03 February 2018

Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't

To be clear at the outset:  I don't say that Woody Allen's œuvre is uneven (maybe it is, maybe it isn't – I have not seen even half of the movies he's made) . . . only that I have had a checkered history of how quickly I appreciate the virtues of this or that film.  My "apperception curve" is a bit of a mess.  It is in fact to Allen's artistic credit that he sets out to do (often subtly) different things in different movies – witness four utterly different titles, which I appreciated warmly on first viewing:  Love and Death, Manhattan, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Crimes and Misdemeanors, & Shadows and Fog.  All right:  five titles.

One would think that, enjoying all of these as I ever have, I should know better than to approach a 'new' (i.e., to me) Woody Allen movie as if it ought to tick the same boxes as this other movie I already love.  Stardust Memories is my favorite example of a movie of which, when I first watched it (and in this case, on the big screen, back when it was first released), I did not think at all highly, but of whose greatness I later became irrevocably convinced.  The fact is, I no longer know what problem I imagined I had with Stardust Memories.

There may, simply, have been the contrarian impulse which had me wondering how everybody could think Annie Hall is such a great film.  I chalked it up to the first effort to shake off the clown outfit (not that he has not continued to be marvelously amusing) and direct a movie with a dramatic purpose;  I made some allowance for the numerous big (or soon to be big) names in various cameos – Christopher Walken, Shelly Duvall, Paul Simon, Carol Kane, Jeff Goldblum.  My chief quarrel was, I felt that the flashback montage at the end was the weakest ending since the police car in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  (Which is also less objectionable than I once thought, thank you very much.)  But once I absorbed the fact that the opening monologue was truly the theme of the screenplay, that Alvy/Max (like any of us) needs someone to love him, but there's something in him that works destruction upon a close relationship, I saw the flashback not as a faute de mieux closing, but as Alvy's regretful (and powerless) recollection of what he had lost.  Is all that was missing, an acceptance of Alvy Singer as a character in the drama, rather than the screenwriter playing himself?

In this spirit of readiness to have scales fall from my eyes, I shall soon give Broadway Danny Rose a second viewing.

No comments: