Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An open letter to Woody Allen

Dear Woody,

I’ve been a long time admirer. For many years you were my role model. So much of what I know about comedy I learned from studying you. I owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude. I tell you this so you’ll understand that what I’m about to say comes from a place of deep personal and professional respect.

Take a break.

Stop making movies.

At least for now.


It’s time.

It really really is.

You’ve got an impressive body of work. You’ve won every award you're willing to accept. You’ll be 75 in one month. Relax. Take Soon-Yi to Disneyworld. Tour with a jazz band. Travel the world being honored. Guest star on HOT IN CLEVELAND. Teach film at NYU. Learn Origami. Coach the Knicks. Collect Pez dispensers. I don’t care. Just take an extended "hiatus" from making movies.

You remember Willie Mays at the end playing with the Mets, overweight and out of shape, stumbling around in the outfield. You recall Frank Sinatra at the end, toupee slipping off, hitting maybe one out of seven notes, needing cue cards to remember lyrics he had sung for forty years. Sylvester Stallone in the last six ROCKY movies. Cher singing hip hop. LIFE WITH LUCY.  You get the idea.

Well, this is fast becoming you. Your one-time impressive body of work is being diluted with each successive misfire. A great director once said that releasing a film is like delivering a child. If that’s the case, you’re Octomom.

Did I mention you are an idol of mine?  No one says you have to make four movies a year.

I happened to see your latest assembly line production, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. I feel silly even posting a SPOILER ALERT because every moment of this movie is a rehash of a similar scene you’ve already done three times. There are no surprises. Everyone does exactly what you expect them to do.

Example:  Anthony Hopkins is an old guy who fears his mortality so he dumps his longtime wife, whitens his teeth, begins eating healthy, and winds up falling in love with and marrying a young bimbo hooker. You already did this, much better with Sydney Pollack and his midlife crisis in HUSBANDS AND WIVES. I can’t imagine anybody reading this not being able to figure out exactly what happens. Did you even try to think of a fresher payoff? For either movie?

Woody, I saw the film on a Saturday night in Westwood a few weeks ago. The 8:00 showing. There were six people in the theater. So imagine what the boxoffice must've been like in Kansas. Tumbleweeds.

I see by the credits that the picture is in association with all these overseas companies and foreign producers. Clearly, you can no longer get U.S. financing. I mean, there’s only so long that gamblers will put money on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Doesn’t that tell you something? Now you can say you don’t care what the public thinks. You’re an artist. And that's fine but then who are you making these movies for? I’m sure the fine folks at Mediapro, Versatil Cinema, Gravier Productions, Antena 3 Films, Antena 3 Television, and Dippermouth (whoever the hell they all are) are very curious themselves.

Woody, you have nothing more to prove. Take your bow and move on to whatever new exciting chapter of your life you wish to pursue. Or just kick back and watch Animal Planet all day. You’ve earned that too. Trust me, we won’t feel cheated that there are no more paper-thin angst-ridden exercises starring really good actors set in cities we want to vacation in. We can just watch our DVD’s of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and be in awe all over again.

Thank you for your consideration. Again, the point here is to say you’ve done some remarkable work and should feel great about yourself. Your accomplishments are extraordinary. You’re Woody Allen. You shouldn’t have to go to Uzbekistan for financing. And trust me, you’re one more picture away from that. 

I imagine this will be a hotly debated topic in my comments section.  Lots of people taking your side, saying I have no right to criticize, comparing my feeble output to your far more significant one, pointing to specific movies they've liked recently, and that's fine (as long as they don't post as anonymous).  I just wonder, what if you waited until a really great idea -- a MANHATTAN or PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO kind of idea -- came into your head?   Imagine how much better that movie might turn out if you were fresh and invigorated.   A new Woody Allen film used to be an event for me.  I'd wait for the opening with great anticipation.  I would love that again.  And I'm willing to wait. 

Have a happy holiday season.

Still your devoted admirer, even if it might not look like it,



Mark B. Spiegel said...

This is unfair in that "Vicky Christina Barcelona" was really a lot of fun, and that was just two years ago... What the hell do we care if only one out five is good these days? We don't have to pay for the failures!

Neal... said...

As somebody with no professional relevance, but who had his life changed by accidentally watching the last 70 minutes of Manhattan in 1989 when he was 16, may I wholeheartedly endorse this post.

*Stands. Applauds. Wipes away a tear.*

Tom Quigley said...

