The Clare Spark Blog

June 16, 2009

Woody Allen and the myth of the artist

WoodyboycottOscarI have just seen/heard two interviews of Woody Allen, one a 2002 film by Richard Schickel, composed in the style of Allen’s black and white movies, the other by Terry Gross on NPR last night, June 15, 2009.

It was obvious that Woody was protecting his myth and the facts of his past, giving the prying Gross person contradictory information: he grew up in a lovely section of Brooklyn (Flatbush, not Coney Island) and there was always money in the house, but his father was a small time operator, occasionally driving cabs, playing the numbers, and  bringing home fenced goods (costing maybe a dollar) and with both parents working, there was never more than $200/week in the house until he started selling jokes at age seventeen.  The parents didn’t communicate and had no education, while Woody flunked out of NYU during his first year. With some vehemence, he denied being any kind of “bookworm” or “intellectual.” Antithetically, he was a  good athlete in high school.

Several times he stated with some resentment that his film fans were searching his films for clues as to his real identity. In the movie interview, he described himself as kind of low life and “seedy”, chronically depressed as he contemplated his mortality, and finding “distraction” only in playing his clarinet and going to basketball games. That persona was in full view in the NPR interview.

Not once did the subject of Jewishness as trauma during his lifetime raise its Medusa head and you can bet that Terry the G. (also Jewish) was not going to bring it up.

My daughter and I have often discussed his almost overt pedophilia in the movies. On that front, he did contrast the “innocence” of young girls (with respect to Manhattan?) with more intellectual women in the Schickel interview. With great trepidation, Terry Gross brought up the forty-year age difference between the male and female leads (Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood) in his latest film, asking if he was thinking of his own very young wife. He took evasive action, and Terry Gross did not ask him anything about his relations with Mom: was she clinging and critical? Did his parents see his films? Were his “intellectual” women a negative emanation of himself, rather like Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust as read by some conservatives?

Schickel played a clip from Annie Hall in which the Keaton character sounds like a typical obnoxious pretentious pseudo-intellectual (even dropping the name of Heinrich Boll, a famous supporter of the terrorist Baader-Meinhof gang), and I thought to myself, good heavens I hope that is not what I do. I must write more on my website about misogyny and the lonely fate of the intelligent woman.

Woody would rather be alone too with his many lives, all of them suspect.

1 Comment »

  1. I’m so glad you bring up Allen’s “almost overt” pedophilia. In Bananas, one of his early films, there’s a scene at a magazine stand where he wants to look through the girlie mags but feels embarrassed. There’s a quick joke that I don’t recall offhand about kiddie porn.

    Allen’s choice in women, from Mia Farrow to Louise Lasser to Diane Keaton, seem to all have a girl-ish quality, in appearance, as well as their voices. When sexy confident women are introduced in his films, they’re dangerous, and murderous,(Anjelica Huston in Crimes and Misdemeanors, for example.)

    It’s funny that he resents the audience searching for his real identity; I never thought he was trying to hide. With regard to what his mother must have been like,(or how he perceived her to be,) I assume the character in his short film, Oedipus Wrecks, was his way of working out how much better his life would be without his mother around, but of course, he could very well have just been satirizing the archetypal Jewish Mother that audiences love to laugh at, and not necessarily with. I recall a line in a movie of his where he sees a woman he really wants to dance with and he quips that he “would sell his mother to the Philistines for a dance with her.” Any basic understanding of Jewish history reveals the cruelty and the anger behind that remark.

    Having said all of that, I adore Woody Allen movies, for their immature romances, (I,too, do not recall the latency period that Freud claimed exists,) the nostalgia for not only the past but of past loves.

    You have an amazing blog, Clare.

    Comment by lucy — November 14, 2010 @ 6:57 am | Reply

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