It's embarrassing when someone whom you admired as a young man turns out to be an idiot. So it is today for me as I read Woody Allen's interview with der Speigel.
It is instructive that a man who has lived most of his life in a cocoon of self-congratulatory fetishism chooses to counsel us cretins that life is oh so sad, oh so tragic. To make his point, he slices of another Allenesque riff with this gem: "Tragedy is tragic..." You can almost hear George Bush's speech writers damning themselves for not thinking that one up.
Woody now wants to be considered a "European filmmaker" because, presumably, being a New York filmmaker has become a little problematic.
As a filmmaker, I'm not interested in 9/11. Because, if you look at the big picture, the long view of things, it's too small, history overwhelms it. The history of the world is like: he kills me, I kill him. Only with different cosmetics and different castings: so in 2001 some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important. History is the same thing over and over again.
There is no law that says that every filmmaker must include a reference to September 11 in his or her work, but it is interesting that this particular filmmaker, the director most identified with New York, the guy who once insisted that he not be forced to leave his island abode to make a film has nothing to say about the greatest catastrophe in the city's history.
Is Allen begging European status as a refugee or as someone who refuses to face this sad, tragic world? More likely it is that, as a man who has garnered enormous latitude to make progressively irrelevant films, he now finds it more useful to decry America (and the system that enabled him to transfer to celluloid his fevered geriatric fantasies) as an enemy to artistic freedom.
What's more, Allen sees no difference between the murders of September 11 and the fighting in Iraq. To him, it's all the same, as if he looked out a downtown-facing window of his Upper East Side palace, saw the Towers collapse and shrugged, "Would you look at that? Must be some more killing going on." Allen can't even fathom the idea that maybe at least part of what makes this life so "tragic" is craven buffoons who can't tell the difference between a massacre and an armed struggle. For him, gassing six million Jews is all in a few years' work so he decides to wallow in the same lies that his European welcome wagon has been peddling since the founding of Israel; namely, that the Holocaust and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are exactly the same thing.
This reasoning is a limp take on the old saying, "The news never changes. It just happens to different people." Allen has anointed himself as World Chorus, the detached observer, the One Seer with Perspective. As history repeats, we all just need to calm down and ride it out. From Allen's point of view, then, there would be no good reason to stop genocide in Sudan or send aid to tsunami victims. It doesn't matter, you see; it'll all just happen again. So Allen is thus relieved from any obligation to humanity. His only cause is himself.
But if tragedy is tragic, then comedy must be comic. Which sort of explains all the plots in which we find a decaying, wretched, Cliffs-Notes intellectual stammering below the latest pair of twenty-something breasts. Don't you see? It's all simply hilarious! When the breezy depravity of the last twenty-five years of his oeuvre is noticed, one need not wonder why Allen spent all that time blubbering over Flaubert.
Woody can't have it any other way. To acknowledge that there may just be a difference between a basically moral person who keenly fails and an amoral person who cynically achieves would leave him to look at his life in a fashion not so lovingly. If he was forced to actually look into what makes him so blithely dismissive of what constitutes tragedy, he might find that it's not all that funny after all.