Imperfect Perfection: Woody Allen

There are few filmmakers I have found simultaneously wonderful and monotonous in my years of watching movies, but Woody Allen is definitely a superb example. I don’t mean to insinuate that I don’t like him at all, because in fact, I love him. It’s simply meant to intimate how wonderful his films are, despite their tendency to cover ground previously tread upon. To me, this is simply signature territory for Allen, and I love him ever more because he has stuck to his guns (neuroses, NYC WASP-yness, love of film history, etc.) while constantly producing films that provoke, make us laugh, and above all else, endear their creator to us evermore.

A personal favorite of mine, MANHATTAN, features the most beautiful cinematography that has ever been captured of New York City. Gordon Willis's superb work in black and white creates one of the quintessential American movies, with striking views of the city, and lovingly composed portraits of the characters as envisioned by Allen. The film, which I consider his finest achievement as both a writer and a director, follows Isaac Davis, a writer, who is dating a high school girl, and who becomes enthralled by another woman (frequent collaborator Diane Keaton) and ultimately affects the lives of everyone around him. It is the one film I think about when I think of Woody Allen as an artist.

Beauty in the city: MANHATTAN may be Allen's crowning achievement.

Of course, he has his detractors, and some of them are right in their dissent. Allen is a figure of love-it-or-hate it stature because of his constant riffing on the same themes and subjects. And, his tendency to backtrack has created an impressive number of misfires (CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION comes to mind). But who can compare at all to his output in his prime? With an impressive string of hits beginning with TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and lasting through CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, and going on beyond that, Allen is responsible for so much of cinema’s greatness in the last half of the 20th Century that it seems downright despicable that anyone would completely renounce him. Even past his prime, his film making is better than most, with BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, SWEET AND LOWDOWN, and the critically lauded MATCH POINT being among the most shining examples, but I would also offer the under appreciated and thoroughly funny SMALL TIME CROOKS as an answer to the completely abysmal state of American comedy at the time of its production.

Sure, the misfires have happened, but they’re interesting misfires. And they deserve to be seen, if not for their quality, then at least for the understanding of where they fit into his body of work. There are precious few filmmakers I would even consider seeing everything they made, no matter how much I like one or two movies of theirs. But for some reason, Woody Allen’s name attached to a project has always intrigued me, and made it a “must-see” for myself, because I know that it means something, even if to no one else than Allen itself. And to have that type of talent: to make something without pretense, out of the pure need to keep on doing what one knows how to do and trust the audience to find it and form their own opinions, is incredible. The only other filmmaker I know who puts that much faith in his own ability regardless of criticism is Werner Herzog...

So, what then, am I going on and on about? I just wanted to shine a light on Woody Allen, and remind people that he’s still here, still making thoughtful and wonderful pieces of art, and doing so at approximately double the rate of many directors less than half his age. Allen is, after all, an artist who used to do a Spring picture and a Winter picture. He’s still got a leg up on the competition as far as I’m concerned. In his 40+ years as a filmmaker, he’s directed 44 films, and has two more yet-to-be released. Without equivocation, his oeuvre deserves a hardy look by serious film students and lovers.

A great clip for those of you previously uninterested in this hot mess of an intellectual genius: Allen gets ready for a date in the great, great, great love letter to CASABLANCA that is PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM (which he wrote, but did not direct)...

No comments: