March 3, 2017 by T. Gregory Argall
Okay, I’ll say this right up front. I like Woody Allen.
Starting in my teen years and continuing throughout my adult life, his works have amused and intrigued me. Films like “Bananas,” “Sleeper,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” made me laugh out loud. With these films he combined high-brow intellectual humour with absurd childish silliness. With “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?,” “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask),” and “Zelig” he forged new and innovative paths in film making and storytelling that led the way for others who followed. Books like “Side Effects” and “Without Feathers” are collections of some wonderful shorts stories that, once again, made me laugh out loud.
(Just to clarify, I didn’t LOL. I laughed out loud. I chuckled, I guffawed, I even tittered on occasion. Actual audible sounds of amusement emanated from my mouth.)
I even enjoyed the “Inside Woody Allen” syndicated comic strip from the late seventies and early eighties, although I knew, deep in my cold, analytical heart, that it wasn’t really Woody Allen.
So, a few weeks ago, my wife and I were in Niagara-On-The-Lake being all touristy and such. It’s the off-season for the Shaw Theatre Festival but they were running a fundraiser film series over several weekends. That particular day the film of choice was “Café Society” written and directed by (you guessed it) Woody Allen. His most recent film, it was not one I had seen before, so we got tickets and joined the audience.
You know how sometimes on “The Simpsons” Grampa Simpson will just shout out some random sentence with no context or explanation, and it’s funny because he’s old but it’s also kind of sad because you know that in his mind there was a whole lot more to that story but the words never made the journey from his brain to his mouth?
Apparently that’s how Woody Allen makes movies now.
Here’s how I picture the process:
Woody got an idea, sat down at his typewriter and wrote a 200 page screenplay, pausing only for scheduled bathroom breaks and finishing around dawn three days later. In his sleep-deprived state he accidentally fed the first 30% of the script to his dog. Then, in a bizarre series of circumstances that he will deny till his dying day, he managed to set fire to the closing 30% of the script, his neighbour’s pool house, three Uber cars, and a very brave chihuahua named Jerome The Undaunted.
Waking from his collapse/nap a week later he found the remaining 40% of the manuscript and, without reading it, assumed it was the complete screenplay. He then went about filming scenes at random. At least twice he forgot to put film in the camera.
Finally, armed with all of the footage (or as much as he was going to get, anyway), Woody spent a weekend editing the scenes together, fueled by a steady diet of Cristal and Ovaltine., and recorded some rambling narration to cover the bits that he shot with an unloaded camera. When he ran out of Ovaltine he declared the film complete and presented it to the studio.
For reasons best left uncontemplated, the studio accepted it.
On the plus side, I enjoyed many of the performances and the cinematography was lovely.
Overall I came away from the experience trying to convince myself that I’d been entertained but unable to say exactly how and generally doubting my commitment to believing it.
Also, I was somewhat saddened.
It’s not a bad movie, it just wasn’t up to the standard established so long ago by the younger Woody Allen.
We all get older, but still…
Anyway, here’s a recording of the younger Woody Allen telling a story about a moose, deservedly ranked in my top ten favourite standup comedy routines ever.
Try to be nice to each other.