Woody Allen Seems Stuck Behind a Creative Wall

Woody Allen Creative Wall

Inside the bubble of a traveling auteur who answers to no one

MEMO TO: Woody Allen
FROM: Peter Bart

The premieres are behind you, your new movie is doing strong business and, once again, you are wallowing in the critics’ worshipful praise. Except you don’t do wallow, Woody — in the midst of all the hoopla, you’ve disappeared to start yet another movie.

At age 78, you continue to be superbly prolific (an astonishing 48 films), but even your most ardent admirers fail to appreciate two other qualities about you. First, in the words of one of your former distributors, “No filmmaker has ever been shrewder than Woody Allen in manipulating the system to his advantage.” Second, perhaps no filmmaker has made a more impressive career comeback from the brink of extinction.

Critics raving about “Blue Jasmine” have long forgotten your career-ender of 2002, symbolically titled “Hollywood Ending.” Having shot a succession of flops, and earned a reputation as a chauvinist, you deftly distanced yourself from the Hollywood matrix by fleeing to England. Suddenly, an entirely new Woody had launched himself on the London-Barcelona-Paris-Rome trajectory — and a career was reborn.

SEE ALSO: Can Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’ Top His ‘Midnight in Paris’ B.O. Record?

It was a career with a newly defined modus operandi. Having become frustrated with the workings of a succession of major distributors, the new Woody never has to pitch his projects to financiers, never confronts studio notes, never cajoles journalists and never attends premieres. “To Woody, premieres are just parties for the actors, and he doesn’t care for parties,” points out Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Classics.

All this has worked mightily to your advantage — to a degree. While I appreciate the artistry of “Blue Jasmine,” Woody, I feel the film’s frailties reflect the impact of the tight creative cocoon you’ve built around yourself. There’s no one left to argue with you or to challenge your conceits. You shoot your first drafts. And you’re surely the only director who, having admired Cate Blanchett’s performance as Blanche DuBois at Brooklyn Academy of Music, would then dare to hire her to play essentially the identical character in a contemporary film.

The reviews now describing you as a “woman’s director,” Woody, pose a sharp contrast to your dark days in the 1990s. That’s when the press was bashing you for breaking up with Mia Farrow while initiating your relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. Not only were you vilified as bad husband material, but you even made a bad movie, “Husbands and Wives,” to prove it.

SEE ALSO: Woody Allen Weighs a Return to Standup and More During Busy ‘Blue’ Period

The new Woody, to be sure, is almost pathologically cautious about his media presence. In your rare interviews, you never comment substantively on your own films. Your press reps see to it that your actors make suitably reverent comments about your directing style and never complain about the fact they’re not allowed to see your completed screenplays before shooting.

In an interview with Scott Foundas of Variety prior to the opening of “Blue Jasmine,” you unfurled an imposing list of projects you were working on, including a musical based on “Bullets Over Broadway” and an acting role in a John Turturro film (you play a pimp). You also said you might do the unthinkable — actually shoot a new movie in Hollywood.

That would be a departure, Woody, because you’ve made it clear that you have long nurtured something of a disdain for Hollywood, its studios and the Los Angeles scene in general. “There’s nothing to do at night,” you’ve protested.

I doubt you have much time to do anything at night anyway, Woody. There’s always that next movie to prepare, and that next exotic location to scout.

After all, directing careers are just beginning at age 78, aren’t they?

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  1. leilakin says:

    Peter Bart, I always enjoy reading your articles and essays. I find your observations astute, informed, reasoned, and fact based. But, in this article, you undermine your own excellence when you say, about Woody Allen, “Not only were you vilified as bad husband material, but you even made a bad movie, “Husbands and Wives,” to prove it.”

    Perhaps I misunderstand this statement.
    Do you mean he’s a bad husband and his film, Husbands and Wives, proves this? If so, how?
    And secondly, why do you think Husbands and Wives is a bad movie?

