Friday, January 12, 2007

149. Merrie Olde Woodie

I remember seeing Truman Capote on a talk show back in the '70s--Johnny Carson?--talking about Tennessee Williams' slipped reputation. Maybe Capote hadn't yet felt the full weight of In Cold Blood on his own career--or maybe he had, and Williams was just the beard--but I can still see Capote's insistent posture as he scolded the critical establishment for what he saw as a denigration of Williams via a sniping chorus of what-have-you-done-for-us-latelys. He asserted this would not happen to such a figure in France, that the French cherish their artists, that one such play as Williams wrote in his prime would be enough to enshrine the artist forever.

Well, so long after the fact I won't argue with Capote's assessment of French cultural loyalty; but I was--and still am--in complete accord with his impatience toward short memories and voracious appetites. Capote was right: a masterpiece is a masterpiece, a Golden Age never tarnishes, and if Williams never rose to later heights, the early and mid ones are still much more than simply enough.


Which leads me to Woody Allen. I feel like Capote when I think of the treatment he's received over the past decade. And by all quarters, not just the yodeling hyenas of the Media Press, having to sustain their Entertainments, both Tonight and Weekly, with whatever perpetual-motion machine they can cobble together. The Woody's-washed-up contraption clatters away upstairs and down, as though no one ever watched Manhattan or Crimes and Misdemeanors, Annie Hall or Sweet and Lowdown. I was Capote-ish in my chagrin when everybody allowed themselves both to gush over Match Point as well as slap him on the sinister side by "hailing" the film as a "return to form."

Sorry, closet cinephobes--so often disguised as movie-mavens or pundits, to me just a collective bowl of cold mush--but he's never been away, just running through various costume changes. I'm still smiling from his Match Point companion piece, that other Anglo-Saxon attitude, Scoop. Part Manhattan Murder Mystery, part Broadway Danny Rose, with a whisper of Manhattan and an occasional nod toward Woody-trails-along pictures like Mighty Aphrodite, Scoop fits into his career as comfortably as just about everything he's done. And who wants more from a filmmaker, and who would want to be anything more? Woody's 30+ movies are remarkably consistent for me, all springing from a post-'50s, middle-browed, buttoned-down-mind, as ready to spin a yarn as ruminate over a subtlety. I'm much happier simply comparing one Allen picture with another than one "Woody Allen" with another. We've been trying to commodify him for three decades or so, and the effort to package a one-Woody-fits-all seems to me infinitely less important, engaging, or simply entertaining than leaving him alone and letting him show us something every year.

And like Capote with Williams I'm willing to let Woody's masterpieces inform the doodles--and not to let one diminish the other. Life's too short--and I wanted to type, "and so's Allen"; let's just say, there's only one Woody Allen, and I'd rather treat him the way Danny Rose handled his audience: spluttering, sometimes befuddled, sometimes appalled, but always plugging away, asking for ages and Zodiac signs, smiling enough to keep us at bay and in our seats--where I'm staying until he tells me he's done.

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