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Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Strange Man

Remember the part in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" when Woody Allen shuffles, dazed, into his bedroom, and Joanna Gleason is in bed, and Woody sits on the bed, a bit slumped, sort of staring off vacantly and says,

"A strange man... defecated on my sister."

If you don't remember that part, of (worse) if you've never seen "Crimes and Misdemeanors", then don't come back here until you have.

I think every creatively-inclined Jewish guy in this life and time experiences a very complicated relationship with Woody Allen. It's not something we decide to experience, like pot or upside-down sex-- or cake-- it's just something that... I don't know... is.

We can't help it, and I wonder if he can't either. I wonder if he knows the power he wields over us. I wonder if he cares.

See? ARRGH! Look at me-- wondering if Woody Allen cares about something. This is exactly what I'm talking about!


There's a piece of us, and by us I mean "Jewish American boy-and-then-manhood" that fervently wants to separate ourselves from him, to distinguish ourselves from his typification of THE NEBBISH-- the schnuffling, neurotic, befuddled, myopic, pseudo-intellectual in the big glasses obscuring the mawkish punim. There's that piece of us that can't wait to say, "Well, at least I'm not like HIM," and this is juxtaposed, of course, with our insidious, troubled, and very real desire to be not just like him, but him precisely.

And I don't mean necessarily that we want to adopt an Asian girl and then fall in love with her and then fuck her and then marry her, or whatever order in which he did those steps, I don't really know, but we want to taste the life he's led up to this point. Woody Allen's life, and his characters' lives. We want to struggle with philosophical and ethical dilemmas, and we always want a clever, annihilating quip to slide effortlessly out of our back pockets like a wallet. And, truth be told, we wouldn't mind hooking up with 1996 Julia Roberts along the Italian riviera while wearing baggy corduroys.

Woody Allen is the ultimate Hollywood paradox. The anti-Semites of the world will happily gnaw your ear off (especially if your ear is Jewish) telling you all about how Jews control the media and the entertainment industry but, when they talk about those Jews, they're not talking about Woody Allen, they're talking about Jeff Zucker and Michael Eisner but, really, I don't think there is a Jew alive today who has more influence over mass media than Woody Allen. If you mention his name in Europe, especially Italy or France, the country swoons. Here, a wide cross-section of the country can remember laughing its ass off at "Bananas" and "Sleeper" and I remember, even as a young child, finding that bespectacled ginger trying to play cello in his high school marching band in "Take the Money and Run" pretty priceless.

The importance and relevance of influence of his wit and his style on cinema today may be disputed, but it cannot be denied. And, yet, how did this little stereotype do it?

I can remember being critiqued in Acting I in college by the professor.

"I love your face," she said to me, "it'll never be the face of a leading man, but, if you want it, you'll find a profitable and stable career getting character roles-- Woody Allen type stuff."

And while I could have been stung by that comment, I was buoyed by it-- for a time anyway. The paradox, though, about Woody Allen is that, except for when he's doing cameos in other people's films, like in the one-scene scene-stealer in "The Impostors", he is the leading man. The unlikeliest leading man ever. The leading man whose sister gets shat on. The leading man who chases after lobsters in the kitchen. The leading man whose attempts at intercourse are comic and painful. The leading man we can't stand, but would have over for coffee above any other.

Sometimes I wonder if Christian kids have complicated relationships with Ryan Gosling or Ralph Fiennes. Maybe, but I kind of doubt it.

I never gave myself the chance to see if my Acting I professor's prediction about me was right-- I never put myself out there to see if I could score that steady stream of character work, the awkward co-star, the unfortunate best friend, the bewildered accountant or the wry uncle, and maybe that's just as well.


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