Woody’s Return – WASP2019

Ok, I think I should react to the news that Woody Allen is making another movie.

I’ve known for some time that he would be back, and that it would be in Spain – we’ve long known that Europe doesn’t have the same qualms the Americans and the Brits have about Woody and the allegations. They’re more than allegations, I know – they’re painful, heartbreaking accusations that have caused bitterness and darkness on all sides. 

As a Woody Allen biographer, I’ve been labelled ‘part of the problem’. I’ve written a book in praise of the artist and his work and it doesn’t address the scandals, other than in terms of the effects these have had on his work and on his audience.

The more recent #MeToo reactions in support of his daughter Dylan have troubled me hugely. The public distancing from actors such as Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Hall, Greta Gerwig, Michael Caine and even Colin Firth has left me dismayed and sad, distressed they’ve felt the need to condemn Woody and at how they’ve been put on the spot by reporters.

The suppression of A Rainy Day in New York by Amazon is equally problematic, creating a fuss around a film that probably isn’t even all that good anyway, although probably perfectly fine and, naturally, unique in the current film landscape – only Woody makes films like this, and plenty of people still like them, while even more love to ridicule them. Looks like I’ll have to go to Italy, or France to see it. And I will.

But news is now public that he’ll be back in Europe next month, shooting in San Sebastian, Spain, with Christoph Waltz, Gina Gerhson, Louis Garrel, Elena Anaya, Sergi Lopez and Wallace Shawn. The story concerns an American couple who fall for both a French director and a Spanish woman during the city’s film festival.

This comes with a delicious Proustian rush for me (to invoke the feeling Charlotte Rampling coins in Stardust Memories…”it should be the name of a perfume,” quips Woody) – San Sebastian is where I first met Woody and the notorious Soon-Yi Previn, when he was promoting Melinda & Melinda there in 2004. I met the whole cast there, including Chiwitel Ejiofor, Radha Mitchell, Chloe Sevigny and Amanda Peet. There was, in fact, a whole Woody retrospective at the festival, showing all (as it was back then) 35 of his feature films. 

He loved San Sebastian, fell in love with it then, and goes back quite regularly. It’s not as hot as the rest of Spain, the food’s great and there’s a statue of him in Oviedo, a few hours’ drive away.

I find it exciting he’s returning to shoot there, but I also get that he could be accused of running for shelter, for the protection of those who love him and won’t give him up, to Mediapro in Spain who’ve given him funding previously and to where audiences continue to revere and promote his artistry while really, according to many, he should be suffering in darkness and never be allowed to spread his monstrous hands over a camera ever ever ever again. 

Letting him make another film is, in the eyes of his haters, exactly why the culture of sexual abuse and white privilege continues …

And I get that, I really do. 

But I don’t see Woody as part of this culture. He’s old and says silly things that are out of date and out of touch. He plays dixieland jazz for chrissakes, so he’s not exactly cutting edge with his politics or mores. But he’s not a bad guy or a nasty piece of work. He’s a unique writer and director who aims to make charming distractions and romantic roundelays, the like of which no one can script or direct with the same lightness of touch. I watch 500 films a year, and yet when a new Woody Allen film comes along, I’ve never seen anything like it in all that time, in all those films. So I welcome them, and even hope there’s a couple of good laughs in them, probably better in the script than they are in the rather flabby delivery. But I still find delight in there, in the cadences and rhythms and old-fashioned romanticism.

I’ve long wanted Woody to stop the relentless film-a-year schedule just so he’d take bit more time over the crafting of the jokes and the execution of the direction – so maybe the year off has done him some good and there’ll be a resurgence here, a great performance from someone, a brilliant comic sequence, or at least a wise, perceptive philosophical insight along the way.

So I look forward to seeing the film and having him behind the camera again. I don’t feel he should be denied the opportunity to work. But if you don’t want to see the film, by all means, look away. You don’t have to watch it. Woody can keep writing and directing because, like he says in Annie Hall, in the joke about the man whose brother thinks he’s a chicken, and the psychiatrist who suggests he turn him into an asylum: and the man says he would, but…he needs the eggs.