May 22, 2010
Memo to Woody Allen: Generalísimo Francisco Franco Is Still DeadBy Mike LaSalle
American-born auteur filmmaker, playwright, and philosopher Woody Allen is at the Cannes Film Festival this week, promoting his new film and offering up a variety of opinions ranging from criminology to political theory.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, for example, Allen showered U.S. President Barack Obama with effusive praise, calling him "brilliant" and "cool."
Allen's words were almost touching to the extent that he seemed protective of the president -- like a parent confronting the neighborhood bullies -- holding that "the Republican Party should get out of the way and stop trying to hurt him."
To this point, Allen's views appear normal enough for any garden-variety partisan of the left or right.
He likes the president. Check.
He defends the president. Check.
But like a lot of his films over the past twenty years, Allen's argument has a nasty flaw: "It would be good," Allen told the Spanish journalist, "if Obama were a dictator for a few years, because he could do a lot of good things quickly."
Thus, a famed and fine American artist and self-described philosopher stepped upon the stained soils of Europe and opined in a whimsy that his adored president would make a great and benevolent dictator.
But "the real problems of the world are more philosophical than political," he continued, perhaps finally realizing that he was speaking to a Spanish journalist who may well have been alive under the brutal dictatorship of Generalísimo Francisco Franco.
The purpose of the artist, said Allen, is to "find the reasons" people use to embrace life despite all the rational arguments that suggest that life has no ultimate meaning at all.
In other words, according to Woody Allen, his job as an artist is to uncover the self-deceptions people use to prop themselves up in an empty and meaningless world. These self-deceptions would include religion, love, and the promise of a better future.
That's Woody Allen the artist: a Master of Meaninglessness.
Allen did not start his career with such a pointless title. There was a time when his work was fresh -- cynical, but with an undercurrent of optimism. As a younger filmmaker, his movies were joyfully ludicrous. They were written, performed, and enjoyed by the audience as cathartic experiences. We laughed and wept with awkward Woody at the madness and messes of glorious life.
But later on, things changed. Success got old. And somewhere in the late 1970s, Allen the auteur began searching for a new kind of kick.
His 1979 film Manhattan showed some early and ugly foreshadowing. Here Allen puts the "funny" into adultery and cradle-robbing...
Yup. We're only "just people". Kangaroos hop. Apples fall from trees. Powerful film directors drug and rape little girls. And people cheat.
That's just life. We're just human beings, you know?
The weirdness progressed with Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo. I actually walked out of Radio Days.
With Crimes and Misdemeanors in 1989, Allen's transformation was complete. In this overtly postmodernist deconstruction of Feodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Allen aimed to retell the story of Raskolnikov -- a murderer famously wracked by the internal punishments of his all-too-human conscience.
But Dostoevsky's story assumed that conscience was an integral feature of the human psyche.
Postmodernism holds that human conscience is a construct of social conditioning. Thus, Allen's film subjected Dostoevsky's timeless novel to a petty deconstruction: Now the murderer could commit his crime, and no punishment -- internal, external, or divine -- would follow him.
Speaking in Cannes about his new film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Allen told La Vanguardia that "the only way to be happy is if you live deceived."
"People are desperate for a new religion," he continued. "Even artists themselves are deceived, believing that life has meaning because art will live longer [than themselves], but the truth is that the artist [eventually dies] and it does not matter that the work is still alive."
A generation after Crimes and Misdemeanors, it is plain that Woody Allen has solidified his belief in the relativity of life and meaning. Conscience is a condition. Fairness is an illusion. Piety is a deception.
And President Obama really ought to be dictator -- if only for a few years.
Just long enough to wash all the scum off the streets.
Maybe for Woody's next project he can deconstruct Mussolini.
At least he made the trains run on time.
Mike LaSalle is the publisher of MensNewsDaily.com. He writes on science, media, and popular culture.