Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's Worse Than You Thought! (Confessions of a Woody Allen fan)


I am an 'out' atheist and welfare state liberal living in conservative Cincinnati. Yet these are not the most controversial aspects of my identity.

The most controversial aspect of my identity--if measured purely by response--is that I am an enormous (enormous!) Woody Allen fan. The expressions of disbelief and quick condemnation cuts across religious and political divides. Almost universally, my character clearly becomes questionable to many who learn this factoid about me, and, frankly, it leaves me jejune.

The objection is almost always couched in disapproval of Woody Allen's 'lifestyle', i.e., his marriage to Soon Yi Previn. If it's the age discrepancy, I'll tell you that my favorite uncle--and one of the nicest and most moral men I've ever met--was thirty when he married my aunt, and she was thirteen. He died recently, and I'm not kidding when I say that theirs was a noble and inspiring love story. If the objection is to the fact he married his girlfriend's foster child, all I can say is that I don't know enough about the context of their relationship to judge it.

The controversy doesn't stop there: I am even more controversial among my fellow Woody Allen fans, because I rank some of his most recent work among his best.

It's popular for folks to opine Woody Allen's most recent work, and to long for the days of Annie Hall. While I agree that Annie Hall is a great movie (among his undisputed movies, I watch Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, and Crimes & Misdemeanors about 10 times a year each), I think Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point, Whatever Works, Cassandra's Dream, and Melinda & Melinda are just as good, and I revisit them almost as frequently.

There have been duds, sure; Scoop, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Hollywood Ending come to mind right away, but I would say that since Anything Else, Woody Allen's been on a roll.

His humor is as clear as ever, and his perspective has remained unique. I love the characters and the plots of his films. I love the dialogue, and appreciate his general approach to philosophy. Folks who are not offended by the fact that I admire the work of a man who married his girlfriend's adopted daughter are invariably thrown into a state of shock when I tell them I think Vicky Cristina Barcelona is just as good as Annie Hall.

When I am sick, or when I am in a rut, I can count on a Woody Allen film to put me back on track. When I tried to be a stand up comedian the summer after high school ended, I spent a lot of time reading Without Feathers and Getting Even (maybe that contributed to my failure as a stand-up, but it was my point of reference).

Not only is Woody Allen great, but he turned me on to jazz music and Humphrey Bogart too.

So, burn me at the stake. I have committed the excusable sins of atheism and liberalism, but alas, I am a Woody Allen fan in Cincinnati (and a deviant among Woody Allen fans to boot!). I can't renounce my crime, and I don't want to.

Why?

"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!" -from The Crucible.

7 comments:

Willie Y said...

I am also a Woody fan.

"To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition."

the elegant ape said...

"How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter."

I from nyc. Growing up in the long hot summers there was a theater on bleecker st that for a dollar showed either a Scorsese or a woody allen flick for a buck. There is nothing more new york than a allen flick. Take the money and run, hannah and her sisters, sleepers among my favorites.
But the whole bangin his step daughter thing has soured me.. I know you are supposed to be able to seperate the art from the artist. But I can't.
It a shame. those were great summers..

Spencer Troxell said...

since we're doing the Woody Allen religion quotes, here's one of my favorite lines from Hannah and Her Sisters:

"If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."

Elegant: No doubt Woody put his reputation in a tough spot with that relationship. But, they're still together, and I haven't heard anything suggesting they're unhappy. 'The heart wants what it wants'.

Daniel Tricarico said...

Here's why I am a Spencer Troxell fan. He's a:

* Great writer
* Deep Thinker
* Decent Human Being
* Proud and Committed Father/Husband
* Helper of Those Less Fortunate
* Nice Guy

But the number one reason I'm a Spencer Troxell fan is because he's a fan of Woody Allen. Allen is a genius and genuises often do weird stuff because they think differently than the rest of us--which doesn't always make it right, but I've done some not so cool stuff, too, and like Spencer says, "I don't know enough to judge." Put another way: I want to watch what Woody Allen does with a camera, not what Woody Allen does with Soon-Yi Previn. Or Mia Farrow. Or Diane Keaton. Or even his clarinet, for that matter.

And while, for the record, I prefer the early comedies, I think HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS are masterpieces of writing and filmmaking. I was lucky enough to work in a movie theater when HANNAH was out and on my breaks I studied that movie like a text.

(Mr. Troxell also quotes from The Crucible, a play I teach almost annually and love deeply, especially the quote he used.)

Nice work. . .

From another Allen fan,

Dan Tricarico

Lodo Grdzak said...

Ah Woody! Perhaps his biggest crime was staying at the party too long. Sure the step-daughter thing looked bad (hell it was bad!) But I don't think that's what totally soured people on him. It was the combination of that revelation, coupled with the fact that Woody really began to look old on screen. The two things happened right at the same time, yet Woody (the director) seemed to be the last to figure it out. It was as though his producers and money-backers had to force him off screen or Woody would have never left.

Plus the step-daughter thing was a symptom of a bigger problem. Mainly that he'd become isolated. No reason why the best thing on that guy's plate should have been Soon Yi. Sure New York is great and being a writer is one of the most noble, independent pursuits; but you've gotta live too. Get out into the world. Soon Yi represented a kind of laziness in my mind. Her greatest asset? She was right there. He could work without having to change anything. But his movies kind of lost that story arc of change and new discovery.

Finally, I think its fair to say that by the '90's Woody's outlook and nebbish style had been co-opted by the culture so completely that after awhile he was dong a parody of himself. Europe seems to have really revitalized him (though in truth I haven't seen a Woody Allen movie since ANTZ).

But Regarding Henry; Hannah and Her Sisters; Annie Hall; Sleeper; Bullets Over Broadway; Take The Money and Run; Manhattan Murder Mystery (one of my personal faves)...the guy's a heavy-hitter.

Spencer Troxell said...

Dan: Thanks for the kind words. I agree with you; nothing recommends a person higher than Woody Allen fandom.

'Hannah' and 'Crimes' are great. I watch them often.

I used to work in a movie theater too (that's where I met my wife), and know what it feels like to get smacked in the face by an awesome piece of work. For me, that movie was Rushmore by Wes Anderson. I watched that thing so many times when it came out, and became even more attached to it after consistently seeing old folks walk out of it saying things like 'I don't know what Bill Murray was thinking...'

Lodo: I think this is the best comment you've left on my blog. I had not considered what you said about Woody's relationship with Soon Yi, and--I think--if you mix your observation with Dan's (about how geniuses operate), you probably get somewhere close to the truth.

You're also right about Europe being good for him, at least when it comes to his movies. Check out 'Matchpoint', 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', and 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger'. All very good, very vital movies.

Lodo Grdzak said...

I'll rent 'em for sure. And thanks for the compliment on my comment.

I used to be real into movies; so of course, I liked Woody. And of course Wes Andeson's Bottle Rocket was just...really turned my thinking around. The first time you saw Owen Wilson on screen--you can't get that moment back.

If you've never seen Bottle Rocket (though Im sure you have) and you watch it now; it won't hit as hard as it would had you never seen Owen Wilson before. Such an original sensibility on that guy. Him and Wes Anderson were the perfect compliment on that. Just can never be the same.

But of course, ten years after I've given up on any movies that dont feature talking animals what does Wes Anderson do? Fantastic Fox! Near perfect movie. Another great match between Wes and his stars and subject matter. I could watch it 700,000 more times.