It goes without saying, I believe, that Woody Allen’s filmography can easily be divided into categories: the early comedies, which were really nothing more than extended (if brilliant) sketches; the New York stories, urbane and sophisticated; the experiments in narrative structure; the recent and rather operatic work; the period pieces… of so many different periods. Feel free to add your own categories.
In my life, to paraphrase the Beatles, I have loved them all. I’m an unrepentant fan, but not a fanatic. My love of his work is nuanced, like any real love is supposed to be: I neither ignore nor excuse its flaws, but love the films anyway. The same, in fact, should be said of the man himself, but I have no interest in dissecting his lamentable personal decisions; it’s his art I’ve been thinking about of late.
(Yes, I realize how difficult it can be, particularly with Mr. Allen Konigsburg, to separate man and art… but I’m just going to do it. You don’t have to go on the ride with me if you don’t want to. Just pull the cord and I’ll make an unscheduled stop.)
In the decades during which I’ve been watching films, no director has meant more to me. Oddly, his work has meant very different things to me at very different times. I’ve discovered him chronologically (though his career began a handful of years before I was born). For the most part, I watched his movies in the order in which they were theatrically released, with the exception of a few of what I think of as his less successful films, like Interiors and September. I don’t think there’s another filmmaker to which I’ve been more loyal.
What watching his work chronologically meant, in practice, is that when I was young, I could enjoy the lower-brow comedy of What’s Up Tiger Lily? and Bananas and Sleeper, and when I was ready for sophisticated stories like Annie Hall and Manhattan, they magically appeared. Later, as I began writing myself with more devotion, he became a writer’s writer, telling stories like The Purple Rose of Cairo and Shadows and Fog and eventually Bullets Over Broadway and Deconstructing Harry and… I could go on, but you know the films as well as I do. Finally, when I was entering a phase in my career in which I started thinking about more epic storytelling, he gave the world Match Point, which strikes me as the culmination of everything he’s done throughout his career.
Of late, his work has begun (in my estimation) to decline. Cassandra’s Dream tried too hard. Whatever Works didn’t. At first, I was a bit grumpy about it—I expect more from him. But now, on reflection, I’m a bit ashamed to have felt that way. He’s given me so much over the years, and I really just ought to be grateful.
What I wonder about him is this: why haven’t his films been more widely appreciated? I understand that he’s not exactly geared toward playing in Peoria, but his films rely on enough star power to bring out the crowds, don’t they? Also: I try not to underestimate the desire of most Americans to watch thoughtful films, but for some reason, they don’t watch his. Why is that?
It can’t be concerns about his personal choices, troubling though they might be. (Yes, I seem to have ended up going there anyway. I shall not linger long.) He wasn’t exactly a box office sensation before he married his girlfriend’s daughter. And it’s not just the general public that doesn’t care for his work, either: the academy almost entirely neglects him. (Will somebody need to be bribed to give him a lifetime achievement award?) About the only people who care for his movies are… but you know what? I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. I care for his films; that’s about all I can say with certainty.
I more than care for his films: I love them. Aesthetically, intellectually, with unabashed delight and curiosity that knows no end. As of the writing of this blog post, I have yet to see You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger— its theatrical release coincided with the appearance in my house of my young son, who seems to have been born with the magical power to keep his mother and I from going to the cinema—but I am looking forward to it with a delight thoroughly undimmed by the failures of his recent work. I am unquenchably thirsty for more of his work.
Are you? Are you one of the few who buy tickets and actually see them in theaters? If so… why? What does he mean to you? And if not… what puts you off? I’d like to understand.