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message 1: by Feliks (last edited Oct 16, 2017 07:46AM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Joan Didion vs Woody Allen.

I'm generally|, a fan of Woody Allen. Not his newer stuff of course--he has not remained immune or unaffected by the rest of the downhill slide--but his older stuff is always a treat; whether serious or silly. He always used skilled, intelligent actors and actresses; wrote his own scripts; never pandered to publicity.

But today I was digging up some factoids about his shift from comedy flicks to those more serious, 'artsy' works and discovered that 'Manhattan' was spurred by a negative article written against him by none other than the west coast's Joan Didion. I'm a longtime fan of Didion; I consider her perhaps the finest social observer we've produced.

Here is that essay:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1979/...

At the time, it spawned something of a furor. Battle of the intellectuals. Who was right? Can we even opine on it? Is there anyone living a lifestyle of self-analysis anymore?

Didion received a lot of flak for her sour appraisal of Allen's ivory-tower. Defensive, resentful east-coast pundits claimed she was no better; and they rattle off Allen's numerous Oscars. But even that seems startling at this late date. Attacking a woman columnist in print?

Well...whatever Didion says, can't take away my enjoyment of Allen's directing. He is a good director; no question about it. A craftsman. I always feel comfortable watching his work. On the other hand, a string of Oscars is the least reliable recommendation for anyone in media. Red herrings, which say nothing.

But does that mean Didion's observations are wrong? No..I feel she accurately describes his obvious blind spots.

But what is remarkable about this article she wrote is just how otherworldly it seems today. Doesn't the entire article read as if from a vanished culture? Why is that?

The issues at hand are broad ones which should still be relevant: public self-consciousness, public self-awareness, public self-perception as invoked by Woody Allen's very personal, autobiographical films.

Didion complains that his eastern-intelligentsia is a fraud; out-of-touch with the way most of us really live.

But even though she may be right, I ask...why doesn't any of this still apply? You can read articles from James Thurber (1940s) and it would resonates better than does this dusty rancor.

Contemporary Americans never bother to defend 'ignoring our relationships'-- we all do so, very routinely. No one these days "pretends" to lead a detached life of airy, esoteric, cerebral, contemplation. No one is doing so in actuality; no one pretends to do so for the purpose of cachet. That whole schtick has fallen completely out of favor, hasn't it?

'Mental remoteness' is simply impractical today. No one feigns to be 'above' the swirl of social media; everyone is drawn into it whether reluctantly or no. If you 'include yourself out', you're considered retrogressive, not 'highbrow' or 'progressive' at all.

In a sense, these issues raised by Didion have been superceded by technology. That's my first impression. I'll be thinking about this for a while though. H'mmm!


message 2: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Put it this way: if Joan Didion (at the date this essay was written) would lower-the-boom on Woody Allen like this, when he was at the height of his powers--a guy who walked around mulling over his existence and the loves of his life and worrying and wondering about the meaning of everything he had ever done--

...what would she have to say about everyday, regular, average citizenry today? When all of us commit far worse sins than Allen ever might have? We embrace his worst faults as our own, on a daily basis.

Her attack foments a divisiveness which is now irrelevant. If you relate to Allen, you're immediately put on the defensive. If you never admired him, then she seems to vindicate your antipathy (even if your ill-feeling is based on insecurity/reverse-bias towards any of the intellectualism which Allen represents).

But these 'divisions' no longer really apply. We've made a virtue out of the detachment, isolation, self-absorbtion, and indifference which horrified the original readers of the article in the first place.

Seems to me, anyway...especially right now as I surf the internet instead of having a face-to-face conversation????? :(


message 3: by Kenny (new)

Kenny | 168 comments Mod
Brilliant discussion. Allen has put out a body of work that is amazing. Even second rate Allen is better than the best work of other directors. I do not believe Allen's East Coast Intelligentsia to be a fraud. Allen is very much a part of the East Coast Intelligentsia. The under rated "LOVE AND DEATH" is not the work of a fraud.

Allen did lose touch with his audience, and he lost favor with them over the Mia Farrow allegations. His work will forever be tainted by those allegations.


message 4: by Feliks (last edited Dec 27, 2017 05:31PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) I consider this a fair and temperate assessment. Well said Kenny.

Still, I can see how Didion's appraisal-at-a-distance made for constructive criticism at the time. It seemed like a testy little spat; but maybe everyone benefited despite the rancor.

Allen has many, many facets to his character. As you say, he is no fraud; but perhaps what happened is that he let some 'convenient elements' unconsciously creep into his films. He was maybe an over-ardent movie buff. That might have been the problem. When you're in that mode, it's easy to 'borrow'. As a writer myself, I know how easy that is to occur.

Still, Didion should have given him some leeway. He was always the best in his field; the only really cerebral filmmaker of his day. She should have separated her comments about him, from her comments about his films.

But maybe Didion's criticisms stung Allen to the good; made him strive to be a better filmmaker than even he initially contemplated. After he got over the initial smarting of her barbs, that is.

Anyway. What a marvelous little period in our popculture when these were the battles being waged, eh? That's what I really envy. These artists desperately sought to improve themselves at all costs, straining to constantly be better...I wish we had that back.


message 5: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) Another observation: doesn't it strike you --from the emotions being displayed by Allen and Didion in this little tete-e-tete---that if they had met face to face at the time, they would have torn each other's eyes out?

Isn't that the most shocking thing about it all?

Does anyone have emotions today, or do we just click and surf away until the rage passes.

If you are angry at someone, and you feel you must retaliate towards them--don't you just attack them digitally, like a coward, via the net? Don't we all avoid healthy, wonderful conflict now?

Turns my stomach.


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