Okay. So one week ago I posted my entry on Play It Again, Sam and soon after tweeted about it to my hardly legion of followers. Then I noticed Lena Dunham’s tweet about Dylan Farrow’s open letter in the New York Times in which she reiterated her accusation that Woody Allen had molested her as a child. I read the letter, and, like many people, I was extremely upset by it. Since then, over the past week, there has been a widely-read response from Bob Weide, the director of Woody Allen: A Documentary, as well as highly publicised responses from Moses Farrow, tweets from Mia Farrow, responses to the responses, and now finally Woody Allen’s open letter in which he denies the allegations entirely. So much commentary has already been spilled on this topic that I’m not even bothering to provide links. If you want to find any of it, it’s not hard.
After Dylan Farrow’s initial letter was published last week I was sent a few messages asking how it would relate to this blog. My initial position was that none of this would be part of the blog, since the scope was already pretty well defined: to watch and write about each film that Woody Allen has written in chronological order over the course of one year. Even though it is only a month old, the blog has stuck to the brief. There have been several excellent books and articles written about the man himself and his world as he created each film. This blog takes each film in a kind of cultural isolation. It asks, how do the films appear to me, both now in 2014 and as as part of an artist’s continuing work.
That was my initial thought, which lasted about a minute. Then I went into a deep crisis of confidence, and starting asking a lot of questions of myself and my fellow film fans – Woody Allen fans and not. If these allegations are true, the blog would surely have to stop. But how could I even begin to determine that? Should I take Dylan Farrow’s word for it? Or Woody Allen’s? If the latter, is that just baldfaced favouritism? But would doing nothing make me guilty of the kind of celebrity free pass Dylan Farrow was objecting to, and absolutely rightly so? Then there are questions of the artist and the art, and can we separate them, and how, and should we, and why, and why not, and Roman Polanski.
That discussion, which went on both aloud with real people and within my head, continued for most of the week. In the end I returned to my initial position. The blog would continue as it had done (except for this lengthy divergence) and complete its mission. Yes I’m a fan, but no, I’m not interested in watching or writing about the films of a convicted child molester. On that, I have to put my trust in the authorities, which already exonerated Woody Allen at the time of the initial allegation. If that changes, then the blog will change. But for now A Woody A Week will continue.
And so, let’s look at this week’s film. Oh good, it’s all about sexual perversion.
The lengthily titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask (the lengthiest in Woody’s filmography by far) was a cash-in on the book by Dr David Reuben. It’s relationship to the book doesn’t go past the title. The film offers seven short funny films with different styles, casts and topics, all answering a series of questions from Do Aphrodisiacs Work? to Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching an Orgasm?
This was the first of Woody’s film as a director I found a chore to get through. Apart from the moral malaise detailed above, I just don’t find much of the film funny. It offers a few touches that make it worthwhile – like seeing Lou Jacobi and Lynn Redgrave, and watching Woody pretend to be Italian for one sequence. But apart from that, the writing wears out the one-joke premise in each sketch fairly quickly. The direction is a little more interesting, in that for each sequence Woody takes on a different style, from b-movie horror to Antonioni baroque. Interesting, but not that funny.
Except for two of the sequences. The final part of the film, What Happens During Ejaculation?, carries off its premise superbly, as we’re given a look inside the brain and other organs of a man on a date. Tony Randall is in charge of the NASA control room style mind, and Woody is a terrified sperm.
But the highpoint of the film, and I would argue one of the funniest and best executed of all Woody Allen’s films, is What Is Sodomy?, about a mild-mannered doctor (Gene Wilder) who finds himself attracted to a sheep. Forget Wilder’s usual histrionics – his performance here is a masterclass in understatement and comic timing. Woody’s direction too is economical and subtle.
This is the first film Woody Allen wrote by himself and directed. Without a collaborator, and with a much bigger budget and much more public acclaim, the film ultimately feels indulgent; a criticism many more films would face in the future. This is also the first film to feature a vintage recording of a Cole Porter song (Let’s Misbehave) over the credits. Again, there would be many more of those in the future too.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex was a box office hit, and like all the early gag-heavy comedies, it probably deserve to be seen on the big screen with a big audience. Playing on DVD, and in the middle of everything else, there weren’t too many laughs this week.
Next week: Sleeper