Don't know about the jazz thing... He and his jazz combo played here at the Rochester International Jazz Festival a few years ago. The reviews were that he wasn't that good at playing the clarinet either...

rob! said...

Look at the Woody Allen movie posters of the last decade...they go out of their way to promote the cast, because they know "Written and Directed by Woody Allen" no longer means anything.

What would happen if movie stars just stopped agreeing to appear in Woody's movies? Would they even get financing?

The Milner Coupe said...

Mr. Levine,

Couldn't disagree with your post more. You make a valid argument for yourself never going to see a Woody Allen movie. Your choice. But Woody Allen can and should make films for as long as he wants. No one is ever as good as their greatest. Know what I mean? More than most of your posts (read movies, TV shows, interviews) are stinkers but occasionally I laugh out loud. So I keep coming back.

With a plethora of zombie and vampire and slasher shit to choose from, watching a small story about people like those you know is nice. Not earth shattering, but nice.

His body of work being diluted? Get over yourself. Perhaps your twitter friends have gone to your head. When you have done anything remotely as good as just half of Woody Allen's films, you still won't have the right to publicly call him out and embarrass him regardless of how many times you say you are a fan. Shame on you.

Ted said...

Diluted is exactly right. Look what happened to Bob Hope. He stayed on stage at least 20 years too long, and destroyed his own legacy.

Jake said...

I have to say this post is also disappointing to me. There's no one I want to succeed more than Woody because there's nothing like a good Woody Allen movie, and he still makes them: Vicky Christina Barcelona, Match Point. The mediocre fare is still more enjoyable than a lot of other films (Whatever Works, Sweet and Lowdown, Melinda and Melinda). Woody releasing new movies does not make me want to watch Manhattan or Interiors or Mighty Aprohodite or Crimes and Misdemeanors any less. It gives me a chance (albeit small) to see a new one. Boo, Ken.

Bob Gassel said...

By the way, Woody's next film "Midnight in Paris" will premiere at Cannes next May...

And though I'm not sure he's still capable another classic (I think his last great film was "Sweet and Lowdown")...most of his stuff in the last decade has been worthwhile.

Michael in Vancouver said...

It's so dispiriting to see a great artist bunt when he could grand slam.

You spoke my thoughts precisely. I would add that I think Woody needs an editor or collaborator, or someone to say "slow down, this needs a re-write." Even his recent films have many good ideas and funny scenes, but it's like he rushed to production the moment the script was pulled from his typewriter, without the benefit of a read-through and fine tuning.

For instance, Vicki Christina didn't need narration to tell us what we were watching. And ... I could go on, but you know what I mean.

I used to be a long-time fan, used to look forward to the new Woody feature every year, I could live with a dud once in a while, and even found redeeming qualities in Celebrity, I didn't mind the bits of Husbands & Wives re-worked for Deconstructing Harry, and I loved Match Point despite it being a remake of half of Crimes & Misdemeanors.

But there came a point where I started to feel more embarrassed as his films got progressively "paper-thin" (as you say) and he re-made his own movies over and over. Scoop was the first Woody movie I ever walked out of (well, turned off the DVD player), and that was truly a sad moment.

Vermonter17032 said...

I guess the question is this: Which is the better entertainment, a mediocre Woody Allen film or a top-knotch James Cameron movie?

I think I'll still take Woody Allen.

Vermonter17032 said...

Oops. I meant "top-notch" James Cameron movie!

Nat G said...

I get too things out of this essay:

1) You don't like Woody Allen's recent films.

2) You're acting like an asshole, of a particularly American variety.

Really, if you don't like his current movies, the smart thing to do would be to stop going to see his movies... and if Woody continues to like making movies and other people like to continue seeing them, he should continue making them. If you're only looking at audiences in the US, then you're missing the vast majority of the attendance of his films. Why are his productions supported by foreign film companies? Because that's where the business is. His last film, Whatever Works, only did 15% of its business in the US. Sure, it only did about $35 million total worldwide, but it was cheap to make, and with all the after-theater money, likely profitable. His (Oscar-winning) film before that did $96 million worldwide, about three-quarters of that outside of the US. The film before that did more than 95% of its business outside the US.

And if he's supposed to stop directing to preserve his legacy: does he seem like someone who is concerned about his legacy?

Russ said...

Clearly, Woody Allen needs to shake things up by making another major change.

Maybe Soon-Yi has a younger sister?

chas said...