    Thank you for offering some clarity on this ironically blatant, yet vague, statement.

  2. Windrider says:

    Peter please take a well deserved vacation. A few weeks rest and you’ll be back to form.

  3. max mora says:

    This was a rather pompous and ridiculous article. Peter Bart, as much as I like your biting criticism you are a bit of a blowhard.

  4. Lorrianne says:

    Why are there no black people in any of Woody Allen’s movies? Wait, I take it back. Bobby Short (playing the piano) and a black maid (with no lines, as I recall) both appeareH in “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

    • Arnie Tracey says:

      And, representing Mumbai, there was Freida Pinto in “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” . So don’t be so hard on Woody. Why? Because stunt casting is not exactly an exercise in diversity.

    • shortcutsla says:

      Chiwetel Ejiofor is exceptional in ‘Melinda and Melinda’

    • Arnie Tracey says:

      Because Woody makes waspish-Jewish, rom-com fairy tales sans social messages, and there’s room for only one minority, and it’s religious, not racial.

      Note that there are also no America Indians, Asians (except Soon Yi as a child in “Hannah”), nor any sub=continent Indians.

      So, no sour grapes, okay?

      n.b. Don’t forget the black hooker in “Deconstructing Harry.” Major camera-time. Dynamite performance.

  5. Rick Guasco says:

    Congrats to the Woodman. After 20 years in the wilderness, you’ve reasserted yourself as an auteur—again—but this time on your own terms: “There’s no one left to argue with you or to challenge your conceits. You shoot your first drafts. And you’re surely the only director who, having admired Cate Blanchett’s Broadway performance as Blanche DuBois, would then dare to hire her to play essentially the identical character in a contemporary film.” That probably says it best, for better AND for worst. This film is good, but doesn’t deserve to be more successful than “Midnight in Paris.” And you don’t deserve to be more successful than you were following “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Still, it makes me glad to see you at the top of your game again.

  6. diego says:

    “Husbands and Wives” is one of Woody Allen’s finest moments!

    • Arnie Tracey says:

      H & Wives is excellent. A homerun, for cryin’ out loud. Come ON ! Judy Davis as the newly separated, high strung date? OMG, she was never better, except in “The Ref.” S. Pollack with his young fruit-loop pop-tart leaving the party in a dust-up worthy of Andy Capp! “Wive” was dynamite. Liam? Awesome understatement. You need to really “see” that film again, Bart. You are so off on this.

    • Sanders says:

      That said, I don’t think Woody has reached the level of Husbands & Wives since then (my other 7 favorite Woody Allen films are Love and Death, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Hannah & Her Sisters.

    • Sanders says:

      I second the motion!

  7. Michael Hill says:

    Note to Mr. Bart regarding his Blanche DuBois comments: of course Woody Allen hired Cate Blanchett to do “essentially the identical character in a contemporary film.” Therein lies the brilliance, the beauty and the bittersweet essence of “Blue Jasmine”. If that doesn’t make sense to you there’s no hope of your getting the movie. Also: you’re wrong about “Husbands and Wives”; it’s excellent.

    Besides, if your essential complaint about Woody Allen is that he seeks, nurtures and treasures his independence in pursuing his artistic vision, something which any artist counts as an extreme blessing, in reality you actually have no complaint.

  8. Roy Atkinson says:

    I can’t think of anyone else in film-making history who has been able to get original screenplays made year after year. for so long.Preston Sturges surfaced in the 1930s, got hot in the early 1940s, but was struggling to keep going by the late forties. I walked out of “Hollywood Ending” thinking Woody had lost it and was in serious career trouble. But he kept going and I walked out of “Midnight in Paris” with memories of his 1970s triumphs as a couple in front of me raved about how much enjoyment the film had given them.Now Allen had to miss the “Blue Jasmine” premiere because he was starting a new period comedy in southern France on July 7. I bet he will be able to keep going well into his 80s. Bravo! Talk about a true original. Now, inspired by Mort Sahl, he is even considering a return to standup comedy.

