Friday, August 28, 2009

Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s whole schtick is creating a sort of you-had-to-be-there type of humor, only where you have to know the subjects he is talking about. Usually they are high brow philosophical subjects or bits of academia. The result is you don’t really laugh out loud, but you force a chuckle so that everyone watching with you knows that you a smart too. If you don’t get the jokes, you laugh anyway so that no one will realize you are ignorant. That may go a long way to explaining the popularity that he achieved among his generation. In fact, it helps that he has never achieved huge popularity because part of his mystique is that his audience feels like they are a sort of elite.

He does manage from time to time to almost create an interesting (if never completely entertaining) film by exploring some of the deep questions man has always asked about life, purpose, and the infinite. However, they are rarely fulfilling explorations because one gets the feeling that he never takes the questions seriously. That is because; while Allen likes asking the questions, he never expects an answer—he believes that there is not an answer to be had.

Some of the more noteworthy efforts:

Annie Hall: Allen’s popularly deemed “masterpiece” it has influenced every romantic comedy since, but ironically it is not particularly romantic or comedic.
Manhattan: One wonders if people defended the sexual relationship between Allen’s character and the minor in this film as “art” only to have it backfire in their faces when Allen was revealed to really be “into” teens.
Stardust Memories: Allen engaged in some heady navel-gazing, and simultaneously voicing his audience’s biggest frustration, “When are you going quit making these bizarre films to make another funny movie?”
Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy: How do these things ever get the go ahead? And how can you call this a comedy?
Zelig: A pretty amazing effort of film construction, but really too pointless and boring to be considered a story much less entertaining.
Broadway Danny Rose and Radio Days: Again, sort of pointless meanderings, but this time they are strangely some of his most entertaining efforts.
The Purple Rose of Cairo: One of his more interesting philosophical explorations.
Hannah and Her Sisters: Allen’s effort to correct his self-perceived error of not making Annie Hall depressing enough.
Crimes and Misdemeanors: Allen’s true masterpiece, full of interesting questions about God, right and wrong, and guilt with the only problem that it concludes that there is either no greater truths or they are at least irrelevant.

[Update: Midnight in Paris, a must see and perhaps his most satisfying film to date.]

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