I agree with your sentiments 100%. There was a time when I would wait hours in line to see a new Woody Allen movie on the day it was released. That was a very long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Woody should make a zombie-slasher movie. Otherwise, Ken, you are spot on. Even Artie Shaw knew when to hang it up. (His music, that is...not so much his marrying).

Anonymous said...

Could be worse. Could be George Lucas.

Atlanta said...

I'm with Russ, Allen could use a fresh dose of immortality, and he has more daughters, time to dump Soon-Yi.

Dave Dale said...

Woody doesn't draw me to the theatre, but I'll rent the DVDs based on the cast he draws . . . when I'm in the mood for a "nice" movie at home with the girlfriend. Love the writing in the blog, don't really care what or who the target is.

Emmett Flatus said...

I agree that Allen should stop making movies. In all honesty I haven't enjoyed any of his movies since...ever.

Michael Zand said...

Couldn't agree with you more Ken. Part of being one of the greats is to know when to leave the stage.

Nat G,

Why do you have to resort to name calling? This is Ken's blog and thus his opinion. Your comment makes me think you're a pretentious foreigner with hipster aspirations. Nobody's forcing you to endure Ken's thoughts. Why don't you follow your own suggestion: if you don't like what you're reading here, don't log on.

Fr. Todd Unctious said...

Hey! The Pittsburgh Pirates are a great team, and I'm expecting to break even real soon.

Michael Rafferty said...

Got to agree with you, Ken. Mr. Allen seems to be in assembly line mode. However,as far as Willie Mays is concerned, I have to disagree. He was neither overweight nor out of shape. If you watch video from the '73 World Series, clearly he was fit and trim. However, his skills were not as sharp at that point. I highly recommend the recent biography of Willie Mays by James Hirsch. And,Ken, as a fan of your television work, thank you for doing your blog and inviting us in.

-bee said...

He should have stopped making movies after "The Purple Rose of Cairo" as far as I'm concerned.

Hollywood Ending was it for me - have not seen an Allen film since.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Wow - I completely agree. The very thing you've written is something I've been playing around with in my head for about a year; wanting to write, pretty much, the exact same article you've just written.

Woody is, along with Chaplin, MY HERO. Absolutely worship the guy. But I wholeheartedly wish he would stop; as you say, take a holiday, do something different, etc.

I feel sad because; I feel like he is in such a bubble that his films no longer have relevancy, to anyone. His films aren't about anyone, they don't represent anyone, not even himself. He needs to get back into the world, experience something other than Monday nights playing Jazz and making his movies in the way he does. I mean, he doesn't HAVE to do that, he can do what he wants! But, y'know, in terms of his creativity, his ideas, his art -- what he's doing hasn't been art for quite some time. There's no originality in what he's doing and there's no art, and that's very sad.

Mac said...

Woody's in the Brian Wilson category for me.
Brian Wilson will never again hit the heights of "Pet Sounds" or "Surfs Up" - but neither will anyone else. Woody Allen will never make another film of the stature of "Manhattan" or "Annie Hall," but if he died tomorrow (and I sincerely hope he doesn't) he'd still be (rightly) remembered as a genius comedy film-maker.
I don't go to see his films any more but I did see Vicky Christina Barcelona (for work) and really enjoyed it. No, it's not a classic must-watch-again film, but it was enough to make you realise that, creatively, he's not a spent force.
So, the only solution is to kidnap Woody Allen, Larry David, Garry Shandling, Matt Groening and all the funniest motherfuckers on the planet - lock them in a room and don't let them out until they come up with a script that reminds everyone why Woody Allen is a comedy God.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Ken...I couldn't agree with you more. I compare it to Warren Spahn pitching for the Mets.

Gary said...

Well, Ken, I love your blog, but I too have to disagree with today's post. I don't know that Woody's any worse or better than the last time I saw one of his flicks, which I think was Match Point, but that doesn't matter. The market dictates his future. Unless he wants to eventually pump his own money into his own films, the market will influence his career. He's been around long enough to know when he's had enough and I think if he wants to do it, by all means, do it. We don't have to watch his movies, that's always our choice. If we do, he'll take the money and run, or walk briskly away, to his next project, and I say, more power to him. And someone took a shot at Bob Hope???? That's treasonous! Sahlogge.

Fitz said...

His work lost relevance for me long ago. We should get Joe Queenan to write a piece on Woody similar to his recent one on Jimmy Carter. Pay site but here's hoping ...

Tim W. said...

