Monday, October 27, 2008

A Line at the Door?

This is somewhat frivolous, but it comes up enough in print to warrant a short comment. For years, Woody Allen has insisted that the notion of Hollywood A-listers falling over themselves for the chance to work with him was the stuff of high comedy. For an example of Allen's response to this misunderstanding, try the video below at the 5:55 mark.

For a large portion of his career, Allen worked with a repertory. During this period, casting was the matter of a simple phone call. During the 90s, this pattern fall apart. Since then, we've no reason to doubt Allen's sincerity. Actors were not clamoring to work with him. There wasn't a line at the door. At points, his films suffered from the constant turnover and inability to get the best people for his characters.

But we're starting to wonder if the tide has not shifted. Allen is nearly 73. Opportunities to work with him are diminishing. Two recent films--Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona--have turned a profit; we're assuming VCB will meet or excel Match Point in terms of award recognition. Allen has momentum.

In a sense, Allen's career has already had its three acts. The first act was comprised of stand up routines, first plays and stories, and "the early, funny" films of the 70s. The second act began in earnest with Annie Hall and continued through Husbands and Wives. This stretch of films marks a period of accomplishment very few, if any, writer-directors have ever enjoyed. The third act corresponds to the loss of a steady troupe and his falling out of favor with the press. From 1993 to 2008 Allen has continued to turn out mostly good work. Even in this much-ballyhooed "period of decline" Allen has created better films than nearly all of his peers. Bullets Over Broadway, as one example, is a masterpiece film that most filmmakers would die to have made. Everything in perspective.

Nevertheless, Allen's first act was endearing, the second heroic, and the third had tragic undertones. But now the third act has come to a close, the curtain is drawn. Vicky Cristina Barcelona marks its end. We believe this for a number of reason.

Allen is now in the place of being fashionable again. He doesn't care either way, no doubt. But funding is affected by whether or not you're a critical darling. Producers and actors are more likely to work with you if the reviews are positive. But beyond this, Allen is moving back in the direction of a repertory. Scarlett Johansson and Patricia Clarkson constitute the seed-bed of this resurgence. We're hoping that his increased budgets allow him the flexibility to maintain a cinematographer, whether Javier Aguirresarobe, Harris Savides, or otherwise.

This is another way saying that in our estimation, Whatever Works signals the beginning of the encore stage of Allen's remarkable career. From this point forward, it's all gravy. That mythical line at the door might incarnate. Such an incarnation blossomed into Vicky Cristina Barcelona:
Woody Allen: "I had the idea about two women going away on a summer thing some place. Someone called from Barcelona and said, 'Would you like to make a picture here? We’ll finance it.' That’s always the hardest part of making any picture, is getting the financing. Writing it, directing it, or anything else is easier than getting the financing for it, so I said, 'Sure, I would do it.'"

"I had no idea for anything for it and then about a week or two later I got a call from Penelope Cruz. I didn’t know her; she wanted to meet and she was in New York. I had only seen her in Volver and nothing else ever. I thought she was great in it, and she said that she knew I was doing a film in Barcelona and she would like to participate. I started out with Barcelona, with Penelope, and in the back of mind I was going to go to Scarlett. Then I heard Javier [Bardem] was interested, so gradually it took shape. I was writing for these people. I was deliberately writing for these people. I didn’t know Rebecca Hall at all. Juliet Taylor, my casting director, discovered her. She said that she was great, I should read her, and look at some film on her. I did and she was right. I put the thing together for the people almost, as I did it, and did the best I could."
Adding to this, we find Kevin Spacey in print last weekend with a could-be familiar refrain:

"Well, look. If I'm not producing, then I'm an actor for hire. It ends there. That doesn't mean you're not working with a director and other actors and a writer to make the best movie you can, but it's a temporal experience, you'll be together for a couple of weeks or months and then you're done."

So is there really nothing left in the cinema that excites him? He pauses. "Well, I keep waiting for Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese to call me ..."

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