have earned Oscars in his films and three times as many were nominated. We are all aware the list of accolades goes on. The films keep coming. But Allen often appears dismissive of his films. Is this just part of his self-depreciation persona or are other personal issue at play? Does Woody Allen even care about his beloved films? More importantly, does that change how we receive his films?
Allen has said, “I do the movies just for myself like an institutionalized person who basket-weaves. Busy fingers are happy fingers. I don’t care about the films. I don’t care if they’re flushed down the toilet after I die.”
It sounds as if, he makes film out of compulsion instead of any need for artistic gratification. His creative sensibilities are like a faucet that gurgles and spouts and flows smooth but cannot be shut. It makes sense from that stand point that the Golden Globes named him this year’s Cecil B. Demille award recipient for life time achievement.
Although his quote above was entirely dismissive, Allen also has said this, “All the success over it or the rejection, none of that really matters because in the end, the thing will survive or not survive on its merits.” I would say that regardless of personal taste, it would take a particular narrow outlook to say Woody Allen is without merit. Not many are saying that but from time to time an artist like Allen has his art overshadowed by his personal life. What we often get is a split between private and artistic personas. Allen strays from public life, refraining from plentiful interviews and avoiding award ceremonies. Yet he puts so much of himself into his film year in and year out, it is easy to feel like you know him.
To be honest these issues are hard for me to reconcile. When I started out writing, my point was going to round the “art before the artist” stance. I felt that my interaction with Woody Allen was clear-cut. He makes movies, I watch them. What does it matter what his personal life is like? I don’t have to hang out with him. Often I have this response. I don’t have to get a drink with Mel Gibson, I don’t have to buy a sofa with Tom Cruise, and I don’t have to go to therapy with Woody Allen. Though I do love many of the movies they’ve made. The nature of art and artists are complicated in grey. Oversimplifying does not do justice to either side. My enjoyment is now murky.
In the end, I can definitively say this: Woody Allen’s contribution to cinema is immense, I hold a handful of his films close to my heart, I will continue to see them and you should see Relatively Speaking (with the Allen penned “Honeymoon Motel”) at the Live Oak Theatre. With all of his neurosis distilled down to punch lines, just like the best of his pure comedies, it’s worth the time.
Relatively Speaking runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. til Jan. 25th, 2014
Any number of Woody Allen films can be streamed or rented through the regular streaming avenues.
Fine, Alex. Woody Allen Oscar. N.d. Photograph. http://www.whitezine.comWeb. 21 Jan 2014.
James Franco, Spiderman, Ben Affleck, Daredevil. 2013. Photograph. http://www.eonline.comWeb. 21 Jan 2014.
Kaminska, Anna. Final Dress Rehearsal. 2013. Photograph. http://www.aeofberkley.org. Web. 21 Jan 2014.
Still of Woody Allen. N.d. Photograph. http://www.imdb.comWeb. 21 Jan 2014.
I love his films – and I’m usually able to forget about Woody Allen the man while I’m watching them – but “Honeymoon Hotel” – with its ‘Step-Father of the Groom running off with the Young Bride’ plot creeped me out. I laughed plenty, sure, but I was also a bit stricken with horror.
I haven’t read any interview with him, so I wasn’t aware he’d held such an overtly dismissive opinion of his work. Although it makes sense when you note things like the fact that the DVDs/Blu-Rays for his have NO extra features. At all. Just the film; MAYBE the trailer. The sound mix can go either way.
Woody Allen is a bit easier in terms of separating the artist from the art… that is, depending on what aspect of his personal life is in question. Soon-Yi was 19 when they got together and she was Mia’s adopted daughter, not his. The post-break-up accusations of child molestation are too “he said/she said” for either side to be definitive. So whereas such lauded paedophiles as Roman Polanski, Victor Salva, and R. Kelly are all guilty because of incontrovertible evidence, whether or not one holds Allen in that regard is subjective. (Except of course for the fact that he did cheat on his live-in girlfriend with her adopted daughter, which is a MAJOR dick move)
However… it is hard to separate the man from his work when you look at the recurring themes/tropes/cliches in said work. Yes, many actresses have worked with him to great acclaim, but his opinion of women never seems to rise above “they are the problem and must be dealt with (if not flat-out dispatched)”. And Mariel Hemingway’s underage ingenue from Manhattan doesn’t help matters either.
And I say this as someone who does admire… a percentage of his worth. With such a prolific resume, obviously some work will be better than others. But I am of his ’70s films and Midnight in Paris is one of my favourite films of the past ten years. I have the advantage of not being a professional critic, so I can more easily acknowledge when personal bias influences my opinion of art. And if ever it were true that no artist is above personal or professional criticism, it’s Woody Allen.
One of these days I’ll post a comment without revealing myself to be an idiot via HTML code.
Well said, Charles. I’m sorry I didn’t check this sooner. I think you made some very well supported points. Do you think the “They are the problem and must be dealt with” women issue applies to Sweet and Low Down / Mighty Aphrodite / Everyone Says I Love You? I feel like he reveres so many of his women characters…while dispatching others. There’s so much of his filmography I still need to catch up with.
I’ll answer this properly soon, but for now I’ll say these comments are VERY awkward after Dylan Farrow’s op-ed piece.