Personally, I've never been a big Woody Allen fan, but what is more interesting to me is the fact that people actually seem personally insulted by your opinion. The Milner Coupe and Nat Gs of the world need to get a grip. Woody has respectfully given his opinion without insulting Allen at all, but the best you guys can do is throw personal insults at Ken. You guys need to get over yourself and learn how to disagree with someone respectfully. Because when you don't, you just look like an a$$hole.

Another Mark said...

Dude, that was bogus and harsh.

I haven't been a big fan of Woody Allen's work for a looooong time. But your more recent scripts aren't exactly your most popular work either.

Woody likes to make movies. He finds the money, makes 'em cheap, gets to play w/ great actors, sells enough seats (somewhere in the world) so he gets to make the next one.

Good for him. He's doing what he wants. Don't be such a cranky little motherfucker.

And I say that to you as a long-time admirer.

Dan Serafini said...

It's the chicks!

I mean, have you seen the babes he works with on these films. I bet he doenst give a crap what anyone thinks: he is hanging with the ScarJos and the Frieda Pintos of the world.

Good work if you can get it!

Nat G. said...

Michael Zand: "Why do you have to resort to name calling?"

Actually, I didn't. It was Ken who called someone "Octomom", not me.

Bill Peschel said...

What a refreshing feeling it is to dictate the course of someone else's life with such certainty, such clarity.

I'm in awe of your brilliance, sir. I kiss the hem of your gown, Socrates.

Emily Blake said...

It may cost me cred in my comedy endeavors, but I've never been a fan of Woody Allen to begin with. That's partly because I want everybody to shut up and shoot each other. Woody Allen talks a lot when he should be punching people.

I do wonder, though, Ken, how would you respond if a few years from now someone wrote that essay to you?

Anonymous said...

This letter to Woody Allen is a strange approach.

As a remarkably talented and successful writer, I'm not sure why you chose to belittle issues such as where his financing comes from or how many production companies had to put up the money, etc...

You have every right to your opinion, but why not take a moment and offer a real examination on the difference between a classic, high quality Woody Allen picture and his current films, beyond simply accusing him of repetitiveness.

Coming from such a talented writer and now, by way of this blog, influential commentator on media, your professional analysis of Woody Allen at different stages in his career would be utterly fascinating and just as educational as your posts typically are.

You'd probably also make a better argument. Your letter to Woody Allen seems just as rushed and self serving as the quality of scripts you accuse him of writing.

benson said...

Imagine if Ken had called Woody Allen a Republican. All hell would've broken loose.

Oh, the humanity!!!!

Max Clarke said...

Woody Allen still makes good movies.

He can take a break some other day, probably when the financing disappears. His great movies were homers, these days he hits singles and doubles mostly, fine.

Anonymous said...

I boycott his films because he is an incestuous being.

Allen Lulu said...

Woody Allen should only make movies if David Bowie does the score.

Dimitris Sakaridis said...

Wow! The number of people that actually liked Vicky Christina Barcelona baffles me...

Personally, I agree with everything Ken says in his post. I've had pretty much the same thoughts from time to time about Mr. Allen's work in recent years.

And guys, it's not a matter of being obnoxious, or "an asshole". It's about admiring someone so much that you just can't bear to see him produce work that is so obviously beneath the standards he, himself, had set through decades of inspired film-making.

Sean Hannity said...

I still think George W. Bush was the greatest President ever. Who is Woody Allen anyway? God bless America!

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

Is this where we tell you to stop blogging and retire? Maybe take a few trips to Cooperstown and hang out at Wrigley? Watch YouTube clips of your favorite Sitcom title sequences.

I don't think ANY artist should suggest another artist give up doing what they love...especially while proclaiming to be their "biggest fan".

I'll still happily continue to read your blog, but when Vicki Christina Barcelona comes on HBO, I'll slap the laptop shut and watch it for the thirtieth time...not because it's his best work, but because it's still better than most. Signed, just Bob

Roger Owen Green said...

I was bored w VCB until Cruz showed up on screen; she deserved her Oscar nom.
I guess I disagree w Ken, only because Warren Spahn or Willie Mays should figure out when to retire, or else no one would hire them. Mays famously noted that it was no fun batting .211.
Of course, Woody recently listed his best films and Annie Hall wasn't on it, so maybe he HAS lost it.

qwerty said...

