- By Eric Kohn
- November 25, 2011 6:21 PM
- 1 Comment
Like many Americans reared on eighties pop culture, I first discovered the potential of cinema by way of Steven Spielberg. The escapism of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," derivative as it may have been to viewers more readily familiar with the matinee serials that inspired it, brought an exotic world of possibilities to life for these relatively sheltered eyes. But I don't want to give Spielberg all the credit for revving up my movie engine; while Spielberg's refined spectacles introduced me to a new world, I was equally excited by the discovery of a familiar one by way of Woody Allen.
I've had Allen on the mind a lot this week, having just watched Robert Weide's terrific two-part PBS documentary about the 75-year-old director for the network's "American Masters" series. Weide's refined survey touches on everything you wanted to know about Woody but never had the opportunity to ask, from his lovably arcane insistence on tapping everything out on the same typewriter he's had for 30 or so years to the slight but usually effective approach he brings to coaching performances. While Allen has moved through various "periods," his technique and outlook have remained fairly stable. Even though I haven't been entirely thrilled by his last few movies, the Allen drug--the neuroses that felt like home--retains its vibrancy in his comedies, and takes on a deliciously grim finality in his thrillers. Even when he strikes out, he's still true to himself.
I enjoyed "Midnight in Paris" when I saw it at Cannes earlier this year, although compared to the "earlier, funnier" Allen comedies it brings to mind (as Allen memorably calls them in "Stardust Memories"), the movie's status as Allen's highest grossing film to date is mainly a triumph for Sony Pictures Classics. It means nothing to Allen. And for the sake of consistency alone, it shouldn't. As he says in the final seconds of Weide's documentary: "Despite all these lucky breaks, why do I still feel like I got screwed?"