I first read Woody Allen’s collections of humorous essays and magazine pieces – Without Feathers, Side Effects, and Getting Even – forty or so years ago and found much to like there. Some of his screenplays are classics of American cinema, especially Annie Hall, Hannah and her Sisters, Manhattan, and Blue Jasmine, his reshaping of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Those stories are filled with engaging situations, zinging dialogue, interesting characters, and nicely paced slices of life usually set in New York City and focusing on at least one insecure, neurotic soul (like Allen himself).
His infamous affair with and subsequent marriage to his stepdaughter aside – and being a stepfather myself it’s awfully difficult to put it aside – Woody Allen is by every measure a gifted writer.
Which begs a question.
When evaluating the work of an artist – author, actor, musician, visual artist, etc. – should we judge the work wholly on its merit as art or on the politics, misdeeds, or lifestyle of the artist?
A case in point: I know more than a few people who refuse to watch movies with actors in them that stand for things they don’t stand for or do things they disapprove of.
I confess to being guilty myself at least once. Whichever film of Woody Allen’s came out right after the big stepdaughter story I chose not to see it. I’m sure the absence of my ticket price didn’t set Mr. Allen’s accountants into a frenzy, but it was my choice to make and I made it.
I’ve liked some of his films since then and didn’t care for others. But I’ve tried to judge them on their plots, the actor’s performances, and the script. In fact, Karen and I saw his newest, Café Society, just yesterday and liked it very much. I never once thought of Mr. Allen’s life and deeds, but only of the situations he put his characters through.
I guess this is where I stand on the issue. When I read Robert Frost’s poems “The Pasture” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” I can completely put aside the fact that the poet was a cantankerous, crusty, rude old curmudgeon that nobody could get along with and just let his soft, grandfatherly poetic voice invite me in and provide me with a few moments of peace and beauty.
Any thoughts on this?