I agree with Ken. Those of us who are old enough remember doubling over with fits of laughter at his first movies ("Take the Money and Run," "Bananas," "Sleeper"). We remember sitting open-mouthed with awe amidst a crowd roaring with laughter at "Annie Hall" the weekend it came out, amazed at his new comedy techniques and hilarious juxtapositions. Then movies like "Purple Rose," going further and further with its clever intricacies, not to mention his marvelous evocation of the era... "Hannah and her Sisters"... etc., movies that just knocked you out with their inventiveness and brilliance and witty commentary on what was going on then.

We, especially those of us who are comedy writers, find ourselves so disappointed at his recent films. They are pale shadows of the earlier ones, in some case literally shadows, or repetitions, but now out of date. In his Q&A at the WGA when Matchpoint came out, as hilarious as he is naturally, he seemed to be kind of at a standstill in his art, no longer au courant with what's going on in the world, and more sadly, seemingly oblivious to that.

Those of us who idolized him, emulated him, loved his work, now come away from his recent movies really wishing he had someone pushing him to be all the things you know he can be. The idol has a keyboard of clay, and perhaps since we were so much younger when we first discovered him, we now almost childishly find ourselves frustrated, even annoyed, almost selfishly in a way, that such a talented man is no longer providing you with his brilliance and talent. You want to see him pushing boundaries, trying new techniques, telling new stories, making comments on today. You want to be able to enjoy his wit, his thoughtfulness, his insights.

Is it possible that maybe he no longer has it? No, please no! So you wish he would take a break and wait for true inspiration. I see Ken's post as a sort of supplication one of the gods of comedy, a wish, a plaintive cry, to find a way back to where he used to be.

mike said...

Really, really overrated:

Woody Allen
Rickey Henderson
The Doors (band)
The Doors (film)
Pete Rose
Pete Rozelle
Lady Gaga
Katharine Hepburn
Roman Polanski (Question: What do he and W. Allen have in common?)
Scotch Whiskey
Guns n Roses
Philip Roth
Mad Men
Ayn Rand
Stay tuned for my underrated list!

Steve said...

To me, Woody needs to do 2, maybe 3 things.

1. Rather than stop making movies, he needs to SLOW down. Take his time. Put the screenplay down for a month and then go back to it and see what he still likes and what doesn't hold up so well. He doesn't do this because he hates having nothing to do, but it's important.

2. He needs to have someone else with a strong opinion and who is smart but grounded to give him some healthy criticism in between drafts. He had partners in writing some great works like Manhattan and even Bullets Over Broadway (a lesser work, but still pretty damn good, in my opinion). So he's capable of working with someone. He needs to do this more.

3. (maybe) Woody says he never watches his movies after they're done. I think it might be helpful for him to re-watch a couple of his best and a couple of his worst movies, ideally with someone who could point out the differences.

In short, Woody needs to TRY more to make high quality because it's not automatic anymore, and he needs someone to bounce things off & watch over him a bit, to correct some easily correctable mistakes.

gottacook said...

Interesting that someone mentioned Philip Roth just now. He has switched to short novels in recent years (he's 77 now) and has had some successes in doing so, such as Everyman. If there were some similar alternative that would enable Woody to change up his game, that would be great - but there isn't in the feature-film world; his only short film that I can recall was his segment of New York Stories, an anomaly.

The last Woody Allen film I chose to see in a theater (16 years ago?) was a collaboration: Bullets Over Broadway, which he wrote with Douglas McGrath. I don't see why he's been (evidently) averse to having a co-writer since then; the only other instance since Manhattan in 1979, if I'm correct, was Manhattan Murder Mystery (Marshall Brickman in both cases). Collaborating on a script would help him to loosen up, I think.

KXB said...

You could've (should've?) written this post at least a decade ago...

droszel said...

Was this really necessary? "Take Soon-Yi to Disneyworld"

Other than that snide shot, good and thoughtful post

Samuel said...

Woody: don't listen to him. He's just making a joke (like what else would he do?)

We really really need your take on, yes, yes, *Godzilla*.

scottmc said...

I still recall the explosion of laughter in the audience that greeted the 'Albert Shanker' line in 'Sleeper' at a movie theatre near Carnegie Hall. The 'cocaine' scene in 'Annie Hall' caused me to fall out of my seat, it received a audience laugh that matched the one you get when you see Lemmon and Curtis in dresses for the first time in 'Some Like it Hot'.

But Woody Allen lost me too some time ago. I think the line in 'Hollywood Ending' about Haley Joel Osment was so gratuitous that it was then Woody 'jumped the shark'to me.

