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.
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.
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?