The International Writers Magazine: Film Talk
Woody connect with younger audiences?
the worlds most famous American director, is on borrowed
time. He finds it increasingly difficult to find distribution
for his films' and, whereas twenty years ago the release of a
new Allen was guaranteed to be a significant event, it seems that
nobody is prepared to gather up any enthusiasm for his new films.
That is a sad reflection
of the marketplace when any old dross starring Ben Affleck or Adam Sandler
can go to number one art the Box office. Of course, Allen may never
have been a major player, for he has always been too publicity shy to
court the major league. Nevertheless, the upper middle classes who Allen
has mythologized in his films were exactly the sort of people who could
be guaranteed upon to see his films when they came out. But the young
crowds who went to see Annie Hall and Manhattan are now
considerably less young. Those films, which at the time were exquisite
distillations of the mores and morals of Manhattan society, now seem
hopelessly dated. The essence of these two films was used to make the
incredibly successful sitcom Friends; which not only borrowed
the idea of Ross's wife becoming a lesbian from Manhattan but also had
its characters converse in the same self -obsessed whining, as if nothing
else mattered but their problems.
So where now for Allen? It seemed to me that there was a wave of restored
excellence that began with Bullets Over Broadway and lasted right
up until Celebrity, possibly Sweet And Lowdown. These
were adult films in the best sense of the word; funny, smart and agile
films that nobody but their creator could have made. But then Woody
blew it by making overly cute films like Anything Else and the
still unreleased in the UK Hollywood Ending.
Part of the problem is that nobody wants to see the septuagenarian cavorting
with actresses like Charlize Theron, young enough to be his granddaughter.
It may be that Allen has run out of fresh ideas and can only make films
that recycle old material.
Woody Allen's career could be compared with Clint Eastwood's: This year
Allen will be 70 and Eastwood will be 75; and in addition to their devotion
to jazz both as admirers and serious musicians, they have been equally
dedicated to their work as actors and directors. Each has made a film
virtually once a year since the Seventies, demonstrating that it's possible
to plough your own furrow in a notoriously difficult business. Allen's
reputation has benign steady decline and are no longer the major cultural
events they were in the seventies and eighties. Eastwood, on the other
hand, has never been more highly regarded than the dozen years since
Unforgiven. This disparity may have something to do with their
relationship towards their work - Allen's work is deeply personal, wrenched
from inside him; Eastwood's, though carefully chosen, has a certain
detachment. It may also be connected with the fact that Eastwood, unlike
Allen, not only looks his age but acts it as well. This may be the biggest
problem of all in getting new, younger audiences for his films. Creatively
and stylistically, Allen has been stuck in a rut since the 1970's. They
may be full of hip young things such as Chloe Sevigny, Scarlett Johannson,
Christina Ricci, but his characters are still rhapsodizing about jazz
and Humphrey Bogart as if Play It Again Sam never happened. Ask
any young film fan what they think about Allen (as I have done) and
they will tell you that they loved his earlier, funnier films, but they
haven't seen anything recent since Antz (1998), which wasn't
even a Woody Allen film. He is known these days more for his personal
life than for his films, and that is a shame.
films have lost their audiences. Part of the problem is that the
studios don't know how to market his films. The poster for Anything
Else is a perfect example. Looking at the poster, there is nothing
to indicate that it's a Woody Allen film. Its as if they've
become embarrassed of the man, and want audiences to think it's
merely another romantic comedy.
And what about his latest Melinda And Melinda? The audience
I watched it with at the London Film Festival seemed to be having
a great time, but try telling that to Fox Searchlight. They're not
planning to release the film here or Stateside until March 25th,
denying the film's possibility of Oscar nominations which considering
the great work done by Rhada Mitchell and Will Ferrel, is a huge
(Melinda is doing
well in France however where Woody has a loyal audience, regularly doing
over a million admissions).
I don't think we can write off Allen just yet. He is the greatest comic
in his medium. He could even confound his critics by being the screenwriter
so sorely needed by Coppola and Scorsese.
© Robert Cottingham Feb 9th 2005
See the review of Melinda
Robert is a final year Creative Arts and Film Student at Portsmouth
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