Woody Allen is a phenomenon but a foul dust floats in his wakeby Sam Tanenhaus / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
Woody Allen by Tom Shone, Thames and Hudson, £29.95
The “American Century”—if you recall the phrase—began in December 1941, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, but ended well ahead of schedule, on 11th September 2001. Sixty years felt about right for a nation powered by the fumes of youth. But that was yesterday. America has since become a country of, if not precisely for, old men (and women). The two leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are 68 (Hillary Clinton) and 74 (Bernie Sanders). Vice President Joe Biden, limbering up on the sidelines, turns 73 in November.
But they are sprigs compared to our great geriatric artists, who refuse to yield the stage, instead embarrassing us, and sometimes themselves, with their unbudging presence. Philip Roth’s vow to stop writing fiction, in November 2012 (four months before he turned 80), was instantly transformed into a marathon farewell tour. Meanwhile Bob Dylan (who will turn 75 in May) continues to exhaust his fans with his “Never Ending Tour.” In October, he was booked for 24 gigs, nine in the UK alone.
And then there is Woody Allen, on the verge of his 80th birthday and as busy as ever. His most recent film, Irrational Man, is struggling in cinemas—win some, lose some—another is in production, and a TV series is due for streaming on Amazon (this from a dinosaur who still pounds the keys on the manual typewriter he’s had since he was 16).
But Allen is a phenomenon, who even at this advanced stage is able to surprise. Match Point (2005) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) are more alive than work by directors half his age. And not so long ago, he had his biggest box-office smash (Midnight in Paris). How does he do it? Perhaps because he doesn’t know quite where he’s going next. “No American dramatist has done more to document the pleasures, pitfalls, and withdrawal pains of imagining the world other than it is,” Tom Shone writes in the text accompanying Woody Allen: A Retrospective, a luxuriant photo history of Allen’s work. “Dramatist,” as Shone knows—and amply demonstrates—could be replaced by “fabulist,” “comedian” or “auteur.” The…