Thursday, February 22, 2018

My Problem with Woody Problem-ers


All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.- Woody Allen (Deconstructing Harry)

The venerable A.O.Scott of the New York Times has been writing a series of hand-wringing articles about Woody Allen, of which this is one. Scott's opinion on Allen's so called later works is as superficial as it is widespread. But it is disappointing because Scott has often been reasonably perceptive in his film assessment, a rarity cherished by the likes of me - fans of Allen who lack the articulation to elaborate why he is an artist who speaks to us like noone else does.

It is disappointing because Scott has actually not done what he postures to have done.



Beyond genuflecting to the zeitgeist and feeling warm about doing so, he actually does not make a case for why and how he has exactly revised his judgement - which he drummed up as his 'job as a critic'. It has become standard fare now to burnish ones yesteryear fan credentials and adoration only to showcase how one has made the right moral decision incurring much personal loss to excise one's idols. The interwebz is thick with thinkpieces which revel in such self-congratulatory smugness. But more than anything else, they reveal a rather appalling superficiality in assessing Allen's works in the first place.


 I and so many of my colleagues have ignored or minimized its uglier aspects. 

doesn't cut it at all.

The parts that he feels uncomfortable about are not minor aspects of the work. They are essential to appreciating the works. What exactly was his takeaway to - for instance, the 'God's answer to Job' scene in Manhattan? How else would one receive this hilarious scene in 'Play It Again Sam'?

I have barely been able to suppress a smile about the 'Woody writes women well' refrain. The way he reduces the women in some of his works is barely hidden. His lens and sympathies are undoubtedly male. That said, we cannot conveniently ignore how Woody has skewered male ineptitude, placed men squarely responsible for their predicaments, laying bare their own duplicitous and convenient reduction of their women - so they can rationalize and survive.


The way his films rise above the characters and place them on display for us to judge and engage with - is what makes him the artist he is. For a film critic to say, he suddenly feels the urge to rescue-read is curious.

This attempt to have it both ways need to be resisted. One has to choose between two positions: 'not getting Woody Allen's works this long in the first place OR refusing to disavow them 'even' now. I am afraid, I don't see any middle ground.


Young girl Old Man Dynamic
It is not even a matter of debate that people are channeling their discomfort about Allen's marriage and his general eagerness to normalize relationship to lend credence to the molestation charge.

The WaPo story quoted by Scott tries really hard to say from troving 'secret files' what is pretty much out in the open in his films and writing anyway. 


Manhattan is very self-conscious about the relationship of course and it is all over his other works too. But it takes a befuddling level of blindness to receive them as situations where 'men come out on top' or let off easily - not just in terms of  plot progression, but in the very set-up itself.

  • Isn't it clear as sunlight to us that C&M's Landau is never going to get serious about Angelica Huston? How much more invested you feel with him than with - the much inferior- Match's point's lead's predicament. In the latter he is a self-serving amoral twerp. In the former we agree, of course he can't associated with Huston. Which incriminates us - the audience- with the crime and engages us with the moral quandary
  • In Husbands and Wives
    • Sydney Pollack crawls back to Judy Davis, after his cocktail waitress girlfriend embarrasses him talking about zodiac signs in parties - how many layers of judgement captures in that moment. How indicted are you - the audience - when you 'understand' the embarrassment and comeuppance.
    • Woody's character is scythed through by Juliette Lewis - making a mockery of wisdom and age. 
  • Pearl in Interiors relaxes the father from the intellectual pressure of being married to the mother of the girls. A study on how a gender-inversion does not mean situational-inversion - jaw-dropping in getting one to consider the nature of gender relations better
The men (Pollack etc.) can confess to being tired having to be their wife's equals and pick 'comfort' - some cases they last, some they don't.
Whereas the women 'pulled up the ladder' react differently - or rather are shown to be expected to react differently.  

These are coarse reductions and one could go on, but hopefully the point is made. 
To sum up with one example:

Annie: What's so great about New York? I mean, it's a dying city. You read Death in Venice..
Alvy: Hey! You didn't read 'Death in Venice' till I bought it for you..
    How does Alvy come across here? And insofar as it is quasi-autobiographical in characterization (or atleast so received in pop-imagination), is it sparing of Woody? Of men? Hardly. 

    The male gaze that Woody employs, that reduces women is the very same one that he turns inward to routinely exposes men at their most vulnerable. To speak only of the former without talking about the latter, is an insensible but fashionable prevarication.






    Annie Hall ends with a Pyrrhic victory of Alvy gloating over seeing Annie take her boyfriend to 'The Sorrow and the Pity". In a world order where you are supposed to feel Pygmalion is an invidious rat-bastard and little else, the A.O.Scotts feels the need to forswear the enjoyment of this moment.As far as I am concerned, it shall remain the most affecting, romantic, tragic moments wrapped inside a funny, self-defeating depiction - a signature of a true artist.

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