I was reading a review of a Woody Allen comedy from the early 2000s the other night. There were some comments in it about his proclivity for starring opposite young and beautiful women. Like a lot of aging actors, he had a terrible run with this; let’s hope it’s over with. Also in the review and the comments that came with it appeared the words “pervert,” “perverse,” and “creepy,” presumably because he’s been married to Soon-Yi Previn for the past 14 years and has had two children with her. He was doing ok with his marriages and relationships, public-relations-wise, first married to Harlene Susan Rosen and then to Louise Lasser (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976), if you can remember back that far), then “dating” Diane Keaton, and then married to Mia Farrow, with their three children. The public image started to go bad with the custody battles. Then the marrige to Soon-Yi saddled Allen with the P and C words. Oh well. I myself am not ready to handle an eighteen-year-old girl eager to have children with me, that’s for sure. But hey, as a sister wife, in training, helping out She Who Must Be Obeyed, now that could work.
Anyway, the thing is, Allen is eight years older than me. This means that when I was in college, he was doing standup and writing for TV comedy shows. He showed up in his first movie just as I got out of school. Over the next ten years, his comic movies just kept getting better. I was 25 – 35 during that period, ready to appreciate sixties humor.
The ten years after that, he made all the great ones, as my cohort moved into its 40s. By then we were all grown up and ready for his masterpieces. They were part of the cultural landscape. Something to watch and appreciate, Fine Art. Part of the Baby Boom inheritance.
The next 25 years? Some good stuff, some not so good. My part of his audience, like him, is showing some road wear. We’re mostly philosophical about his career at this point.
The thing about Allen: a movie a year, done his way. Scheduled nights out playing jazz clarinet (does he still do that?). Years and years, and then some more years, on the couch (does he still do that?). Still the occasional New Yorker piece. Every major actor hopeful of working with him and him just always working, his favoirite camera shots, his favorite tropes, whatever.
So one of the blog comments I was reading said, “Oh, I didn’t like [whatever], which Allen made in [some year], but I did sort of like [whatever], which he made is some other decade.” And I had the thought, what if someone were commenting on some work by my father, for example, and said, “Oh, I liked this thing that he did in 1991, but not this other thing that he did in 1960” and I’ve got this heavy memory-load associated with my father and his works – how we were getting along in 1960 and in 1991, his health, the family, and I’m thinking that somehow, a simple liking of one thing and not of another out of his life’s work becomes so unbelievably trivial to any person who was there living it all the way through, that it isn’t worth noticing or responding to, beyond a polite “that’s nice.” Woody Allen isn’t my father, but there are sufficient connections between my life and his movies, that the effect of casual pronouncements about him cause me to begin dredging up memories of the time, his career, my life. Sort of as if a stranger were shuffling through a basket of your old family photos and plucked out a shot of everyone at a beach party in 1957, when so much happened to you for the first time, and casually said, “I don’t care for this shot. I don’t know why, but I just don’t.”
Allen’s great period was about being in your 30s and 40s, full bloom. It was about all the things you’re up to before you start slowing down. He had a public persona of one type before he became one of the best, and now he’s way out at the other end. He’d be ready to slip into Eric Rohmer sainthood, if it weren’t for his young family. He’s always been afraid of death; maybe this is one of his startegies to hold it off.