Download:: For Woody Allen, as He Takes his Final Bow
Woody Allen says he’s retiring.
Woody Allen is a great filmmaker, one of the best who ever lived. He is a great thinker, one of the best who ever lived. And funny. God is he funny. My entire worldview has been shaped by Woody Allen, living through his movies as his characters. I honestly have no idea who I would be without them. I learned so much over the years watching each of them. Like Annie, it took me a while to get the jokes and references. Some of them tumbled around in my brain for years and years until I finally got the joke.
Getting the joke always took me to a new level of consciousness. At least that’s how I saw it. Most recently, my mind has been blown by how prescient Sleeper has become. Of course, since it’s modeled after 1984 and we’re living through that sort of dystopian reality now that we have a whole new world online in ways we never did before. There is a Big Brother-like leader in Sleeper that everyone must worship and obey. They are all programmed to think and behave “correctly.”
There is an underground that functions as a resistance. They’re Communists, of course, which is where the comparisons between the two books part ways, and the comparison between our reality and that of Sleeper’s. But I often think of Diane Keaton in that movie trying to recite a poem about a butterfly. It’s so bad because art can’t exist in a utopian world like that one. No, artists, like journalists, like scientists have to be fearless in their confrontations with life.
The Woody Allen films that have had the most impact on my life would most definitely be Stardust Memories, Hannah and Her Sisters, Another Woman and Crimes and Misdemeanors. I love most of his films (especially the earlier funny ones!) but those films were like ecosystems I lived inside. All of them have lines and scenes that replay in my mind when I try to make sense of things. Stardust Memories has one of my favorite messages in it, where Woody Allen is given sage advice: “You want to do the world a favor? Tell funnier jokes.”
“Why is there so much human suffering?”
“That is unanswerable.”
“Is there a God?”
“These are the wrong questions.”
“Look, if nothing lasts, why am I bothering to make films or to do anything for that matter?”
“We enjoy your films, particularly the early funny ones.”
“But the human condition is so discouraging.”
“There are nice moments too.”
“Shouldn’t I stop making movies and do something that counts, like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?”
“You’re not the missionary type. You’d never last. You’re also not superman. You’re a comedian. You want to mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.”
It’s such a simple message but oh so profound. Woody Allen spent his life asking questions, trying to solve the big ones. He wasn’t religious, even if born Jewish. His films, therefore, are attractive to those who also have endless questions about the human condition. He casts his characters from different perspectives coming at the same problem. Yes, he often spends time on inexplicable human attraction that goes in weird directions. Older men, younger women. I guess it was inevitable that someone with an expansive world view would not fit right in America in 2022. Now, the answers to questions can’t be open-ended. They must be mandated.
I’ve been each of the sisters in Hannah and Her Sisters at various points in my life, and then I’ve also been the male character. This isn’t to say I ever married someone inappropriately or had a fondness for barely legal men but these characters were — are you sitting down? More than just the people they were attracted to. This scene, in particular, is just so well written, so well directed, and acted. There is subtext because we know that Barbara Hershey is having an affair with Mia Farrow’s husband:
So this is all seen through the eyes of Hershey, who is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I have two sisters, one older and one younger and I was always impressed by how he captured that dynamic of love and competitiveness.
Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film I’ve thought about for years to search out its meaning. It isn’t that he has designed them to be that complex, it’s just that he has never really dumbed them down. It’s your job to work towards a deeper relationship with the content, at least that is how I watch not just his movies but all movies I admire.
Yes, life has changed. Whole generations have come and gone. Perhaps Woody’s moment is not even possible in 2022 America. He came up in the era of the counter-culture 60s and 70s, after the Boomers parted ways with traditional Judeo-Christian religion. Thus, it was a generation of seekers, looking for deeper meaning that religion might fill otherwise. That is why they were all so great to grow up with, the filmmakers of the 1970s. They had those eternally open minds that they worked out in their films.
You can only hope you find people who still care about what you think, or what you’ve left behind. Despite current standards of acceptability — I hope Woody Allen knows how much his movies have meant to so many of us.
So if it’s all right with you, I’ll keep the last breathtaking minutes of Stardust Memories where Woody Allen pays tribute to Charlotte Rampling, to the music and the moment. I’ll keep Alvy and Annie’s nervous romance in an otherwise cold and indifferent universe. I’ll keep the love letters to Manhattan and Jazz, the complicated kamikaze women, the Bergman and Fellini knock-offs, the glimpse of WWII Jewish family life in Brooklyn, the mediations on god’s watchful eye, the masturbation jokes, the insults to California, the early, funny comedies, the black and white, the color, the titles, which are in Swedish, the Sorrow and the Pity, the “Vagner,” the spider the size of a Buick, the Kafka-esqe experience, the horrible and the miserable, the large vibrating egg.
Not only can you separate the art from the artist but you must, if you believe in art at all. Movies, books, music, comedy, art – all must exist free from the clutches of morality. That’s what religion is for. That’s what propaganda is for.
Woody Allen believes or knows the truth to be that nothing lasts. Nothing will last. At some point, everything will be over for one reason or another. All the greatest works ever created will be gone one day. The job of the artist, he believes, is to figure out why it’s still worth making art knowing that.
At the end of his memoir he talks says, “Either way, they’ll live. I can’t deny that it plays into my poetic fantasies to be an artist whose work isn’t seen in his own country and is forced, because of injustice, to have his public abroad. Henry Miller comes to mind. D.H. Lawrence. James Joyce. I see myself standing amongst them defiantly. It’s about at that point my wife wakes me up and says, You’re snoring.”
As for me, I will keep coming back even if I have to fly to another country because, you know, I need the eggs.