Is Woody Allen “Irrelevant?”

In a recent Cinecast Episode, the guys were asked where they would place Woody Allen amongst the elite directors of all time and the word irrelevant was thrown around.

So is Woody Allen an “irrelevant” director at this point in his career? Well first of all, what does it mean to be irrelevant? And what does “this point in career” encompass? For the latter, let’s just take the past ten years = past ten films = roughly 20% of filmography/career. For the former, that’s a little trickier. Webster defines relevant as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand; having social relevance“. The matter at hand would obviously be film direction. So does being demonstrable mean sheer output of film? It certainly could, but if that’s the case, obviously Allen would have no trouble passing the bar on this one as he releases about one film per year. So that isn’t it.

Does irrelevant correlate with number of tickets sold i.e. box office numbers? That makes a little more sense, so let’s lightly analyze…

Blue Jasmine N/A
Rome with Love $73,244,881
Midnight in Paris $151,119,219
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger $34,275,987
Whatever Works $35,097,815
Vicky Christina Barcelona $96,409,300
Cassandra’s Dream $22,658,532
Scoop $39,215,642
Match Point $85,306,374
Melinda and Melinda $20,085,825

Now compared to Iron Man or Man of Steel (or any other movie about a man made of metal), the above graphic’s numbers might as well be in pennies. But in comparison to like-minded films, these are honestly pretty respectable numbers for low budget, indie dramedies/thrillers playing in less than 800 screens. Before Midnight isn’t done yet; but for a well respected, beloved franchise, why is it only at a measly $11 million and won’t come anywhere near Allen’s numbers – all the while playing on 900 screens? How about Mud? $21 million. Are Linklater and Nichols considered irrelevant? One is a highly established and extremely well received director and the other is an up and coming hot shot in indie cinema who is equally well-received critically. Don’t know/like those names? How about Joss Whedon and Steven Soderbergh? Their two films currently wrapping up semi-wide releases made a whopping $4,169,353 and $32,172,757 respectively. I would hardly call Whedon or Soderbergh irrelevant directors (putting aside Soderbergh is now done making movies). Hell, even 2 Guns starring arguably two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood right now barely make the same numbers Allen’s films do (on average) while playing on over 3,000 screens!

Looking at the above examples, I’d say box office is a poor decision maker on deciding a film maker’s “relevance.” Sure you could come up with counter-examples but that would only help in kind of proving my point. If our annual box office competition has taught us anything, it’s that numbers are unpredictable and don’t really tell us much about the quality of a film or it’s director, cast or crew. And even if they did, in terms of where Allen’s types of films play, how many screens they’re on and what their competition is, the numbers are relatively large.

Who is Allen’s audience? On the above mentioned Cinecast, it was brought to light that it’s only old people going to Woody Allen films. While I think that might be a bit of a sweeping generalization, it’s kind of hard to dismiss. *Personally speaking, the latest Allen film I saw in the theater (Blue Jasmine), was roughly 90% over the age of 65. And to take it further, probably 75% of those people were closer to 80 years of age. And I’m not kidding. But it was a packed house. So this begs the question: is relevance directly related to the demographic a film maker is shooting for?

As sad as it is, I think this might actually be the best argument for proclaiming Woody Allen irrelevant. My gut reaction to this statement was “poppycock.” I mean what does it matter who the people are sitting in the seats? Why does it matter that they’re old? Cinema isn’t just for the kids. It’s for everybody. Still, in terms of film making craft and new ideas, Allen is hardly the trendy, hip, ground breaking director he once was. Despite making quality pictures, he isn’t really pushing anything new – in fact it’s arguable he’s consistently retreading old territory. Wes Anderson is a favorite around these parts but he’s already being criticized in some circles for just doing the same old same old over and over again and he’s a director with only seven features under his belt. Seven. Allen has upwards of 45. But it’s his old territory; and like Allen, there will always be people wanting to play in that playground even if they’ve seen it before.

Still, doing something over and over again hardly makes a person relevant. Trying new things and striving for originality and breaking some new ground creatively is what keeps the buzz going. It’s why people continue talking about you and anticipating your next project.

But back-pedaling again even further, maybe one could argue that these types of films make him even more relevant for a particular niche/demographic. Is it fair to say Tyler Perry is irrelevant because he only makes movies aimed at the black audience? Is Almodóvar irrelevant because almost all of his films are about gender identity, women’s issues and/or homosexuality? These examples open a whole new can of worms that I’m not really interested in exploring at the moment, but they do help illustrate that just because someone is making films for a very specific audience (intended or otherwise), doesn’t necessarily make them irrelevant on the whole. Maybe irrelevant to teens. Maybe irrelevant to action fans. Maybe irrelevant to vulgarians. But certainly not irrelevant to an entire generation of film-goers who look extremely forward to each and every release and are going to miss the hell out of Woody Allen when he’s gone.