  9. kern says:

    It seems that Peter Bart is conflicted in his view of Woody Allen. While much of the drift of this article seems positive, it is ends up being snide and condescending. What I’m trying to say is, just what is Peter Bart trying to say? I really don’t know.

  10. druxmanworks says:

    Long live Woody Allen!

  11. Andy says:

    I find him incredibly overrated,

  12. Frank W says:

    I didn’t think Peter Bart is “attacking” Woody Allen–which was what I expected from the headline–but I think his thesis is that doing as you please without challenge is detrimental to the Woody the artist. I guess like what has happened to Johnny Depp. But, in both cases Depp as actor and Woody as Director, they are both Auteurs of Character. Maybe Depp’s choices are not working, but he’s always been a character actor and just happened to become a star because of the unexpected whimsy of one role. On the other hand, Woody’s success in the past decade-plus just keeps increasing.

    Unfortunately I’m married to a Woody-hater (“That child molester!”) so the last film of his I saw in the theater was “Zelig” (or Radio Days–which ever one came out last before 1990). Though a woman friend of mine loved Match Point so much, she eagerly wanted me to see it and started playing the DVD.

    My favourite film of his is Stardust Memories. I just “got it” for some reason, though I loved many of his films, especially the “earlier and funny ones”. Luckily there were still in theater reissues in the late 70s so I got to see a lot of these on the big screen.

  13. Ernesto Molina says:

    It doesen´t matter. His body of work speaks for itself. Actors die to work for him. He is one of the few. This is a very unfortunate opinión.

  14. Victor says:

    Dear Mr. Bart,

    “Husbands and Wives” a bad film? Please reconsider. Watch it again. I´m sure you’ll change your mind.

    Best,

    V

  15. G. Jardoness says:

    I, for one, envy Mr. Allen’s career.

    Although the results have often been mixed, what Woody Allen has created for himself is a perfect professional equilibrium. He can immerse himself as he likes, produce precisely as he pleases, and deliver a product which has found a consistent and adoring audience, reliable enough to ensure the process can continue for as long as he is able.

    Only, perhaps, Sam Peckinpah sought to live that lifestyle, in devotion solely to the work. And Orson Wells, who did so, but more flamboyantly and haphazardly financed hand-to-mouth. And, of course, George Lucas, who’s lofty, self-financed, high-wire act, for a time, amazed the world.

    I just hope Woody Allen wakes up tomorrow and once again feels the need to let loose, and allow himself, for just a moment, to be zany and satirical and over-the-top, like so many of his films I personally hold dear.

  16. harry georgatos says:

    MATCH POINT is a masterpiece and the comeback Woody needed at the time. I’m still waiting for another MATCH POINT!!

    • MATCH POINT is Woody Allen’s straightforward dramatic film and arguably his best work. The movie’s script, nominated but didn’t win the Oscar, is superior to MIDNIGHT IN PARIS which won the award; but the Peter Bart articles overlooks that Allen’s (auteur) carte blanche in doing film pre-existed his emigrating to Europe.

      SEPTEMBER (1987) is a film Allen shot “twice”: the started with two different actors in the lead role before settling on a third. After editing that version of the flick, Allen decided to re-write the entire show which he re-cast then reshot.

      Woody Allen has enjoyed an autonomy unheard of within the industry for decades…and long before his European revival.

  17. Colin Vickery says:

    Peter Bart’s opinion piece comes across as showboating – attacking a respected filmmaker to get attention for himself. Bart’s gripes seem to be that 1. Woody Allen likes to keep busy and be creative in his late seventies and 2. He didn’t like Blue Jasmine as much as a lot of other critics. They are hardly reasons for a shoddy, hastily written attack that ranks as Bart’s worst piece of writing.

  18. James Day says:

    Given the track record mentioned in the memo, chances are Woody won’t read it.

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