In anticipation of the new Woody Allen movie Whatever Works, I thought I’d look back at some of Captain Neurosis’ classic movies. Recently, a friend mentioned that he had seen thirty-nine of Allen’s forty-some pictures. Thirty-nine? I was stunned, in part because I didn’t realize Allen had made so many. Looking at the Allen entry at the supposedly unreliable IMDb.com, I counted the movies of his I’d seen–thirty. Was I a film geek, an Allenophile, what?

I think the answer is that I like Allen, regard him as significant, but most importantly, I have lived in his time.

For instance, I love Howard Hawks, and would have seen every movie of his but for its availability (on DVD) and a lack of adequate free time. So it goes with Kurosawa, Ford, Truffaut, Bergman and others before my time. I saw their films when they came out in my era–I sat through Fanny and Alexander three times in 1982–but I just haven’t had the ability to rent a slew of the old Swede’s flicks to catch up on what I missed.

Thirty Allen movies over thirty years isn’t much when you spread it out over the years–I’ve seen as many Spielberg pix, not because I adore Spielberg, but because he’s a force to be reckoned with, so I see his work. It’s easy to see one movie by one director once a year.

With that digression aside, it is an odd thing that we love Allen so much. Or, rather, it’s a weird thing that I like him so much, for all his redundancies. I forgive Allen a lot. And while watching Whatever Works I realized that Woody is catnip to me. WW is a good movie, far from great, and suffering from mediocre casting for the most part. But I’ll sit through Allen’s New York movies every time. He can capture Manhattan beautifully, even when it was a dismal place in the 70s and 80s.

In Whatever Works he can make a beat-up knish bakery seem like as wonderful a place as any. The conversations at Chinese restaurants, cafes, and in front of movie houses (how many of those have been in Allen’s movies?) are sublime. The shtick about religion and love that manages to find its way in every film are a treat. All of these traits partially helped a nervous, self-conscious young man feel like he had a place in the world–abeit imaginary, since I wasn’t going anywhere near Manhattan.

Woody Allen was the creator of a world as fantastic as Middle Earth. But that fantasy is starting to crack, I’m afraid. Though I enjoyed Vicky Christina Barcelona, Allen’s past films have lost much of their sheen. I’m starting to feel a need to rely on memory to make me appreciate Allen’s older movies, because watching them again has been painful.

Recently I sat through Sleeper, which, a day before the repeat viewing, I would have said was one of his classics, a wonderful, hilarious comedy. After watching it again, probably 25 years after seeing it last, I wonder if I was just young or if Sleeper never worked. The jokes were clunky, the timing horrid, and it dragged and dragged. Everything was so damn dated–and part of the appeal of Allen (I thought) was his timelessness. Talking about life, philosophy, religion–those themes are good through history. Certainly Sleeper is better than Splash, another New York comedy about love that looks awful today, right? Er…

So I don’t know the truth about Take the Money and Run (loved it when I first watched it in the 1980s), Bananas (ditto), and Love and Death (same–the 80s were when videotape reared its head.) Don’t get me started on Crimes and Misdemeanors. One of my favorites… until I saw it again two years ago and witnessed a heavy-handed, poorly timed, dull movie choked with pretentiousness.

Sleeper stunned me. I was in a poor mood when I saw Crimes again, but I was all eager to see Sleeper, so I can’t chalk up the disappointment to mood. I’ve seen many of my favorite fims from the “greats” again, movies I freaked about as a boy and a teen and revisted in my late 30s and 40s, and they all held up: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The French Connection, Brazil, The King of Comedy, and many others.

Now I’m scared of Woody Allen’s early stuff. Visually, I’m guessing that movies like Manhattan and Annie Hall are still wonderful, as is his ability to capture, acutely, the personality of New York. But, Chist, I was one of the few who adored the routinely panned Stardust Memories. Someone recently challenged me to watch it again. I think I’ll leave it to my own stardusted memory.

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