Machan's Musings - Woody Allen the Subversive

removed's picture
Submitted by removed on Mon, 2006-01-09 02:58

By now there are actually books about Woody Allen’s philosophical
ideas—for example, by my former colleague Professor Aeon Skoble. (Indeed,
you might find interesting his single-author and edited books about
Seinfeld and even The Simpsons.) This isn’t all that surprising to those
of us who are fans of Allen, albeit sometimes disappointed ones. His work
does often contain fascinating themes, among which the most recent one,
explored in his well-received movie Match Point, is the phenomenon of luck.

Unfortunately Allen drives home the point so obviously and with so little
subtlety that there is nothing much to figure out—it’s just the point he
makes, with rather little art to show in the process. Moreover, Match
is little more than a relocated version of his earlier disturbing
original film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which a murderer gets away, in
a fashion, with his crime. (Or does he?) Match Point, however, wraps this
story in the larger and constantly reiterated theme that life hinges
primarily on luck—from the first to the last scene the idea is not only
illustrated but driven home by several characters—as when it is noted of a
newborn baby that of all things luck is what we must have most of in life.

Not only does Allen drive this point home relentlessly in this fictional
fare but in a rare TV interview he gave several years ago, one in which he
belittled himself and his works repeatedly and in a very serious tone, the
same point was repeated over and over again. Allen said he considers
himself simply lucky, as far as his career in the movies is concerned,
dismissing suggestions that he has artistic talent as either a writer or
director, not to mention actor.

Mind you, he may well be right about all of this as far as his own career
is concerned. I am no Allen biographer, nor have I studied his
accomplishments professionally, so I am not qualified to assess whether he
is right about how much luck had to do with it all. I am merely an
oft-satisfied member of his audience. But as I listened to the interview,
it was my distinct impression that Allen was putting us on, albeit in an
earnest-enough tone. Moreover, he seemed to do it not for any particular
reason but merely because he was in a foul mood.

Yet never mind that. What is noteworthy is that he has been peddling the
idea of the allegedly all-pervasive impact of luck on all our lives,
indeed on everything that happens in human affairs. And this is quite
subversive since though it may be true in some cases, it isn’t in most. It
doesn’t even seem true where Woody Allen’s career is concerned. He is
certainly a diligent worker, disciplined enough to make numerous pretty
entertaining movies—write them, act in them, direct them, probably market
them as well—and he contributes significantly to some other art forms. He
is a regular performer in a Manhattan-based Dixieland band in which he
plays the clarinet, and his choice of music for his movies’ soundtracks is
probably one of his most memorable feats, giving clear evidence of his own
full and unwavering appreciation of the work of other artists-none of whom
appears to have relied mainly on luck in their own artistic achievements
but worked very hard to make the music that has delighted millions over
many decades.

So then why does Allen preach this garbage about how luck is all-
pervasive, all-determining in human affairs? Beats me—he is, of course, a
comic, has admired all types of comics, and so it is probably best to see
his championing of luck as an element of his comedy. Unfortunately, some
might take it farther because Allen is pretty good at pressing his point
and did so recently in one of his serious works.

I am writing these lines while flying across the country in a jet and all
I can say that whether we arrive safely better be more than a matter of
luck. Not that luck isn’t some of it, but all the work and care, all the
close attention to what makes up such a trip, surely have a lot more to do
with whether we will make it than mere luck. (And if you are interested in
a philosophically serious but very readable discussion of luck, you could
do much worse than read the short treatise Luck by Professor Nicholas
Rescher. He, at least, isn’t just kidding when he thinks through the topic
in his characteristically careful way.)

But there is another matter worth considering--Woody's subversive idea
about how it's all about luck is just what the Left likes to propagate
about how economic success has nothing to do with achievement, with
accomplishment, with virtue, with hard work--it's's all just an accident.

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Tibor got unlucky with the theme

Marcus's picture

I just saw this film tonight.
I didn't really like it, although I enjoyed the London setting, the cinematography and acting.

The problem I had with the film is - it is thematically all over the place. The point is about luck, that it revolves around a murder, just confuses the issue. Why make a romance turn into a guilt- murder type film? The film is called "match point" and cleverly starts with the tennis metaphor, but never “returns” to it. The point of the luck going either way at the end of the film is never properly explained.

I found the story so clumsy and artificial that it never even got off the ground in terms of exploring it's theme.

The theme would be interesting in terms of how the main character states it - that he believes in luck, hard work is important too, but so is luck. That is also Allen's opinion too (he said it in an interview on TV for the movie).

If you are talking about an opportunity that meets a prepared mind, that knows how to both either make and utilize those opportunities - then luck does play a role.

All other talk about luck, either good or bad, is really just an evasive explanation for something that has too many factors for consideration in order to comprehend a simpler straight forward cause-effect type scenario. When we don’t know the odds, but believe that they are insurmountable for whatever reason.

I took a course on Woody

Andrew Bissell's picture

I took a course on Woody Allen's films at my university. I think he's at the top of his game when he deals with comedy (as well as more serious subject matter) involving sex and relationships, but kind of tedious when he meanders off into existential angst or plain slapstick humor. Still, if you steer clear of Interiors you're pretty much guaranteed an interesting and entertaining film.

Woody Allen

seddon's picture

Tibor, Kant says that the three enabling conditions for private property are talent, industry and luck. The two disabling conditions are force and fraud. But one could expect Kant to be deeper than Woody. "I prefer his earlier funny movies." Actually, I like most of his movies, even the disturbing CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. Thanks for the review of the new movie.


"Fortune favors the prepared

Duncan Bayne's picture

"Fortune favors the prepared mind."

- Louis Pasteur

Tibor, I've been thinking

Lanza Morio's picture

Tibor, I've been thinking about how important it is to be prepared for the day good luck comes. Or chance or whatever you want to call it. That's where volition meets opportunity. So many are busy cursing their bad luck when opportunity knocks that they miss it.

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