It would be one thing if his later films were like Bergman's or Kurosawa's which reflected the view of aging. Of the great directors not too many made great films after the age of 75; Billy Wilder was 75 when he made 'Buddy,Buddy', his last film. David Lean was about that age when he made 'Passage to India'. John Huston made 'Prizzi's Honor' and 'The Dead' after the age of 75 but I think he is an exception.
I agree with those who have written that the absence of a strong, other voice has hurt his work. In the 1970's his film editor could insist that he reshoot, or rewrite, scenes. The comparison to Bob Hope is also apt.
Out of love for the past work I saw 'V-C-B' and 'Whatever Works' and was stunned at how unneccessary they were.

Breadbaker said...

Technical comment: the Willie Mays analogy doesn't work because Willie was hurting his team going out there; Woody is only hurting his reputation. That's a big difference.

I recently read a biography of Woody that explained how Jean Doumanian had obtained his foreign backers. The backers are happy with his stuff and there are moments in some of the films that are interesting or even new.

What bugs me is a technique I first noticed in one of his last enjoyable films (for me), which is "Everyone Says I Love You." It's something you never see in anyone else's movies and it's totally grating. What I'm referring to is exposition by someone talking in the second person. In this particular scene, Woody is refusing to go to the Marx Brothers party in Paris and people are lamenting it and someone says, "especially because you are on the committee that puts on the party." Telling someone something they know about themselves is an awkward (and in many cases in which he uses it, unnecessary) way to inform the audience. This from the guy who put subtitles underneath Annie Hall and Alvy Singer.

Michael in Vancouver said...

My observation is that most of Woody's best films were made during his relationship with Mia Farrow. Since their breakup, he has not made a single film as good as the best ones from that period.

That was obviously a stormy and tempestuous relationship, and I'm sure it must have been the catalyst that inspired the best of the artist in him. That relationship, from beginning to end, was passionate, absurd, sad, funny, and all-consuming -- like his movies. (You could say similar things about his affairs with Keaton and Lasser, who also inspired him greatly.)

Ever since Woody's become content, settled and happy with his current bride (regardless of your judgement of how they came to be), his movies have become the same -- content, settled, coasting along with no spark. Not that I wish him unhappiness, but I think his own life experience is leaving him little in the way of inspiration. If he married someone his own age, he'd probably be making films with storylines more relevant to his and his audience's generation.

gottacook said...

On a tangent: The justifiable laments about what's lacking in Woody's recent films could also apply to his humor pieces primarily appearing in The New Yorker, which he'd resumed sometime in the 1990s, I think. The earlier stuff was often hilarious, the latter-day pieces not so much. Don't know why he does it if his ability to (or need to) productively self-edit has gone by the wayside, replaced by unalloyed self-indulgence, as sometimes happens with successful writers over the age of 65 or so (another good example might be Robert Heinlein).

And I started out as big a Woody fan as anyone - even saw Interiors during its theatrical run.

Michael Ostomy said...

The Bob Hope analogy is flawed, because Hope's latterday reputation as a calcified reactionary hack came from his high-profile NBC specials, Carson guest spots, and so on, in the days of three networks. Worst of all, an entire generation of Americans grew up knowing this version of Bob, rather than the sharp, snappy comedian of the 1940s.

The only people who are being disappointed by Allen's later work are already Allen fans. They've all been exposed to his earlier work. Do you think there's a person in the world who was introduced to Woody's career via "Melinda and Melinda" or "Anything Else"?

Chris F said...

Body of work, hell. Let other people make judgments on your body of work after you're dead.

Maybe what Woody enjoys is the *process*. I haven't made anywhere near the dent in this business as Woody has, or as Levine has for that matter, but I hope I can keep on working in it until I keel over.

Dave said...

I don't understand why he should stop. He enjoys what he's doing. People pay him money to do what he's doing. They make money on his movies.

If you were doing something you enjoyed, and you were being paid for it, would you stop because some people think you're not doing your best work?

This isn't about an athlete. When an athlete is over the hill, their diminishing ability hurts the team around him. Even if Allen's ability isn't what it used to, he's not hurting anyone around him.

He doesn't owe his fans anything. You don't get to take ownership over him and his decisions because you feel he isn't making movies that are to your taste anymore.

He does what he does because he loves to do it. If that's not a reason to continue working, I don't know what is.

A Non-Emus said...

