Guess who’s coming to town this weekend? Why, it’s Woody Allen of course! The bespectacled director’s latest, “Midnight in Paris,” his 42nd feature film in the last 40 years, is premiering at the Michigan Theater this Friday. Now I don’t usually like going to the movie theater and getting ripped off by Harvey Weinstein and his fat cat pals over the latest IMAX extravaganza, but for Woody, I’m willing to do anything. I have taken a day off from work, gassed up the car and chosen my outfit. I’ll even cook myself a special breakfast, all for this impending event.
I’ve long been a fan of Allen’s work, having followed his career with the fascination and obsession as one might have the Beatles in the 1960s. As of last year, I’d seen all 41 of the director’s feature films, read all his books, as well as rented a few other tangentially related cinematic treasures. This includes various episodes of his TV movie “Don’t Drink the Water,” a documentary about his relationship with jazz music and his new wife (and adopted stepdaughter, yes) Soon-Yi Previn and a really bizarre short by Godard called “Meetin’ WA,” where blurry and off-centered frames combine to make some sort of New Age nonsense (it wasn’t good, don’t watch it).
It’s difficult to explain why this man has affected me throughout my formative years and how he remains so inextricably linked to my life. Since I’m not Jewish, don’t have marriage problems nor do I live in New York City, a lot of people question my boundless passion for his oeuvre. There’s nothing I can say to these remarks except smile and turn away.
My first induction into the Allen canon was “Match Point.” It was a movie unlike anything I had seen before, packing such a mess of revelations into so short a space of time, it took my breath away. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to live in that world, partake in pseudo-intellectual conversations about art and music and Fellini, say la-di-dah, la-di-dah in big floppy hats and ties and sit on a park bench swoonily appraising the New York skyline.
I’m not alone in my infatuation. They say in France people go gaga over his newest releases, lining up on every street corner of the Rue des Bladiguigu (this is not a real place, by the way) in order to catch his latest release, almost as if it were a legendary rock concert. Here it’s not so different, though the way we approach it is a splash more incognito. I plan on seeing “Paris” at the Maple Art Theater in Bloomfield Hills, a deserted brownstone building with just three screens to its name, that shares a warehouse-like parking lot with the Independent Bank next door. But walk inside the modest abode and you’ll find a veritable hubbub of a scene: Old Jewish ladies, clutching their monocles and pearls hoarded from bygones past, that remember going to the theater the day that “Annie Hall” premiered, the magic that seeped into the dimly lit room when Alvy Singer bowed his head and faltered, “Annie and I broke up.” It’s a little bit akin to living in an Edith Wharton novel — without the condescension, of course.
There’s been a lot of talk about “Paris” being a return to form for Woody, a zingier, fluffier departure from his usual work that recalls his 1980s love letters to New York City, à la “Radio Days” or maybe even “Broadway Danny Rose.” This spot of news was released in the effort to get more butts in seats come opening night, but whether it flops or flies is irrelevant in the larger scope of things.
I’ve touched upon this in a review I wrote last fall on “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” — namely that my brethren, the faithful Woody Allen devotees, will come in droves regardless of whether we think the movie will be good or bad or merely OK. We’ve become immune to the critics that grace the virtual pages of Rotten Tomatoes and turned a blind eye to the white hairs creeping into the leading man’s lustrous mane. For us it’s still 1970, Woody and Diane Keaton are the Hollywood It Couple and Soon-Yi is but a fetus percolating in some Korean lady’s womb.
It’s weird, but this time capsule effect has become problematic whenever I’ve been forced to critically evaluate these films: Every single Woody Allen movie I’ve seen in a theater, I’ve loved — whether I ended up giving it 2 stars or 5.
Looking back on my review for “Tall Dark Stranger,” it seems disingenuous. Sure, I did a fair job of appraising why and how such a film failed, but I never fully captured what it was like living, breathing, sporulating inside of that theater. For instance, I mentioned that the audience clapped after the end of the movie. What I didn’t mention was that I clapped. And what’s more, I cried. I closed my eyes and drank in the beauty of the London streets and Freida Pinto’s lilting guitar. In those moments I was watching the best movie in the world. Only after the stupor wore off, after I made the walk home to my apartment and sat down in front of my laptop screen, did I realize the movie wasn’t actually that good.
Mania messes with your head. If you love something — really, truly, molecules-on-the-body-pulsating love something — can you ever be entirely objective? Because who am I to judge whether a movie deserves X many stars? I’ve seen “Tall Dark Stranger” two more times since that day in the theater. I loved “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and “Celebrity” and “Melinda and Melinda.” This might make me terminally unfit to be a critic, but I don’t really care.
If loving Woody Allen films with all my body and soul subtracts from the crux of my critical bones, then so be it. After all, passion sustains our global artistic community, the very nutrients of the industry. It’s the reason why Bob Dylan tickets still go for $70 a pop and sell out two hours after being released into the market, despite cries of his voice going out and his body failing. Whether “Midnight in Paris” becomes the heraldic savior of the millennium or yet another critical blunder, we’ll keep coming back for him the next year and the next. Because for us, the legend never left in the first place.