This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: An odd coupling from a late-’60s Allen TV special:
I sometimes suspect that the air of been-there-before boredom that has been used to dismiss most of Woody Allen’s work for the last two decades has less to do with outrage over his personal life (since most people still seem to get the details of the whole Mia/Soon-Yi saga wrong) than with the creeping anti-intellectualism that has infected nearly every aspect of American life since the early ’80s.
Once “Seinfeld” premiered, audiences had a way to partake of sophisticated New York life without having to be worry about knowing how to identify Kierkegaard or Heinrich Boll (or having to know how to correctly pronounce various intimate parts of the female anatomy).
Andrew Sarris, defending his famous “Pantheon” of Hollywood directors, once wrote that all we really mean when we say that one filmmaker is better than another is simply that he’s made more good films than other directors. Allen, with 40 films to his name over the last 42 years (I’m counting “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?,” the made-for-TV “Don’t Drink the Water” and the forthcoming “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) would rank among the top living American filmmakers on the strength of those numbers alone. Of those 40 films, I’d name only one outright failure, one or two curious misfires, and at least 18 out-and-out works of genius. That’s about as good a record as any filmmaker could aspire to.
Those who have ignored Allen’s work since the end of the Mia Farrow period (the public dust storm over their personal life having surfaced just before the 1992 release of “Husbands and Wives”) have missed an interesting transformation in his films, a move toward an almost literary approach to narrative that recalls and complements his skillfully crafted short stories and “casuals.” (This is something of a generalization, since he’s made 17 films during this period, but bear with me.)
What you need to know
While you wait for the fall release of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” sample some Allen-related video on YouTube: