The apple of art doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Ideas may be universal but squeeze them through the sausage-making machine of the artist and they take on a unique shape. That’s the whole point.
This doesn’t mean that the writer has to hold the same views as his/her creations but, when all’s said and done, a sensibility shines through their representation.
It may not be obvious to start with but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll pick up a trail.
Like trying to pen a Valentine’s card in a stranger’s handwriting, or forging the numerical receipts of cab drivers as realistically as possible*, the ‘you’ (or that part of ‘you’ being put to that use) is the common denominator: it can be found. (*I never do this)
When beautiful things come from people with un-beautiful histories, we are posed with a problem. From Wagner to Michael Jackson, we get all morally twisty-pants.
Is it right to hum along in your leisure time to the music created by a Nazi sympathizer? Does it endorse him, or encourage his views by complicity?
More, how COULD something so transcendent come from such a character in the first place? (Fine, maybe not Heal the World; Liberian Girl‘s bloody genius.)
I bet a good consideration of that subject could yield interesting insight, alongside the more obvious stuff about the drive to escape from personal demons, or the demons spawning that very escape, maybe in a redemptive bid.
For now, suffice to say we are no one definition. We are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or actually neither. We like ice-cream and playing the guitar and making chutney.
Sometimes we need to be judged. But, for me, it must be in relation to that specific charge- otherwise we’d all be in for the chop.
So, Woody Allen.
Woody roused me 5 years ago, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona: http://wp.me/pfnZ7-iO
I love his films because they are about dialogue, relationships, social interaction, trad jazz, intimate restaurants, frolics, humour, apartments with thin corridors, large beds, large lamps, tall book walls, and literary agents.
They’re also about permissiveness, which is why they often lack high drama and have puffy endings. Everything’s OK if you spill it on your therapist: affairs, divorce, cancer. It’s all part of life’s farce- let’s just talk it out and move on to a new marriage.
It’s probably what happens when comedians write feature films without Owen Wilson and a boisterous dog: even if some pretty heavy life shit’s been going on between the opening and closing credits, all’s well that end’s well.
Woody married his ex-wife’s teenage step-daughter. You don’t have to be Columbo to deduce he’s not a granny grabber. It doesn’t mean he’s a paedophile either, though the allegations are there.
When I watched Manhattan again recently, some elements popped up- the interpretation of some elements popped up, it’s fairer to say.
So we’ve got four characters. Woody is Isaac (although really he’s Woody) and he’s in a jumble because he’s dating a 17 year old ‘kid’, Tracy.
Isaac spends the entire film telling his friend Yale, Yale’s wife, his soon-to-be replacement lover Mary and Tracy herself, that the relationship isn’t right because she’s just a child.
He is reassured by them all that it’s OK; she’s a legitimate date, there-there, don’t worry, you’re not doing anything wrong.
Tracy is played by gentle Mariel Hemingway but a broom might have filled the role satisfactorily.
She has no opinions, apart from to say that she’s old enough to have opinions. She has no wit, no voice, no discernible personality. She’s a stooge for his self-revelatory stand-up. She is talked at by Isaac, who tells her on a loop that she shouldn’t really be sleeping with him.
Meanwhile Yale, his friend, is the handsome man Woody would like to be deep-down (Isaac’s his best shot at being who he is). Yale introduces Isaac to his mistress Mary, Diane Keaton.
Now, Mary is a real woman. She has outspoken views and says funny stuff and, at first, Isaac’s not at all sure about this 3-D female proposition that’s going on.
However, she’s attractive and tells Yale she finds Isaac attractive. Plus she slips past the post because she’s also emotionally screwy so Woody- sorry Isaac- can relate.
Isaac leaves the ‘kid’ Tracy. He breaks up with her like you’d break up with a broom: ‘I’m breaking up with you, Broom. Don’t be sad.’
He says she needs to go to London to Drama School because she’s wasting her time on a 42 year-old man like him and should see life. Tracy is heartbroken and later we learn Isaac ignores her phone-calls. He’s got a new gal; it becomes Tracy Who?
So Isaac and Mary have a crack at a grown-up relationship. They go to galleries and on walks and discuss things, like people born within a quarter of a century of each other might.
Mary talks incessantly about her incredible former husband, Jeremiah, and Isaac is disconcerted until they bump into him and he’s a runt who makes Isaac look like Brad Pitt.
There’s hope for Isaac, it seems. Allure comes in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to be a Yale to hook a Mary.
Only, do you?
Isaac’s happy. Yes, his beautiful ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep, or Meryl Streep’s long blond hair with Meryl attached) has left him for another woman but that’s OK because it suggests that sexuality has a spectrum and is fluid (contentious this, but who knows where else this sort of acceptable fluidity might trickle into?)
He’s got a smart, successful journalist who’s crazy about him and all’s good.
Turns out the smart journalist is still in love with handsome Yale. He’s going to ride the alimony pony and shack up with Mary.
So where does this leave Isaac? Will he be devastated? Will he have a breakdown and take time to recover until one day down the line, mature love finds him again?
Or, will he lie on the sofa thinking about his book and suddenly be caught in the grip of Tracy’s ‘pretty face’?
Will he jump up and run all the way to the girl he hasn’t thought twice about since he sent her back to the broom cupboard in order to have a go at being an adult, and interrupt her on the very day of her departure for London, asking her not to go?
Tracy (now 18, thus MORE than respectable) tells him he’s being unreasonable. She extracts from him an empty declaration of love and reminds him he left her in the lurch and subsequently ignored her, then points out that everything is set up for her new adventure and her parents are awaiting her arrival. And that if their love is true, 6 months is not so long to hold out for her and allow her this freedom.
He wants her. He needs her. He doesn’t want that thing he likes about her to change (her innocence). Don’t go. Mememememememememememememe. Quiet, stompy feet. Puppy face.
Isaac, the child. Woody, the child. Throwing himself at the mercy of the child.
So I’ve built a sort of case but I’m going to stop short of a conclusion; one plus one equals two but it can also make eleven.
Art may expose but what exactly? What exactly?
Manhattan ends with Isaac mid-plea and we don’t know if Tracy will stay or go.
As with most Allen films, the journey- not the destination- is the point. I’ll do the same here.
If you believe one’s duty is to take a moral stance, it’s a cop-out.
If you’re happy to muse, you’ll accept the open ending.