MEMO TO: Woody Allen
There you go again, Woody. You’re getting downright predictable.
A new Woody movie is about to open, titled “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” All your hard-core fans want to believe that it will represent a return to vintage Woody comedies and that the lovable nebbish reigns again.
But then what do you give us? Another lawsuit with a particularly nasty edge to it. You’re suing your close friend and business partner, Jean Doumanian, charging that she cheated you out of profits from the last eight movies you made together.
What’s going on, Woody? Doumanian came up with the financing and stood by you through all your previous lawsuits. Yet now it’s Bert Fields time again?
Your fans may find this reminiscent of the 1992-93 imbroglio surrounding Mia and Soon-Yi when you were about to come out with a movie appropriately titled, “Husbands and Wives.” Your deal was with TriStar then, and studio publicists were paralyzed trying to figure out whether to release the movie in the face of the awful publicity or stash it for a year.
What was your reaction? You told them to do whatever they had to, and turned your focus to your next movie, “Manhattan Murder Mystery.” Nothing was going to derail you, but TriStar quickly bailed on your deal.
A major effort to renovate your image took place late in 1996 marking the release of yet another appropriately titled movie, “Everyone Says I Love You.” That’s when you actually emerged from your cone of silence and mingled with the lowly press.
There was good reason to give that movie a push, Woody. Your five preceding “Everyone…” had a combined gross of less than the $40 million taken in by “Hannah and Her Sisters,” your last successful film a decade earlier. To help things along, you cooperated with a semi-confessional piece in The New Yorker, even directing a few barbs at Mia Farrow (“I was never married to Mia, I never lived with Mia….”).
John Lahr at the time noted in his piece that you displayed a positive genius for “mass marketing your anxieties.” He had a point, but the domestic gross of “Everyone Says I Love You” totaled $9.7 million, so the “mass marketing” still fell short.
All this stirred your fervid fans in the New York press to argue that Woody, the filmmaker, must be judged in an entirely different light than Woody, the screwup. “Movie stars are make-believe,” Caryn James reminded us in The New York Times, as though delivering an epiphany.
But leave it to you, Woody, to keep reminding us of your real-life persona. The Doumanian suit is a case in point.
Financing the Woody oeuvre has always been a semi-philanthropic endeavor. The old United Artists was there for the good times, climaxing with the “Annie Hall” Oscar win in 1977.
Arthur Krim then took the franchise to his startup, Orion, with less felicitous results. At a time when Krim was in trouble and nearing his 81st birthday, you repaid his loyalty by delivering him a turkey called “September.” That was the movie you decided wasn’t good enough so you shot the whole thing over again. The second version was even worse than the first.
TriStar was in the Woody business for a while and then along came Disney briefly, then Doumanian and her longtime (and very wealthy) companion, Jacqui Safra. You guys were so tight, Woody, you even took them to Knick games, New York’s version of the ultimate intimacy. Doumanian worked out a distribution deal with DreamWorks, which did a terrific promotion job on “Sweet and Lowdown.”
But now it’s lawyer time again and the cross complaints are flying. The ubiquitous Fields, defending Doumanian, already issued a statement that “Mr. Allen’s latest excursion into the courts has no more merit than his last one.” That sounds like a reference to the custody battles of old.
Will any of this slow you down, Woody? Hardly.
Indeed, I can practically hear your voice urging me not to let my nostalgia get the better of me. Maybe I am in fact sentimentalizing the old days when you seemed at once to amuse us, touch us and even teach us. Maybe I shouldn’t hearken back to those flighty lobsters, those instant-starting Volkswagens and the McLuhan-like gurus who would magically turn up at cocktail parties or in theater lobbies.
Maybe you’ve moved beyond all this, Woody, and the rest of us should catch up. But why do I keep thinking that if Simon and Garfunkel were composing their famous song today, their lyrics would say, “Where have you gone, Woody Allen, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you?”
Woo woo woo!