Woody Allen Retires 

Recently it was announced, straight from the horse’s mouth, that Woody Allen will be retiring from filmmaking. It’s been a long time coming for the 86-year-old, who will resign from his lifelong passion after finishing his fiftieth and last feature film: Wasp 22. The movie, set in Paris and shot entirely in French, marks a distinct change from his usual setting of Manhattan punctuated with neurotic kvetching. A lot must be said for the man with such a long and varied career, but it will undoubtedly be his sordid and hushed private life that people remember him for.

In fear of this article sounding like an obituary, I’ll focus, for a bit, on his very much bizarre and ongoing family affairs. Allen married Soon-Yi Previn when she was just 26 and he 61, but it isn’t the age difference that people sweat over. Soon-Yi was adopted by actress Mia Farrow and husband Andre Previn (of Morcombe and Wise fame) as a small child. After just a year in the Previn household, Soon-Yi was whisked away when Farrow left her spouse for the rugged Woody in 1979. In 1991, Farrow discovered nude photographs of her adopted daughter in Allen’s dresser, and he came clean about their affair.

There’s a whole lot more to the story that has largely overshadowed Allen’s career, with enough borderline incest to make the Borgias blush. Ask an Allen apologist or a fan about this and they’ll tell you it’s possible to separate the artist from the art. This is lies of course: all creation is made by us, and from us. In the case of Woody Allen, he isn’t just his own vessel, he’s his own canvas and crayons too. See any Allen flick and you’ll watch the director/writer/protagonist gesturing a paranoid fit to his attractive co-star as they stroll through Central Park. Watch a second or a third, and you’ll have a sense of deja vu. A fourth will put you to sleep. 

The returning character of Woody Allen is such a fascinating and truly beguiling one-man-made phenomenon that it must be seen as Allen’s most enduring creation. Whether it’s Annie Hall or Deconstructing Harry, the main character is consistently the scrawny and nervous guy prone to a softly muttered ‘oy vey’. Even the Latin-American revolution in Bananas isn’t enough to drag Allen’s protagonist out of his metropolitan whining. Instead, the plot acts as merely a backdrop to Woody’s quirky musings and one-liners. No matter the scene around them, the main character will be trying to impress a girl, and she’ll always give in to his charm. 

The most mind boggling thing of all is that the character has no charm to speak of! There is no change throughout any story, and he simply goes through the motions without shedding an ounce of cowardice. Instead Allen tries to seduce his bombshells, and therefore his audience, into actually liking his neurosis and not just putting up with it. This was always the centre of the ever corpulent and ever critical Orson Welles’ disdain;

‘He has the Chaplin disease…He is arrogant. Like all people with timid personalities, his arrogance is unlimited. Anybody who speaks quietly and shrivels up in company is unbelievably arrogant. He acts shy, but he’s not. He’s scared. He hates himself, and he loves himself, a very tense situation. It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest. To me it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world– a man who presents himself at the worst to get laughs, in order to free himself of his hang ups. Everything he does on screen is therapeutic.’

Of course, only Orson Welles would call Orson Welles modest, but in just a small burst of breath he shows a clearer understanding of Allen, than Allen can in fifty movies. As a storyteller, Woody toys with some remarkable and lively ideas, such as in ‘Purple Rose of Cairo’, but the bulk of his work is simply self-indulgent. Beyond the soft, white jazz slipped into every scene, we find the man peering inwardly as he speaks to his audience. This is a prison of sorts, as Allen doesn’t seem capable or brave enough to tear himself away from his own person. The director has kept firmly behind the camera in his old age, but his leading men are really just versions of himself with better jawlines. 

Whether Jesse Eisenburg or Joaquin Phoenix is dishing out the standard Allen jittering, the old musings and mannerisms remain. This is unlikely to bother Woody too much though, as despite producing movies like an assembly line, he still receives the same accolades as far better directors. It really isn’t hard to find Allen admirers out there and even today, despite all the shadiness, many film students see him as a bit of a hero. They think this way because they see themselves in his own introspective work, and this weird sense of deference is how Allen has escaped so much scrutiny. 

The strangest thing of all is that you’ll notice Allen’s defenders all look, or at least act, like him. Partly this is driven by aesthetics, but also the growth in popularity of the witty, skinny guy in touch with himself that Woody helped manifest. Timothée Chalamet was recently in one of Allen’s flicks, and ever since I saw ‘A Rainy Day in New York’, I can’t help but see Chalamet as a refined form Woody that’s been fifty years in the making, and far nicer to look at. Say what you will of Woody Allen, but the idea of the man able to disarm audiences with his own weediness and self-deprecation is an impression which will far outshine his time as a filmmaker.

[Daniel J. Cheslett – @daniel_cheslett]

Image credits: https://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/hollywood/woody-allen-to-retire-after-release-of-his-next-film-8159455/


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