‘’Eighty percent of success is just showing up,’’ says Woody Allen. He should know. He’s been showing up for well over half a century now, making intelligent movies for grown-ups.
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn attend the after party for the premiere of "To Rome With Love" at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE on Thursday June 14, 2012.
TODD WILLIAMSON/INVISION/AP Enlarge
There are no masked superheroes soaring over rooftops in his films, no helicopters cartwheeling in flames, no Jedi knights with light sabers and pet robots. Instead he offers accounts of unexceptional people, often drab and usually neurotic, attempting to cope with life in a heedless, uncaring world — and often failing.
Unfortunately for Allen, he also shows up in the news from time to time. One such account appeared in a British newspaper last week, headlined, “Unearthed Woody Allen archive suggests an ‘obsession’ with teenage girls.” Curious, that word “unearthed.” It implies the papers and notebooks, rather than sitting on a shelf in the basement of Princeton University library since 1980, have been mouldering under a pyramid for 3,000 years.
The significant element is, however, Woody’s reputed obsession with teenage girls. Maybe he was, at some point. As a teenage boy I was obsessed with them myself. Most teenage boys are. The question is at what point does it become unacceptable? At age 22? 42? 82?
It seems everyone is obsessed with men’s obsessions with girls and women these days. The media climate was quick to resurrect the history of Woody’s tangled relationship with actress Mia Farrow and her adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn, who is 32 years younger than Woody. It was an ugly business all right, but it didn’t stop him turning out movies, even if some folk thought that it should have. Miss Previn has been Mrs. Allen for almost 25 years now. I think it’s high time to call off the dogs.
Woody Allen is a survivor. Not only in terms of years; he is 82 and sharp as a tack in terms of success and work. He has so far made 48 full-length feature films — an amazing number by any standard. His father lived to be 100, and his mother 95, so the prospect of his being the world’s first centenarian film director is by no means out of the question.
His critics say he’s been creatively past it for years, that he’ll never again make anything as memorable as Annie Hall, so he ought to gracefully fade away into history. But Woody Allen does what he likes. He writes stories and directs movies on his own terms. Sure, a lot of them repeat similar themes, but then so do the paintings of Monet, the music of Mahler, and the novels of Faulkner.
Woody Allen in 2018 is beyond good and evil, but he still manages to rile people. He recently said he was “sad” about the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, the womanizing film producer. Not good enough. Political correctness decried he should have demanded Weinstein’s head on a platter. Because he did not, one of Weinstein’s female accusers then called Woody “a vile little worm.” No doubt her own life is one of blameless rectitude.
It was Annie Hall that introduced me to Woody Allen’s genius, back in 1978, in New York City. His earlier movies had been amusing slapstick, skillfully executed, but here he demonstrated an ability to resonate with the existential dilemmas and crises of 20th century urban life.
What’s more, he made me laugh.
Half a century on, he still does. Which is why I hope Woody Allen goes on “just showing up” for a good while yet.
Patrick O'Gara, a former Blade editor, was a journalist all his working life. He now lives in Northern Spain with five dogs, two cats and eight hens, and a tolerant American wife. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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