Even if you ignore the endless controversies associated with him, it is undeniably true that Woody Allen has lost his touch. With the partial exceptions of Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, the director has not made a good film since the early '90s. The last few pictures he's made — Rifkin’s Festival, A Rainy Day In New York, and the like — have been seen by so few people that they seem more like self-indulgent home movies than commercial works.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, announcing his fiftieth film, the Paris-set crime thriller...
Even if you ignore the endless controversies associated with him, it is undeniably true that Woody Allen has lost his touch. With the partial exceptions of Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, the director has not made a good film since the early ’90s. The last few pictures he’s made — Rifkin’s Festival, A Rainy Day In New York, and the like — have been seen by so few people that they seem more like self-indulgent home movies than commercial works.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, announcing his fiftieth film, the Paris-set crime thriller Wasp 22, Allen, at the age of 86, also allegedly said that he expects it will be his last picture. He told the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, “My idea, in principle, is not to make more movies and focus on writing.” This mirrors what he said to his frequent collaborator Alec Baldwin in a June podcast, that he has “one or two” films left in him, but that “the thrill is gone.”
Allen has published a new volume of humorous writing, Zero Gravity, and clearly intends to produce similar books in the future. Although the outcry over his recent memoir, Apropos of Nothing, has seen him banished to the clutches of the provocative independent publisher Arcade Press, rather than the mainstream house one might have expected.
Fifty films in a near-sixty-year career is an impressive feat of stamina by anyone’s standards. That many of these pictures are also classics makes Allen’s potential retirement all the more noteworthy. It is possible that the likes of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters are damned by association with their director. But it’s equally likely that they will continue to be watched and appreciated by movie aficionados as long as the medium exists. For wit, emotional richness, and a willingness to take the intellectual powers of the audience seriously, there is little in late twentieth-century cinema to match them.
Yet Allen has also made an awful lot of dreck. Although most of his worst pictures have come in the latter part of his career, there have always been bad Woody Allen movies. Nobody needs to watch the likes of A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or the deeply tedious, Chekhov-aping September unless they are the most ardent completist. And these have come thick and fast over the past few decades. Once, going to see “the new Woody Allen” was a treat for a cineaste; now, it’s more like a cruel and unusual punishment.
It has not helped that Allen’s personal life, and accusations of molesting his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow, have been under scrutiny for decades, and that, in the #MeToo era, his films’ recurrent motif of a relationship between a beautiful young woman and an unappealing — if witty — older man is no longer seen as charming but repellent. Although the allegations against Allen have never been proved, there is a sufficiently substantial body of feeling against him to place him in the same category as Roman Polanski. Last year’s HBO documentary Allen v. Farrow all but suggested that Allen was a child molester who had gotten away with awful crimes because of his fame, wealth, and the fawning attentions of those in the film industry.
Whatever happens next, Allen will always be a tainted prospect. And Wasp 22 may very well end up being his next picture. But somehow it’s hard to imagine him retiring completely. And sure enough, there he was on Monday issuing a statement denying that he intends to step aside. It may be that the cycle of mediocrity persists until Allen is forcibly removed from the film industry by greater and more permanent forces than mere financial and artistic considerations. But as the man himself once said, “The only thing standing between me and greatness is me.”