Friday, October 24, 2008


AHG 25 – The "Woody Allen" Issue

I've been in what I call "lockdown" since I came back from wherever it was I was earlier this summer. I have a little too much work to do and since it's all speculative or worse, unpaid, it just makes sense to just stay home every day and write and cook beets.

The only real exception I've been making is for when "Jesse" comes to town. She even got me out and drinking in the day time once – a pretty rare thing for somebody who generally likes to live by Mencken's credo:

"First, never drink if you've got any work to do. Never. If I've got a job of work to do at 10 o'clock at night, I wouldn't take a drink up to that time. Secondly, never drink alone. That's the way to become a drunkard. And thirdly, even if you haven't got any work to do, never drink while the sun is shining. Wait until it's dark. By that time you're near enough to bed to recover quickly."
Of course, sometimes my job involves drinking alcohol – in the day, even. At least I sometimes claim that my job involves drinking alcohol in the day.

But I digress. The point is that there I was, out in the middle of the day, drinking with "Jesse," "Sherry," "Hugh," and "Adrian" when suddenly "Scott" came in and completely changed the tone of the day. And by that, I mean that he wanted us to do shots.

So, in order to justify my drinking to my inner Mencken, we turned the topic to film. That made it seem like I was working a little. Not that I do much film stuff for a living anymore. I used to teach a course at U of T with a lady named "Sara" but our enrolment was low and so we got axed. Actually a lot of my teaching got axed recently. And so, should you have any work for me – consulting, teaching, writing a very short brilliant column on any topic I feel like for a lot of money, sweeping the floor etc – I'd love to hear from you.

But I digress. Again. There we were drinking in the afternoon and talking about the exciting possibility that Woody Allen might be releasing a movie that doesn't completely suck when "Scott" revealed that he had never even seen a Woody Allen movie.

Not liking Woody Allen, I can accept. But never having seen one? How is that even possible? And, to make matters worse, Scott said that every time he flipped by one of his films on his way to something else, the characters were always just talking about themselves – often on a therapist's couch.

That, of course, led to another round of shots and heated debate. Then I came home and forgot all about the whole conversation until one day recently, when I was too depressed to get out of bed (in my defense, it's a really comfy bed) and there was a Woody Allen marathon playing. So while Al went off to work (or wherever it is he goes sometimes), I just stayed put and watched Radio Days, Purple Rose of Cairo and Crimes and Misdemeanours and thought about the project of trying to get somebody who hates Woody Allen interested in watching Woody Allen.

Here are my thoughts:

“Andrea” loves Bananas. I totally get why. And that wouldn’t be a bad way for “Scott” to start. His very early films are all slapstick and absurdist fantastic comedy. And you gotta love that. But “Andrea” also thinks that every film after is an apology for his first. Intriguing position but, ultimately, I don’t think she’s correct.

But I do agree that in the 1970s he did go a little far in the other direction. In those films, he expressed his intellectual leanings and with Annie Hall and Manhattan, his characters are a part of realist dramas and are often mostly mouthpieces for his ideas about philosophy.

But when the guy got to Zelig, Radio Days and The Purple Rose of Cairo, he figured out how to stop having his big ideas simply expressed by his characters. He figured out instead (in a way that is only transcendent genius) how to make the stories themselves express the philosophical ideas he’d been trying to work out with his characters. How do we negotiate the line between fantasy and reality? How do we maintain selfhood and identity? Is there a unique selfhood and identity which is possible in a post-modern subject?

Except way less pedantic and academic than that. Because he’d figured out how to marry his comic genius to his intellectual wanderings in about six brilliant films.
“Andrea” thinks Purple Rose is boring. I profoundly disagree. It’s mesmerizing. And I’ve seen it so many times that, not only do I know precisely what Mia Farrow will say to Jeff Daniels, I also know what Jeff Daniels' fictional character said to Ina Beasley in Dancing Doughboys. And, although I know how the movie will end, I desperately want it to be different this time. Perhaps Mia Farrow will stop one time and face the screen and say” “You've seen this film a lot of times. What should I do here?”

But in the end, in a way it doesn’t matter. Cecilia chose wrong. And continues to chose wrong every time I watch it. What’s worse, no matter what I would tell her, she’d choose wrong. And no matter what all the fictional characters advise, she chooses wrong every time.

“Because then you see, the story has tragic proportions.”

“But that’s fiction. That’s movies. You’ve seen too many movies. I’m talking about reality. If you want a happy ending, you should see a Hollywood movie.” (Crimes and Misdemeanours)

But it isn’t a happy ending. She chooses reality and gets burned. And it’s only when she chooses to lose herself in a Hollywood movie (and I still get chills here) and chooses to go back into fantasy that she can survive.

Reading outside the film and putting it into the context of Allen’s life, what makes it particularly brutal is that the director himself seems to be working out his intensely personal problems on screen. The rest of his oeuvre seems to be one giant celebration of his love for hookers and a rehearsal for screwing over Mia Farrow and doing something grossly inappropriate with a young woman who may or may not be related.

Now I’m the first person to admit that watching the guy work out how he will fuck up in the future may be distasteful and the equivalent of watching of a giant train wreck. I like that sort of thing. You may not. But I think we should all rally for Scott to go out and rent Zelig. Or at least What’s Up, Tiger Lily. Or, at the very least, Bananas.

That’s it this month. Al’s covering some little baseball event in Florida or something. New films and a new Al’s Corner next month, we promise.