Woody Allen is a phenomenon but a foul dust floats in his wake

PA-2760389Sam Tanenhaus at Prospect Magazine:

In truth, glimpses of Allen’s other self had been visible all along. Kael had asked: “What man in his forties but Woody Allen could pass off a predilection for teenagers as a quest for true values?” The reference was to Manhattan, with its coltish 17-year-old co-star, Mariel Hemingway. The movie was a Pygmalion story. So was Annie Hall, and to some extent Hannah and Her Sisters. Allen was not just the director of that last film. He also “picked the wardrobe and hairdo for each actress, checking the makeup and rechecking, even reshooting a scene if he felt a minor detail of their appearance was wrong,” Shone notes. Such fussing isn’t uncommon among filmmakers. DW Griffith did it with the white-goddess Gish sisters. Hitchcock made it the premise of Vertigo. But few harboured delusions about those cold auteurs. Allen was different. He had all but invented the movie mensch who seemed “to get” women. His relationship with Farrow was itself a Manhattan fairy tale—exposed now as dreams always were in his films, only in this instance Allen stood before us, the malign sorcerer disrobed.

This is the foul dust that floats in the wake of Allen’s comedy. He has said, time and again, that the “Woody” onscreen is nothing like himself. But that is only partly true. Each of the many Woodys, surrogates for their creator, enact their different rituals of Zelig-like flight. It is the same impulse that drives him now, not just to make film after film, but to speed through each, as if he wants to be rid of it. Woody Allen’s art springs as much from rage as from hope. It offers not freedom, but escape—fleeting, delicious, the violent release of laughter in the dark.

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