Woody Allen and the Cringe

So: Woody Allen. The addiction of the US critical world to him. It’s a weird mix of cultural cringe and cultural chauvinism.

A generation of critics love Allen because, to paraphrase a common sentiment, “He was making European films in America”. As a Kiwi, that sentiment - of seeking external validation by aping foreigners - is very familiar. It’s not great until the mother country approves. In Allen’s case, it was one or two generations of film critics who couldn’t take pride in American film’s virtues, but wanted something “European”; something with elements of the New Wave or Bergman or Mon Oncle. Not the mother country per se but the mother country of intellectual film, perhaps.

The idea of him as “the great American film maker” ahead of all others ignores Scorsese or Kathryn Bigelow or Oliver Stone or Spike Lee. All of whom make films which are far more essentially American. Scorsese and Lee alone are a richer chunk of “the American experience”, making films that can’t really be set anywhere else, and are often brilliant. But it’s also dreadfully provincial: like people who tear themselves away from, say, the NFL to watch the Olympics only when there’s a chance of screaming “USA, USA” when their guy is on the podium, it’s as much an “in your face” sentiment as anything else.

And so this combination - the need to both ape and beat up on the forrins, born of insecurity - feeds into decades of promoting a guy as “the best”, of demanding every potentially great young woman must work with him to be taken seriously as an actress

And leads to a reluctance to think about what a creep he is.