I don't think stopping and re-writing would necessarily help Woody. Whatever Works was a script he wrote 30 years ago, pulled out, rewrote and it still wasn't that great. As disappointing as his movies have been for 15 years or so, someday when he's not around anymore we will all marvel at the body of work as a whole. The fact that major movie stars will take massive pay cuts to be in a film that almost no one will see says a lot about the respect Allen still gets. So his movies are no longer "events" you'll look back on decades from now. I for one am against telling elderly artists to hang it up because they're not as great as they were when they were younger. As creaky as Bob Hope was in the 90's (and his 90's), I loved that he was still around and miss him dearly. We will say the same about Woody Allen.

D. McEwan said...

" Vermonter17032 said...
I guess the question is this: Which is the better entertainment, a mediocre Woody Allen film or a top-knotch James Cameron movie?

I think I'll still take Woody Allen."

So would I, IF THOSE WERE MY ONLY TWO CHOICES IN THE WHOLE WORLD! However, with thousands of viewing choices available to me, Woody hasn't made a film since Match Point that even got on my "Want to See" List, and hasn't made a film I had to see, and see over and over since Bullets Over Broadway. Woody's recent films, like Cameron's Avatar, are entirely missable.

I was a huge Woody Allan fan 40 years ago. I even went and saw him perform one of his final stand-up gigs. Best joke writer in the world then. It pains me to see him turn out crap on an assembly line that even he doesn't watch. Of course Woody doesn't watch his own films after they're finished. No one does. Maybe if he made movies he wanted to see, we'd want to see them also.

Frankly, he started to lose me with Manhattan. I know it's considered one of his good films, and there is much excellence in it. But what I saw was a middle-aged man making a movie about how right and natural and wonderful it was for a middle-aged man to have an affair with a girl who is still in high school!

My friends, defending it to me when I said it made my flesh crawl, said: "But she was so much wiser and purer than the jaded women his own age."

A. Talked to a high school girl since high school? They are, for the most part, idiots, and beyond jaded!

B. I don't care if she was Helen Keller and Madame Curie rolled into one gorgeous package, she was still in high school and he was a middle-aged man!

To this day, I do not understand why people aren't creeped out by Manhattan, as it's a hymn of love to pedophilia.

"That's just your dirty mind," my friends told me. (It's not an unusual thing for people who know me to say.)

Then, some years later, along came Soon-Yi Previn, and people were shocked. Hello? Did they see Manhattan, in which he employed all of his considerable talent to put over the idea that the most-mature thing an aging man can do is seduce high school girls?

I don't care if he keeps making movies or not, since I am not required to go see them. Will the unending parade of third-rate blah movies dilute the esteem in which his masterpieces are rightly held? I don't think so. People still thought Hamlet was pretty good, even if they'd seen Perecles or The Merry Wives of Windsor.

It was Soon-Yi that forever destroyed him in my estimation.

Some comics remain forever funny, right up to the end. Jack Benny anyone? But for every Jack Benny, there is a Bob Hope, whose last even remotely funny movie was The Facts of Life in 1960, and it wasn't very good, but he had 40 years still to go, and a number of wretched movies still to make.

"Michael Ostomy said...
The Bob Hope analogy is flawed, because Hope's latterday
[sic] reputation as a calcified reactionary hack came from his high-profile NBC specials, Carson guest spots, and so on, in the days of three networks.

And from such dreadful, unfunny movies as: How to Commit Marriage, The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell, Eight on the Lam, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, I'll Take Sweden, A Global Affair, Call Me Bwana, The Road to Hong Kong, and Bachelor in Paradise. This list goes on.

Bob's being a calcified reactionary warmongering asshole had nothing to do with his not being funny past 1960. His becoming a hack was a separate horror.

Woody Allen Fan said...

Ok, woah.

All of you (reactionary commenters / shmucks) (pick one) need to chill out.

A lot of you are missing the point.

What Ken said was not a slam. It wasn't "Stop making movies, because you're no good at making them."

It was, "I think one way to ensure that whatever you make next is of the highest quality is to take some time before you make it."

And that, quite frankly, is not just a fair point, but pretty good advice to any artist: take your time before you dive into doing something for the sake of it.

It's pretty clear that his post was written with adulation and in the hopes that the advice would be of help. (If Woody ever even saw it, which, let's all be honest, we all probably rightly doubt.)

Ken may not have chosen to phrase it as lightly as that, but then, where would the controversy be if he did?

Right on, Ken. Those of use who heard you, heard you loud and clear.... And who knows, maybe Woody will too.

Hester L. Riches said...

