Welcome to my asylum for ideas and thoughts on movies, politics, culture, and all things Bruce Springsteen.

Friday, July 09, 2004

got woody?

Woody Allen is the greatest American film maker, period. Well, at least to me, and that's all that matters, right? I love his (well-done) films with strong characters, morality tales, witty dialogue, and high-brow humor. I can't say that I like the man because I've never met him. My friends give me such grief when I discuss my love of Woody Allen films, by saying "oh my gosh, he married his daughter! What a pig/jerk/child molester/fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-choice-obscenity-you-like-that-describes-people-you-think-are-weird!" Well, when one looks through history at famous or highly revered people mythical or real, who have lived less than "normal" family lives, we see that Woody pales in comparison to many of them. A sample few:

Noah - gets drunk, passes out, and then gets boinked by his two daughters. Now, let's not blame Noah for being the inspiration for Faye Dunaway's character in China Town, but his daughters sure do dodge a lot of blame. If you believe the literal meaning of Genesis that they did it to propagate our species, then maybe we're all hard-wired (and Biblically-sanctioned) to go cruising for chicks at our next family reunion. Yeah!

Abe Lincoln - our first gay president? Well, the Log Cabin Republicans believe so, and cite evidence that the Honest One and Mary Todd slept in separate beds and only, well, you know, for the sake of procreation. He was moody, depressive, suicidal, and often rejected social norms. Who knows?

Emperor Caligula - no explanation necessary.

Angelina Jolie - do I even touch this one?

J. Edgar Hoover - this creep, whose life mission was to destroy as many Americans as possible who did not "fit in", lunatics, rebels, and really bad people like Martin Luther King, John Lennon, and Albert Einstein, to name a few, was another pot calling kettles black. Trying to expose people for their "deviant" behavior or attitudes and yet was either a cross-dresser or gay. Now, there is nothing wrong with being either of the two, but the point is that Hoover as head of the FBI has a true hypocrite yet held no qualms in assassinating those he didn't like. More ammunition for those who teach history do so in its entirity.

Oedipus - See, we can't help it. We've always been mixed up.

At any rate, back to Allen Konigsberg. I threw in my cd of his stand up comedy from the 1960s, which is just brilliant. Many of his skits have ended up in his movies, especially Annie Hall. Getting a zero in his metaphysics class for cheating on his final by looking into the soul of the boy next to him; seeing a strict Freudian analyst who would bill him for missing sessions if he committed suicide; trying to enlist in the Army and being rejected as "4P": in case of war, he was a hostage. Classic lines. Sometimes I listen to Woody for his comic timing, other times it's for his self-deprecating wit. What I hear is a well-read, extremely bright individual that makes comedy, films, and fiction that reflects a view of life as I see it: extremely complicated, often relativistic, often comical, sometimes painful, but ultimately beautiful. When recently watching Radio Days, I was amazed at how vignettes of a family's life in Brooklyn could depict even the Depression as a great time. Crimes and Misdemeanors is an incredibly intricate story of power, corruption, morality, and whether God plays a role in the life of even men who struggle with His existence. Bananas is just plain goofy. Interiors is metaphorical for the house where the main characters vacation: close and connected under one roof yet separated by the window panes of the doors dividing each room from the others.

Hey, I know! To steal a page from my friend Lefty Brown's blog, here's a top 10 of my favorite Woody Allen films (in no particular order):

1. Deconstructing Harry - his last best film. A bit dark and vitriolic for most; biting and sharp.
2. Husbands and Wives - of the many tales of, well, read the title, and how often people need to do what is best for themselves, regardless of what the world tells them they "need" to do.
3. Crimes and Misdemeanors - see above. You'll stop this film several times throughout just in order to see where you yourself stand with several of the issues and events in this brilliantly written story.
4. Hannah and Her Sisters - Another funny and challenging film. Many times decisions and promises are life-long, or until her sexy sister comes along...
5. Manhattan - The opening montage alone makes this one. While a bit creepy with the whole dating a teenager thing (autobiographical) there are great exchanges between Woody and Diane Keaton.
6. Interiors - ever need to see a film twice to understand a film and still be knocked out with the devastating thought that no matter what you may do to help someone, they may never be happy?
7. Play It Again, Sam - sweet and goofy, early Allen at his best. I love this movie because he's the outcast, miscast little guy. Maybe I relate...
8. Sweet and Lowdown - "documentary" of the world's second greatest guitarist? Brilliant just in the concept, but a wonderful story of star-crossed lovers (another of his themes).
9. Purple Rose of Cairo - movies are romantic, and what's more romantic is the thought of how we look to them to help guide us along. More sentimental than Radio Days and the best part is when Jeff Daniels steps from the silver screen world because he's in love with someone in the audience. If only...
10. The best for last: Annie Hall - the first movie of his that I saw, the one that hooked me, the one that breaks my heart every time I watch it. Not because Alvy Singer is a dork, not because they don't live happily ever after (thank God for Woody Allen's writing because people more often than naught DON'T live happily ever after; they just keep living). What makes this such a romantic movie is that we all have an Annie Hall; we've all been in Alvy's shoes, where, no matter how happy or content we are now, we always reflect upon those who have passed through our lives wondering just what they're up to and how thankful we are that those people did come and touch us, no matter how briefly.