A humorist after my own heart

Some humorists make you laugh till your stomach hurts. Others can make you chuckle ruefully. Woody Allen makes me glad I’m me. [1]

I first fell for Allen’s words, not his movies. I read White Feathers first (or it may have been Side Effects) and moved on to the scripts of Annie Hall, Manhattan and a couple of others I don’t recall now. I must have been in my under-grad then. I’m not sure what directed me to his books at the USIS library, but I suspect I’d have found his works sooner or later. It’s difficult to imagine who would have replaced Allen had I not discovered Allen.

Over the years, I’ve watched many of his movies (although I’m glad that I still have quite a few saved for rainy days ahead) – from the truly sublime ( Crimes and Misdemeanors , Zelig , Annie Hall, Manhattan), the utterly delightful ( Deconstructing Harry, Manhattan Murder Mystery) to strictly-for-fans only ( Sleeper, Don’t drink the water, The Front, The Purple Rose of Cairo). It’s good to be the fan of a man who is not only a genius, but also prolific. Just compare the experience of being a Woody Allen fan to being a fan of, oh, David Mamet or David Lynch – with Allen you simply get more.

I suspect age may have had something to do with how thoroughly I fell in love with Woody Allen. For a 17 year old, to live in a big city, have sparkling conversations with friends, listen to jazz, visit museums, and yes, deal with existential problems (Allen’s characters almost exclusively have existential problems – infidelity, temptation, boredom… You don’t often come across characters who have bad jobs, or no-job, no-money, and most certainly never no-apartment) all represented the very best of “adulthood”. Allen’s world was the stuff my dreams were made of.

I’m older now, and I still want to turn into an Allen character when I grow up. Technically, I’m supposed to be living that life I dreamt about at 17 (and in a way, I suppose I am, although I don’t live in the Upper East Side or hang around Swedish film festivals). Now, I simply appreciate their fine escapist quality. I don’t resent the 20-something artists their real estate. They seem to be so sweetly unhappy with their lot that I don’t grudge them the odd 2-bedroom-apartment-with-terrace-and-view-to-die-for, in Midtown or Belgravia.

Also, Allen is an optimist. I can’t think of a single movie of his at the end of which I felt cynical. Things that are liable to make one want to kill oneself in real life – losing the love of your life, getting caught committing murder, or having your spouse of several years cheat on you – only seem to leave Allen’s characters perplexed and mildly annoyed. And in almost all of these cases, you just might manage to live happily ever after (or as happy as one’s neuroses will allow) after all. No, you don’t want Woody Allen for lessons in morality. You watch them to amuse yourself.

A good number of my friends are NOT Allen fans. Their complaints range from
“he looks like he does, and yet ends up with very pretty ladies”, “he married his own daughter, for crying out loud!”, “they talk too much in his movies”, to “he’s a twisted guy who makes twisted movies”… As for the first complaint, I admit it was a bit awkward to see him pair up with Julia Roberts, but in his old movies, honestly, it didn’t feel at all weird to see him with Diane Keaton or any of his other leading ladies. He’s never vain about his looks – whether he’s playing a cheesy, unsuccessful talent manager, an oily Latin lover, or a husband dumped by Meryl Streep for a woman, his looks are an essential part of the charm. As for his personal life, well, he’s no more or no less koo-koo than tens of other Hollywood stars (including the erstwhile matinee idol – Tom Cruise). Who cares what he does with his life as long as he makes such wonderful cinema?

This week-end, I watched Match Point. I found it a bit boring at first (the first two-thirds are pretty slow going), but the last third convinced me that the master hasn’t quite lost his touch yet. It is such a thoroughly delightful movie. But I fear that Allen may have become dated. The average age of the audience was 55. This figure was skewed by 7 or 8 odd people below 35, all of whom, I was glad to note were desis. I can see how selling Allen may be a difficult proposition when the mainstream audience needs Kiera Knightly to draw them into watching Austen, and Ashton Kutcher to make sequels to Sidney Poitier flicks (*shudder*).

I turn to the other humorists I’ve been writing about when I need to be cheered up, or need to get away from my life’s madness. I turn to Allen when I need to be reminded about myself. [1]

[1] Reading back, I realize some of this stuff sounds very vain – after all who am I to say that Woody Allen reminds me of me? I can only protest that when I say some of these things, I do so with the greatest degree of awe. A lot more of “Allen reminds me of the best I want to be”, with just the odd dash of “he reminds me of who I am.” [2]
[2] While I don’t want to sound very vain, I don’t mind sounding somewhat vain.


1 comment so far

  1. Maitri on

    My favorite funny short story is The Whore Of Mensa in the Without Feathers collection. What wit.–>

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