Good column, Ken. I am always annoyed by Woody Allen's casting; every year he picks some hot new actress who's just earned some fame and acclaim, and she's young and dumb enough to be honoured to work with Woody Allen. What about discovering new talent? Or writing roles for mid-life and older women? Something seems emotionally stunted in the body of work from past 15 yrs or so.

Paloma said...

I LOVE Woody Allen, but Ken, i couldn't agree with you more. He needs to slow down, he is being making the same movie over and over and over again for the last decade. Don't get me started on Vicky Cristina Barcelona, cause yeah, no, i may be biased cause i can't stand Penelope Cruz but no. I'd just re-watch the classics and wait for something i KNOW he can do again.

Anonymous said...

If you had just written that you wished Woody Allen would make better movies, I might agree. After that, your open letter just makes you look like an asshat.

MBunge said...

An artist's fans do him no favors when they make excuses for poor work.

And the problem with a great artist continuing to churn out sub-standard stuff is that it endangers the status of his best creations for future generations. 50 years from now, somebody's first Woody Allen movie is going to one of the things he's churned out in the last decade. Is that person going to even bother watching anything else he did?


normadesmond said...

stopped watching him years ago. he said what he had to say, quite well, then kept repeating himself, not as well. then i read mia's book, vomitted and moved on.

Unknown said...

You're assuming, of course, that the film is even playing in Kansas. In the capital city, with a population of 123,000, it is not. (Megamind and Unstoppable start every half hour, though!)

Lizbeth said...

I actually saw Allen's latest film and was mildly amused...not the greatest, but entertaining.

That being said, I agree that Allen keeps repeating himself, but I would make that argument that a lot, if not MOST, filmmakers -- who are writer/directors and work purely from original material - rehash the same material over and over again. Sure, they may change the characters and tweak the plot, but they're delving into the same basic themes.

I certainly feel this holds true for Kevin Smith, Ed Burns, Spike Lee and other self-proclaimed writer/directors. What started out as fresh, original voices quickly gets old if they don't evolve as men or find ways to explore issues that have meaning to the world at large (and not just themselves).

It's human nature. As writers we write what we know and we write to explore with OUR issues or exorcise our own demons. At a certain point if we don't hook up with writing partners (and start exploring their major issues) or adapt books or other material, our original stuff is all a rehash of the same basic themes that dictate our own personal LIMITED experiences.

I think what makes Allen's work more "stuck" than even the others is that he simply isn't willing to be honest. He doesn't really bring his own voice/experiences into focus. Rather he keeps an odd distance, mocking other older men for their romantic choices without shining a spotlight on his very own dysfunctional relationships.

If he wants to "say something" that is truly provocative -- he needs to be more honest. Otherwise, why bother writing original material? He may as well direct Pirates of the Caribbean 9 if he doesn't want to make a "personal" film.

MBunge said...

"I would make that argument that a lot, if not MOST, filmmakers -- who are writer/directors and work purely from original material - rehash the same material over and over again."

Which can sometimes be the fault of the audience for not wanting to accept anything different from them, Kevin Smith with Jersey Girl and Tarantino with Jackie Brown being prime examples (though one was obviously a better effort than the other).


Pete Grossman said...

Finally! A devoted fan echoing my thoughts. How I wish I could be excited about a Woody Allen film again. I'm saddened he's lost me.

The decent part of the world said...

Over a year late to the game, but I just wanted to address the poster who not only thinks Rickey Henderson and Woody Allen are overrated, but actually had the overconfidence to say it to others, out loud.

You are a dumbheaded dummy who is dumb.

It is likely that you have many other thoughts on the same mental level. Do not express them.

Tony aka Pismotality said...

I'm even later to the game but can't resist leaving a comment.

So long as Woody Allen continues to enjoy the process of film making and there are still people in Europe and elsewhere willing to watch new Allen films, thus ensuring financial backing for each year's project for the forseeable future, then I'm inclined to think: good luck to him.

For me personally, things started going downhill with Manhattan Murder Mystery, but it's not the business of the artist to be respectful to his oeuvre: the point is to keep on doing it so long as the need and the opportunity are both there.

Maybe there will come a time when the worldwide audience votes with its feet, but that will be the only opinion that need concern Allen directly, if it means he no longer gets the backing to make more movies. In which case he will, I hope, find another outlet.

It's entirely appropriate for Mr Levin to express an opinion but I don't think it need concern Allen himself. It may simply be that Woody Allen is doing the best he can these days. Maybe he's incapable of a change in his methods at such a late stage. But so long as he wants to continue, let him do so - whatever way he wants.