Christian Ziolkowski ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Crisis in Six Scenes, Woody Allen’s first time helming a television program, recently debuted on Amazon Prime to harsh reviews. Its most adamant haters dismissed it as a shameless cash grab, while more sympathetic critics expressed disappointment that the six-episode series “doesn’t do anything new.” It bothers people that Woody Allen is not straying from his favorite tropes: references to classic literature, protagonists whose anxiety hinders their success, and bold female characters whose presence worsens this anxiety.
But why should he stray?
Allen, quite possibly our greatest living filmmaker, came to fame by developing a voice unlike anything cinephiles had ever seen. While multiplexes were dominated by unflinching macho men, his scrawny protagonists were well-aware of their limited social skills, but hilariously oblivious to the flaws that were truly setting them back in life. His supporting characters were full of color, always speaking their minds and creating discomfort for all those around. Allen’s lovable characters make fun of our worst tendencies while being just absurd enough to prevent our realizing how much we have in common with them. His movies were hits because his characters reminded everyone of someone they knew, and they remain beloved because that sentiment remains. All it takes is five minutes on Reddit to find men like the ones Allen lampoons, who understand that they are terrible at dating, but can’t see the aspects of their personalities that make them repulsive to women. And in Midnight In Paris, Allen is not only making fun of pretentious artists who romanticize the past, but your idiotic Facebook friend who shares memes about how he was “born in the wrong generation.”
His films never delve into social commentary, but they hilariously address a timeless drama: negotiating the problems created by our inability to communicate with each other. In Annie Hall, Allen shows us a man and a woman on a date, their words so different from their thoughts that subtitles are needed to understand the scene. In Radio Days, a family evening dissolves into chaos after a father is enraged by the fact that his wife listens to a puppet show on the radio because “there’s no way to tell that the guy isn’t moving his mouth!” Has this theme ever been more relevant than it is now? The Internet has made it easier than ever to spew ones uninformed opinion while becoming enraged at somebody else who shares theirs. Woody Allen is not living in the past. If anything, he was ahead of his time, and history is only now catching up to him.
America is in the midst of a presidential election that would seem absurd even by Hollywood standards. The idea that the two candidates are both widely-despised New Yorkers seems ripped right from the pages of an abandoned Woody Allen script. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton even seem like archetypes from his movies. It’s not hard to picture Allen writing about a blowhard from Queens who spends his life convincing himself that he’s a member of society’s sophisticated elite, not realizing that his bad spray tan and tacky lifestyle have turned him into a punchline. Nor is it hard to picture Diane Keaton playing a tightly-wound politician whose cringe-worthy attempts to make herself likable constantly come up short.
But more than that, it is reminiscent of Allen’s work because it has been dominated by a lack of effective communication. The candidates avoid discussing the Syrian civil war in favor of Saturday Night Live’s cancellation and the weight gain of beauty queens. Is this really so different from the way Allen’s onscreen couples bicker about the minutiae in order to avoid confronting their feelings? The last thing America needs right now is for Woody Allen to do something different. Especially after Wednesday night’s final presidential debate, we need him to keep reminding us of the absurdity of these situations. We need to laugh to keep from crying.
Crisis in Six Scenes deals with the political tension that enveloped America during the 1960’s, when a new generation was becoming politically active for the first time, outraged by their country’s interventions in foreign wars and poor treatment of minorities. Woody Allen portrays elderly suburbanites who are made uncomfortable by new ideas, despite not knowing all of the facts. And they live alongside good-intentioned young liberals whose words are so radical that they impair progress, rather than advancing it. Sure, he is not the first artist to raise these points, nor will he be the last, but why does that matter? Yes, the show feels familiar, but life often does.
“Familiar” is actually a wonderful way to describe Woody Allen. He has released at least one new movie each year since 1982, and they all share the same opening credits and a soundtrack of jazz standards. His comedic voice has largely remained the same as he’s aged, but why fix what isn’t broken? His movies vary in tone, but they all shine a light on our society’s hilariously inefficiency while reminding us that we are to blame.
Couldn’t we all use a little more of that?