Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Adventures In Celluloid: Is Woody Allen's pariah status finally thawing?

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Midnight in Paris has resulted in Allen being a part of civilised discussion again. Photo / Supplied
Midnight in Paris has resulted in Allen being a part of civilised discussion again. Photo / Supplied

I freaking love Woody Allen. But for a long time, stating this out loud more often than not elicited quizzical looks and disapproving sighs from whomever I was speaking to.

In my anecdotal experience, since his familial scandal broke in the early '90s, Allen has been perceived by the general public as a child-abusing pariah, and admitting to liking him or his films was akin to announcing your support for Osama Bin Laden.

There's no escaping the fact that Allen had an affair with (and then married) his girlfriend's daughter, but the reaction to the events has always felt overblown and lacking in perspective, especially over time.

So while my devotion to the man's films never wavered, I learnt to not be so vocal about it.

But in the last few years, I've started to perceive a slight change in the way people view the man and his films. Especially since the release of last year's Midnight In Paris, now available on DVD.

Midnight In Paris (which I absolutely loved), is the most financially successful film Allen has ever made. Although he's experienced a few minor break out successes over the past few decades (like Match Point or Bullets Over Broadway), Midnight In Paris spilled over into a mainstream audience in a manner that hasn't occured since maybe 1989's Crimes and Misdemeanors.

As a result, Woody Allen is suddenly part of civilised discussion once again, and I like it.

After all, he is the most prolific American filmmaker who ever lived and he has a hit rate better than that of Alfred Hitchcock. He's put out a film per year for over thirty years. He is literally peerless.

He's never stopped attracting A-list actors to his films, and his (financially driven) move to shooting films in Europe over the past few years have lent his recent work some geographic points of difference. And thanks to Midnight In Paris doing so well, he's managed to set up his next project in America.

Although I think most Woody Allen films deserve to reach a wide audience, it's perhaps not difficult to discern why Midnight In Paris struck such a chord. It has an atypical and non-threatening lead in Owen Wilson, and centres on an irresistible conceit - the chance to go back in time and hang out with your idols.

Wilson's character is a classic Woody Allen leading man through and through, but unlike Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity or John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway, Wilson is not merely "doing" Woody Allen. Wilson's laconic nature brings a unique feeling to his performance, and it seems wonderfully at home in Allen's world. I hope they do more films together.

The success of Midnight In Paris is also gratifying in the sense that it put Allen's films back on the big screen in New Zealand. For the past ten years, it's been equally likely for a Woody Allen film to go straight to DVD in this country (as was the case with The Curse of the Jade Scorpion; Anything Else and Cassandra's Dream) as it has been for one to get a cinematic release. Even then, the releases are generally limited and short-lived. But Midnight In Paris got a nice wide release, and was seen by a wide audience.

One odd result of Midnight In Paris' success is that is had led to New Zealand kinda skipping over Allen's next-to-most-recent film. You Will Meet A Tallk Dark Stranger (starring Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts) was made and released before Midnight In Paris, but the accelerated global roll-out caused by the latter film's momentum means it remains as yet unreleased in this country. I ain't holding out hope for a cinematic release, but hopefully it's out on DVD soon.

In the meantime, check out Midnight In Paris if you haven't already. Even if you've never seen a Woody Allen film before - it's highly accessible.

Do you have strong feelings about Woody Allen? Do you agree that outrage towards him has quelled? What is your favourite Woody Allen film?

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