Michael C. here. This week’s Burning Question came to me when my heart sank upon seeing the poster for Woody Allen’s latest.
Maybe it's the inexplicably prominent placement of Roberto Benigni. Maybe it's because the Committee to Blandify Movie Titles reduced the movie's name from the interesting The Bop Decameron to the acceptable Nero Fiddled to the yawn-inducing To Rome With Love. Or maybe it was just the beige Nancy Meyers-ness of the whole thing. Whatever the reason, my gut tells me this is a return to the lifeless, script-out-of-the-bottom-drawer rehashes that have been the rule and not the exception for Woody’s output over the last decade.
Of course this would all be a lot less distressing if I didn’t know there was no way I would miss seeing it. Why? Because I, like many others, have issued Mr. Allen a lifetime pass out of gratitude for Annie Hall and Manhattan and a dozen other titles that constitute a large chunk of the foundation of my love of movies. Therefore I will keep setting myself up for disappointment, like Charlie Brown forever returning to kick that football.
Would it not make more sense to ignore the completist in me that insists I see every title Woody releases even when it's an obvious gutterball? Does anyone really deserve a lifetime pass?
1. You see that person’s films no matter how bad it looks
Oh sure, you may not be first and line opening day. You may even miss it in theaters. But when it hits video and cable you begrudgingly settle in to give it a chance, usually with a few shreds of phantom optimism. Surely those no-talent marketing people butchered the trailer. The Ladykillers can’t possibly be as bad as it looks.
2. You give even their missteps careful consideration
While you have no hesitation moving on from the obvious duds of others without a second glance, yet you keep returning to the disappointments from your lifetime pass holders, hoping against hope that this time you will find that spark you treasure in the rest of their films. Oh, Life Aquatic. I will never stop trying to love you.
3. You weigh their successes over their failures
He or she will always be the brilliant auteur who has hit a rough patch, never the current hack who got lucky back in the day. You remind your peers of this at every opportunity. Even if you’ve just been released blinking back into the daylight after a screening of Eyes Wide Shut, and your friends are moaning that its plinking piano score will echo in their heads until their dying day, you will be obliged to remind them that the man made Dr. Strangelove and that they should show some goddamned respect.
4. The pass cannot be revoked
This is crucial. A lifetime pass is not a lifetime pass if you can revoke it every time Tim Burton cakes Johnny Depp's face in white makeup. And who knows when someone's got a late career triumph in their back pocket like Hitchcock with Frenzy or Lumet with Before the Devil Knows Your Dead? Maybe one of those low budget oddities Francis Ford Coppola keeps turning out will be an unexpected masterpiece? You can never count out the director of The Conversation.
So wouldn’t it be more sensible to not get so attached to any one artist? Or failing that how about placing their work on some sort of scale - the subtle, intense Pacino on one side, and the “hoo-ahing” ham on the other and then see which way it tips?
I don’t think so. I think it’s worth remembering that even when the current output is dreadful one should take care before dismissing the entire body of work out of frustration. And when it comes to the greats there is value in sticking with them through the lean years, in experiencing an artist’s entire body of work. The lesser work adds context for the masterpieces and the duds take on a fascination that shows how narrow the line can be between genius and folly. And when all is said and done, to make a masterpiece even once is something close to a miracle. Anyone who has managed that feat is worth keeping an eye on.
Are there any actors or directors you will never be able to quit no matter what? Is there somebody who has you ready to throw in the towel, once and for all? Name names in the comments. You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm or read his blog Serious Film.