Should Woody Allen quit films?

Af­ter the mauling given to his latest re­lease, Cas­san­dra’s Dream, we ask two crit­ics if it is time for the once-great di­rec­tor to hang up his cam­era

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

BY GER­ALD AARON

YESCHUTZPAH, AND ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent p r o p e l l e d the short, short­sighted red­head from Brook­lyn from gag-writer to suc­cess­ful stand-up co­me­dian, play­wright, un­likely film star and on to Os­car-win­ning film­maker and to leg­endary sta­tus in the movie world.

Now, af­ter a run of de­servedly ill-re­ceived movies, Allen’s chutz­pah has be­gun to re­sem­ble some­thing ap­proach­ing creative mega­lo­ma­nia.

“I al­ways made what­ever I’ve wanted,” he says, “whether it was a mu­si­cal or a black-and-white film or a Bergmanesque drama. What­ever strikes me as in­ter­est­ing at that time, that’s what I make. And I hope the au­di­ence likes it. If they don’t like it, there’s noth­ing I can do about it; I’m off on the next one.”

And to prove it, just as Cas­san­dra’s Dream opened in the UK last week, his latest movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona was screen­ing at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Allen is al­ready busy shoot­ing his next film in New York.

Hap­pily he has ceased cast­ing him­self as an over-age ro­man­tic lead op­po­site women young enough to be his daugh­ters. But fol­low­ing fail­ures like Any­thing Else and his dis­as­trous Bri­tish­made trip­tych Match Point, Scoop and the re­viled Cas­san­dra’s Dream, it is surely time for Allen to en­ter creative re­hab andquit­se­rial­movie-mak­ing.Even­now it may al­ready be too late to pre­vent his ac­knowl­edged clas­sics be­ing tainted by his sub­se­quent hack work.

Allen is now 72. It is many a year since he made a worth­while film. Tal­ent, even ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent, dims with time, and in Allen’s case, ex­ile from the familiar sur­round­ings of Man­hat­tan, so of­ten his muse in the past, seems to have has­tened the process. The dis­as­trous drop in qual­ity has more or less co­in­cided with Allen hav­ing to trek round Europe seek­ing funds to carry on work­ing.

Worka­holic Woody, how­ever, is only in­ter­ested in con­tin­u­ing to make movies, watched or un­watched, and shows no in­ter­est in his rep­u­ta­tion, declar­ing that he does not have “the slight­est in­ter­est” in the fate of his films once he has fin­ished them.

He re­ally should. As cel­e­brated Amer­i­can movie com­men­ta­tor Joe Queenan has writ­ten: “Peo­ple don’t talk about Woody Allen movies any more, not even peo­ple who had been breath­lessly wait­ing for his latest re­lease since their univer­sity days.”

In his view, the di­rec­tor is “a spent force”. Re­gret­tably, that ap­pears to be true. It is time Allen gave him­self and us a break and rested on his lau­rels. Ger­ald Aaron is the JC’s film critic

BY TOM AITKEN

NOIN HIS 1980 film Star­dust Mem­o­ries, the char­ac­ter played by Woody Allen says: “Me, nar­cis­sis­tic? No, the Greek char­ac­ter I iden­tify with is Zeus.” Noth­ing could bet­ter en­cap­su­late the man and di­rec­tor, and his ap­peal. He is ar­ro­gant, he knows it, and can send him­self up for be­ing so.

Look­ing back over his 42 years as a di­rec­tor, start­ing with What’s Up Tiger Lily? in 1966, it is hard to think of an­other who has so con­sis­tently at­tracted praise and blame in equal mea­sure.

Some wag once said that Allen’s world was con­fined to three blocks in cen­tral Man­hat­tan, and it is true that the films of his that have at­tracted most praise are set there and deal with the sort of peo­ple who live there.

This has lim­ited his ap­peal. How many peo­ple in Peo­ria (the small Mid­West Amer­i­can town made fa­mous by the in­dus­try’s anx­ious ques­tion “Will it play in Peo­ria?”) would recog­nise, let alone rel­ish, the line about Nar­cis­sus and Zeus quoted above?

More to the point, per­haps, is an­other ques­tion: how many of them would be in the least abashed by their “fail­ure”?

But Allen’s lim­i­ta­tions should not blind us to the im­por­tance of his con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can cin­ema. Writer Ephraim Katz de­scribed him as “one of Amer­ica’s most in­ven­tive and idio­syn­cratic film­mak­ers”.

From An­nie Hall (1977) on­wards, his scripts ceased to be driven en­tirely by the one-lin­ers he had honed dur­ing his time as a stand-up comic; the jokes arose from char­ac­ter and sit­u­a­tion, and An­nie Hall, Man­hat­tan and the Os­car­win­ning Han­nah and Her Sis­ters (1986) are among his most ad­mired and best­loved films.

Film writer Chris Peach­ment wrote of Han­nah that it “comes down on the side of the best things in life: the pri­macy of love and feel­ing, qual­i­fied hope, and the fragility of it all”.

In his later phases, Allen has been pre­pared to por­tray some ex­tremely un­pleas­ant peo­ple, pro­vok­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­an­thropy.

This, com­bined with the ef­fect on his Amer­i­can pub­lic of his re­la­tion­ship with Mia Far­row’s adopted daugh­ter, drove him into ex­ile in Lon­don, where the films he has made have not been con­vinc­ing.

It should, there­fore, be good news that he is re­turn­ing to his much-loved New York to shoot the film he will re­lease in 2009.

Given that he is only 72, and that his heroIng­marBergman­made­his­last­film at the age of 85, hav­ing re­cov­ered from thetrau­main­duced­bytrou­bleswith­the Swedish tax au­thor­i­ties al­most 30 years be­fore, there is no rea­son to sup­pose that Allen should aban­don his ca­reer.

There a few direc­tors who have made no dis­ap­point­ing films. Allen has made many fine ones in the past; why should he not do so again? Tom Aitken cov­ers film for the Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment and BBC Ra­dio

PHOTO: AP

Woody Allen on set. He says he is un­in­ter­ested in the fate of his films

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