Woody Allen is my hero and it’s horrible

Woody Allen isn’t actually my hero and that headline is a little misleading.  I’m not making money of this though, so it’s fine.  I’m not buzz feed just yet.  He is however a kind of a film-making hero of mine.  And I say that with trepidation, because well he is probably a horrific child abuser.  Emphasis on the probably considering those accusations have never made their way to completion.  This doesn’t mean they’re not true of course, and the overwhelming consensus is that Mr Allen is a huge creep.  A huge creep, who in my opinion, has created some of the best films of the last fifty years.  Not only that but films that have influenced the entire movie business, and myself – how I act and see the world.  Does this mean that I’m a bad person? Does this mean that artistry requires torment?  These are two questions that I am almost certainly not going to answer but the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal has put a distaste of Hollywood in my mouth.  It is definitely a systematic regime of abuse from all corners, and the major question is: is it worth it all?  Is Pulp Fiction worth Weinstein’s disgusting nature traumatising young actresses?  Is The Usual Suspects worth Bryan Singer’s unhealthy relationship with young men?  Is my favourite film of all time Annie Hall worth Woody Allen’s possible paedophilia?

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To attempt to make this more about films, and less about the vile male gender, I’m going to talk about why I’m a fan of Allen’s work.  This will hopefully create distance between the sickness of the man and the greatness of the art…

Play it again, Sam (1972):  Essentially Allen’s first signs of his own neurotic style.  It’s a classic laugh a minute kind of comedy with a weird romantic edge.  Allen himself is great in it – doing his typical paranoid character.  It’s based on his own Broadway play, and this means small concept, which works.  We also get a Diane Keaton in a more subdued role than usual, because Allen really is at the centre.  The simple joys in the comedy and the timing are what make this a great.  Interesting to note that Allen didn’t direct this film, Herbert Ross did, so there is little in terms of the picturesque that you get with Allen usually and it’s the writing where his nature comes out.

Manhattan (1979):  In terms of impact on the film world, this is right up there alongside Annie Hall.  It’s an aloof film, which is full of ideas.  The black and white leads to some really gorgeous cinematography from legendary DP Gordon Willis and gives the film a really obscure quality.  At its core it’s Allen poking fun at himself, being very self referential about his previous films and life.  The fact that it is a film about falling for a 17 year old of course begs a lot of questions but Allen’s other relationships in the film are more interesting to me.  Every time I watch it I find something new in there, and it is a literal cinema classic.

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Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989):  This is an odd film that over time has developed to be extremely appreciated.  It’s odd because Allen’s appearance in the film is incongruous to the rest of the narrative.  There’s a sense that two films have been glued together in a way.  Despite this, I feel like the clash works and the main plot is a tough conflicted look on guilt and I guess murder.  The conclusion to the film makes the strange dramatic ride worth it, and it stands out different in Allen’s filmography.

Match Point (2005):  The first film in this little list where Allen doesn’t feature, I think this an underrated film.  When I watched it I was mesmerised by the way Allen presents the story of love and infidelity.  It’s an incredibly tense thriller really, that is full of these juicy back and forth (like tennis) between the characters.  There’s deceit and fear and I think a wonderful central performance from Jonathan Rhys Meyers that is supported well by Scarlett Johansson.  Them together are totally screen grabbing and Allen’s screenplay design is punchier than it has ever been.

Midnight in Paris (2011):  A return to the typical form of Allen, this film encapsulates everything that is great about his films.  The scenery that is shot with beauty in mind, a thoughtful screenplay, and a sympathetic central character.  It is one of Allen’s more ambitious films of recent times and has a story that surprises but ultimately reflects himself once again.  Owen Wilson does a good job doing his best Woody Allen and following him in this film is properly lovely.  It’s a sign that Allen still has ideas that are intriguing and worth paying the ticket price to go and see.

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There are plenty of other films that I could have mentioned that I also love, such as: Hannah and her Sisters, Radio Days, Mighty Aphrodite and Café Society.  I chose not to write about Annie Hall because I love it so much.  Those five films should start to explain why Allen’s films are special to me and why a world without them would be extremely dull.  There is a magic to his films and whatever he may be as a man, his legacy on artistic level shouldn’t be tarnished.  He has, in the last 20 years, had more rubbish films than good ones and there is a sense of existential crisis in his work.  Perhaps it is time for him to die, perhaps his sins as a father, and an abuser should catch up to him.  He still has talent, 2016’s Café Society proves that, but for me he has given enough to cinema.  If he was to fade away then maybe some of that gross Hollywood masculinity will fade away with him.  Thankfully the future is hopeful because the dinosaurs are dying.  And to answer the ‘is it worth it?’ question I would say that without pain there is no brilliance, and without films like Annie Hall I’m not sure what kind of person I would be.  I’m in awe of artists like Allen, just as I am repulsed by them.

The Chemistry of Cafe Society

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The main reason I enjoy travelling by bus, rather than by train, is because it takes longer. This gives me the opportunity to listen to more things, mostly podcasts.  On the recent four hour bus journey I took, I listened to the Marc Maron podcast with Billy Crystal. During this two hour chat they discussed how growing up in New York made Woody Allen’s new film every year very important.  This is something that I can relate to, because the filmmaker has a stain on me that will never go away.  Therefore I was very much looking forward to seeing his new film ‘Cafe Society’, which I liked.  That’s a lot of context.

Finding a starting point for this is tough, because I came out of this film feeling very Woody Allen-ed.  That’s a term that you will only be familiar with if you have seen a decent amount of his films.  ‘Cafe Society’ is a nice film, it plods along, dipping into subject matter slightly darker or twisted every now and again, but mostly finds it’s weight floating on chemistry.  This is chemistry between characters, though also throughout the flow of the settings.  I’m hoping at least some of this makes sense.

Jesse Eisenberg’s character ‘Bobby’ is almost intolerable.  Thankfully a sweetness in him comes when he is put together with Kristen Stewarts character ‘Vonnie’.  As the film goes on their scenes are the highlight, that I believe comes from some mystic connection between them.  Allen’s dialogue is as usual extremely pleasant, however Eisenberg’s and Stewarts’ bind creates the joy of their scenes.  Their characters change with the running time, yet their chemistry stays constant, even if they become complete fools.  Despite all this, the strongest connection between characters comes in an odd place.  This is with ‘Bobby’ and Blake Lively’s ‘Veronica’, and this is strange because ‘Veronica’ is effectively used as a pawn for ‘Bobby’.  Consequently it becomes an indication of how Eisenberg’s character grows, as is confidence shines through in this relationship.  And thus ‘Veronica’ is seduced by it all, and the balance of the characters is created.  I also think it comes from how wonderful Lively is in this film, and she is a lovely addition to the second half of the picture.

Another welcome addition to the film is the club, as this is where the chemistry of setting is prominent.  Suddenly, bright lights, and a contemporary colour palette is thrown into the cinematography.  Allen crafts a booming setting, that is equally shallow as it is glossy. Thankfully the lack of depth is hidden by a fluid camera and by placing the protagonist ‘Bobby’ in the middle of it all.  From there the jigsaw comes together, and there is a satisfying watch as our now established characters weave there way through this one layer work of art.  And this could be a new side of Woody Allen, which isn’t bad considering he’s been making films since 1965.

Side-note:  I didn’t love this film, I just liked it.  Though once again I have been blinded by my admiration for Woody Allen, and was romanced by it all.