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The International Writers Magazine
: Film Talk

Can Woody connect with younger audiences?
Robert Cottingham

"Woody", the world’s 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.

His 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. It’s 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 shame.

(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 and Melinda

Robert is a final year Creative Arts and Film Student at Portsmouth University

See Also more about film in Film Space


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