|The theater where I would discover Woody Allen|
Random Thoughts on Why Woody Allen Isn't a Good Filmmaker
The collapse of Woody Allen's relevance as a filmmaker started before the allegations concerning his daughter. Somewhere before everyone turned on him for what may or may not happened he simply stopped making films that were worthy of all of the kudos thrown his way. To be honest I'm not sure why or how he continued to get so many great people to work with him when his output over the last 30 years has been largely less than stellar.
At this point I am going to say I will not be going into discussing what may or may not have happened largely because I don't know. Frankly after talking with a number people who know both Woody and Mia over the years the only thing I know for certain is what is in the media is probably not what happened, if anything happened at all. I'm just glad I don't know either in real life.
Recently I was watching WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT and realizing how bad Woody Allen is as an actor and director (I know he didn't direct it but I realized the difference between this film and Woody's point and shoot style). His material is funny, I mean I was roaring at Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole chewing the scenery around them, and I stopped when Woody showed up as I realized that just what a one trick pony he is on screen. Here he is in 1965 playing the exact same role, with rare exception, that he would be playing for the next half century. What is worse is the realization that he is absolutely horrible. In all seriousness watch PUSSYCAT and watch Allen, he's terrible and terribly out of place. As I was watching him I was horrified because it's clear he never changed his performance.
PUSSYCAT got me to revisit some of his films again, and while some have held up, a good number of them have not. Certainly his joking and obsession with young girls comes across as skeevy, but the truth is a lot of his films just don't work any more.
Before I go any further you have to understand that how good his films are depend upon the women in his life. Who he was with determines if his films are any good. The films break down as follows
THE PRE-DIANE KEATON FILMS are WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT to EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX. These films are uneven. While he didn't direct PUSSYCAT it s still clearly his film. The films are good but not great.
THE DIANE KEATON FILMS are SLEEPER to STARDUST MEMORIES plus MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY. These contain some of his best and most consistent work. ANNIE HALL doesn't hold up any more (maybe because its been riffed on too much to be taken seriously), and MANHATTAN now has young girl issues that are hard to look past. While STARDUST is not a Keaton film it still belongs there because it is good and because it does not belong in the next section.
THE MIA FARROW FILMS- A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY to HUSBANDS AND WIVES which is a run that starts off good and then drifts before HUSBANDS gets him back into form, You can see how the early days of romance shine and then he gets complacent before the tensions spark HUSBANDS.
EARLY SOON-YI runs from BULLETS OVER BROADWAY to MIGHTY APHRODITE, which had Woody on an Oscar run. It's Woody dealing with the break up with Mia on to becoming a "happily" married man. The tensions in that period produced some good work.
LATE SOON YI which runs EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU to the present which is a slow decline into laziness and irrelevance as he repeats himself more than usual, the camera work is dull and the writing is far from sharp except in the odd scene or film (MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is probably the last complete good thing he's done since BULLETS)
Think about his body of work and you realize that he really hasn't done anything great since BULLETS in 1994. Any good film since then seems to be considered a flawed film from a master director. Yes there have been Oscar nominations and wins but that was largely because he had great performers doing great things with weak scripts.
The trouble is that the reality is that he's probably made a dozen really good films out of the sixty or so that he's done. And only one of them came from the last three decades.
For me the great films are:
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY
ZELIG (arguably his best film)
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (though this is dating)
MANHATTAN MURDER MYTERY
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
And I would throw in LOVE AND DEATH just because it was my way into Woody. And maybe BROADWAY DANNY ROSE
Other than that there are are some good films, some okay films and a whole bunch of shit, and while they all have great moments most don't work narratively completely.
And that's the rub with most of Woody's films- they don't work as whole films. There are bumps and scrapes and where some could be the result of life, you realize watching his films that he's making the same mistakes and telling the same stories over and over again. Its these quirky romances that don't quite work out.
I would also argue that over the last 20 years that he's also telling stories that don't exist in the real world but only in his head. I mean lets face it once he took up with Soon Yi he disconnected with reality and his young protagonists all feel wrong. None of his characters, or very few, are living and breathing humans, and if they are, say the characters in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, its because the cast is good. And if you want to be brutal you can go all the way back to and past ANNIE HALL you realize that most of the characters are TV caricatures and not real people that only exist in the writer's head.
Seriously look at a list of his films and tell me how many have real people in them- and even if they do (say INTERIORS, ANOTHER WOMAN) they have other flaws. Look at his films and tell me how many work, really work, as a whole film.
Looking back at the films in the wake of PUSSYCAT it's clear that outside of some moments and the odd film, Woody was never really good. He could give us some moments, or a fine little side dish but he never really put a whole meal together. Granted that side dish was so good we kept coming back, but I don't know if we were ever really satisfied.
The New York Jewish Film Festival begins Wednesday. I will have a curtain raiser with recommendations starting tomorrow.
If you are a interested in history I highly suggest you jump over to the OLD IS BEST YouTube channel. What is of interest is that they have posted hours and hours of old news broadcasts from the 30s, 40s and 50's. What is so intriguing about it is you will hear events as they were originally reported. I found it looking for D-Day and Pearl Harbor news reports but what I found was so much more. Even as a history buff I was flabbergasted at what I was hearing since the neatness of the history books was replaced with messy details of things I never knew about.
I highly recommend you go here and check it out.