Friday, January 2, 2009

Woody Allen and his magnificent oeuvre

I think I must be, quietly, one of the most dedicated and loyal Woody fans in the universe! Not that I participate in all that traditional fan activity stuff, but that I've seen all his movies and love them all. Literally! Even Stardust Memories which came out in 1980 and was fairly universally panned, only because everybody who saw it, except me, misunderstood it! (See note 1 below).

What I like about Woody is his vision. It's utterly consistent, has been fleshed out in every conceivable dimension throughout his long career, and neatly underpins his humour, his exaggerated Jewishness, his acting and directorial style, his choice of actors, his choice of wives and girlfriends, his musical passions, his obsession with New York, his European longings, etc.

What is his vision? Two films, in my view, exquisitely express it: Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and his latest Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Woody's always grappling with the tension between the thrill of a transitory romantic attraction and the faithfulness required of a deeper, long term, usually marital commitment.

While he loves beautiful, passionate, preferably young women and continually explores and enjoys the emotional vicissitudes associated with male involvement with them, he always undercuts with a clear, almost moral, preference for marriage. He never lets the romance triumph over the familial and social obligations of the deeper, personal, institutional relationship.

It's surprising how many critics and reviewers miss this essential point. For example Margaret Pomeranz confesses she can't handle Woody's attitude to women anymore: he pits youthful beauty against the harridan, echoing his personal life. Wrong Margaret. Something a lot deeper is happening here and you're not noticing it.

Paul Byrnes, writing in the Herald, has Woody exalting romantic Barcelona-type relationships against boorish American bourgeois banality. Wrong Paul. Precisely the opposite is happening.

Woody doesn't exalt marriage, but nor does he simply tolerate it. He recognises the necessity of it and celebrates the heroism of it. And he conveys exquisitely the mundane, tough reality of it.

I also think he's honest about it, as he knows not all of us are up to it.

It's a wonderful, life affirming vision, told obliquely, skillfully and artfully.

See Vicky Cristina Barcelona and hire out Hannah and Her Sisters and tell me I'm wrong.

(Note 1: In the opening scene of Stardust Memories Woody departs the train station in a carriage, but his gaze is fixed on the people in the adjacent carriage departing in the opposite direction. They are all uniformly beautiful. After making Annie Hall, Interiors and Manhattan, Woody is telling us that he is now taking a ride with the uglies! The camera pans his fellow travellers, those in his carriage, and we get the point...! Woody has a few basics to get across and have his audience emotionally confront).


  1. agreed! i saw vicky cristina barcelona yesterday. thought it was great. despite the annoying scoffs of disapproval by the older members of the crowd, who obviously didnt get what the point was and only looked at the pictures. woody certainly has his style all figured out. i cant stand movies that go in and out of styles all throughout, its quiet painful to watch. as far as im concerned woody and wes anderson and do it best...
    good work!

  2. Hey, thanks Rohan!

    See you in the cultural capital soon?