I think I can pinpoint the exact moment when it happened. I was sitting on the sofa in my home watching Melinda and Melinda, on DVD, when I felt my eyes grow heavy. Within minutes I was fast asleep. When I awoke, Melinda and Melinda was still flickering awayon the TV screen but I found I had no curiosity about the movie or about what the characters had been up to while I snored gently (or not so gently) on the sofa.
Almost automatically, I reached for the remote control and switched off the DVD. What a rubbish film, I thought to myself.
And then it hit me.
It was all over for Woody and me. It was a relationship that had lasted 37 years, from the time I queued up at a New York theatre in 1971 to buy tickets to Bananas to this moment, as I sprawled sleepily on my sofa. Sadly, I had come to the reluctant conclusion that Woody Allen and I were going to go our separate ways.
It’s been mostly downhill since Annie Hall
Was he still the genius that I had always regarded him as? Was he still the great urban philosopher/humanist? Was he still the role model that he had been for me through my formative years?
Frankly I couldn’t give a monkey’s. All I knew was this: Christ, was the man a bore!
For those of you not privy to my passionate, if entirely illicit, love affair with Allen Stewart Konigsberg, who changed his name to Woody Allen for obvious reasons, all I can say is that it’s time for me to come clean.
My love was unrequited, of course (Allen has no idea that I exist), but that first viewing of Bananas left a deep and abiding impression on my 14-year-old psyche. The movie was—in retrospect—a largely incoherent, 80-minute feature consisting of one-liners and weird gags that purported to tell the story of a New York Jew who accidentally got mixed up in a South American revolution. Some of it though, was eerily prophetic of the shape of today’s TV news. Sportscaster Howard Cosell, playing himself, covered the assassination of a banana republic president as though it was a sports event. Some of it was plain silly. When US protocol officials arrive to receive the Latin president on his first trip to the US, the interpreter speaks no Spanish. Instead, he translates their English into florid, overblown gesture-laden Spanish-accented English.
But I loved it. And overnight, I became Woody Allen’s biggest fan. I related to the anarchic quality of the humour; to the sheer absurdity of his scripts; and I was blown away by the sharpness of his dialogue. But most of all, I think, I identified with the Allen character: A puny, awkward guy, shy, neurotic and guaranteed to fail at nearly everything he set out to do.
In 1972, Allen made the crappy Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (a series of unfunny sketches) but I hung around, waiting for the next movie. And sure enough, 1973’s Sleeper and 1975’s Love and Death were wonderful. Here, at last, was a director who made movies about losers like myself.
Then, in 1977, Allen made his masterpiece Annie Hall, loosely based on his relationship with Diane Keaton (who acted in the movie). I defy anybody who has ever been in a slightly dysfunctional relationship (and which of us has not?) to see Annie Hall and not identify with something in it. I saw the movie again last year. It is, quite simply, absolutely brilliant.
Then came a series of good but not necessarily great films: Stardust Memories (so-so), Manhattan (very good) and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (okay). In 1983, humiliated by Diane Keaton’s leaving him for Warren Beatty (what was she thinking: from Superloser to Superstud?), he made the supremely clever Zelig about a nonentity who has a way of turning up at important times in history. Just as Beatty had made the self-indulgent Reds in which real people were interviewed about his real-life hero John Reed, so Allen had real people give mock-real interviews about nonentity Zelig.
By then he had taken up with Mia Farrow and my theory is that he should have listened to Dory Previn’s Beware of Lemon Haired Ladies (about Farrow) because his work soon began to decline. But a mediocre Woody Allen film was still better than a good film by nearly everybody else. And I enjoyed Broadway Danny Rose , Radio Days and The Purple Rose of Cairo as well as Hannah and Her Sisters which would end up being the last great film Allen ever made (in 1986).
After that, scandal and misfortune rocked Allen’s life. He ran off with one of Farrow’s many adopted daughters (to be fair, he’s still with her), Mia accused him of sexually molesting another child (the charge was rubbish) and crappy movie followed crappy movie: Celebrity, Sweet and Lowdown, Hollywood Ending, Small Town Crooks, a 2000 Woody Allen film, etc. (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them; few people have).
Periodically, critics have declared that Allen has returned to form and I have tried dutifully to get excited about his latest pictures. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion was so-so and Match Point was watchable only because of Scarlett Johansson. I tried seeing Scoop but fell asleep on an aeroplane while watching.
And then finally, there was the Melinda and Melinda debacle. Now I very much doubt if I’ll waste my time on another Woody Allen film.
What went wrong? Did Woody change? Or did I just grow up? A little of both, I think. None of Allen’s recent movies have received good reviews and the general opinion among critics is that he’s lost his touch. This is not an uncommon phenomenon among directors—eight good films is the most that a film-maker can hope for before he runs dry.
But partly it is also that I think I’ve changed. Once, I enjoyed the anarchy, the neuroses and the angst. Now I want a little bit more: some drama, depth and a sense that Woody still has something left to say to me.
And either he’s got nothing left to give. Or I’m not in a mood to care.
It’s like a dysfunctional relationship from one of his movies. He’s still there. He’s still offering the same old things.
But alas, I’ve moved on. (Though not to Warren Beatty. Thank God!)