*As a side note, my theatrical screening of Blue Jasmine was a Tuesday matinee. This could help explain the age demographic of my particular screening. It might also explain slightly lower than average box office numbers as well. Since movie going numbers are inexplicably tethered to dollars rather than tickets sold, it would make sense the dollars shown are smaller since the majority of the film’s audience is going during the day. Ya know, because old people can’t stay up after 8pm. Again, another can of worms.

The last bit of input I could bring in would come from critical reception. Rotten Tomatoes can be a bit arbitrary and each individual is going to have different opinions on artistic work; but in general, really high numbers (above 85%) mean a fairly high quality film that is both entertaining and smart in what it’s trying to accomplish and in general most people really enjoy.

Blue Jasmine 89%
Rome with Love 43%
Midnight in Paris 93%
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 45%
Whatever Works 50%
Vicky Christina Barcelona 82%
Cassandra’s Dream 46%
Scoop 39%
Match Point 77%
Melinda and Melinda 53%

So of the last ten Woody Allen films, only one was outright horrible (Scoop), six of them fall into the mediocre or slightly less category, while four of them turned out to be pretty darn good – again, from critical standpoint. This is pretty all over the map. The guy isn’t making masterpieces time and again yet quite often he’s making highly successful, interesting and entertaining films. And it’s not only critics talking. The Academy (i.e. The Oscars, i.e. people in the industry) certainly takes note occasionally and adds to Woody Allen’s legacy as well.

Blue Jasmine N/A
Rome with Love 0/0
Midnight in Paris 4/1
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 0/0
Whatever Works 0/0
Vicky Christina Barcelona 1/1
Cassandra’s Dream 0/0
Scoop 0/0
Match Point 1/0
Melinda and Melinda 0/0

If relevance is determined by your peers opinion of your output, Woody Allen might fail in this regard. A nom here and there is certainly better than most film makers and the highly acclaimed Midnight in Paris helps, but in general he isn’t the Spielberg of the 1980s and in this regard probably isn’t all that relevant in award land. Which also sort of compares him with other film makers of today.

Still, it does seem that big name actors and actresses are clamoring to work with him: Baldwin, Clarkson, Cruz, Bardem, Sarsgaard, Blanchett, Winslet, Watts, Page, Eisenberg, Hopkins, Banderas, Sheen, McAdams, Wilson, Hawkins, McGregor, Ferrell, Farrell, Gerwig and many more. Some of them giving the best output of their careers (Cruz, Johansson, Brolin). Possibly even Blanchett and that’s really really saying something!

Judging audience reaction is a bit trickier; particularly for Allen’s films. Basically all I have to go on is the internet and since the internet is mostly a youth game and since we’ve established that in all likelihood Allen’s key demographic is senior citizens it’s unlikely to find too many reactions online from this source. Again using Rotten Tomatoes as a guide, the audience ratings fall mostly in line with critics (slightly below in most cases) and one might surmise that this is because the old folks aren’t running home from the theater to blog about the movie they just saw or click a radio button on some ratings web site.

I did briefly look at the average ratings for some of Allen’s films over on LetterBoxd and they mostly seemed to generally fall in line with what I see on Rotten Tomatoes. Again, this doesn’t really tell us much as the average age of a LetterBoxd user is probably somewhere around 26 (just a guess).

So we’re still kind of stuck with the same question: what does “relevant” even mean? After all this digging I conclude it’s kind of a conglomerate of all these things mentioned above; with some things bearing more weight than others. Basically I think “relevant” is a little bit too broad of a term and too difficult to pin down an actual definition for in the case of an artist. Allen’s films may no longer be considered “event” pictures, but I lay that problem at the feet of the general audiences of today, not Allen. For the most part, people want and demand amazing CGI effects, 3D IMAX and explosions these days. If Kubrick were still alive and working today would he be putting up $100 million box office numbers? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. Eyes Wide Shut did pretty well back in the summer of 1999 but it had a lot less to compete with and there was the X factor of Kubrick’s death and the last chance to see one of his new films on the big screen. So maybe a poor example I guess. But it does make me wonder if Kubrick was still around making awesome movies, would people go around calling him irrelevant if it was mostly just film snobs like you and me going to see them and only making $60 million?

My final gut reaction is this, if someone is calling Woody Allen an irrelevant director at this point, it could be true, but it’s their own damn fault, their own misgivings and their own short-sightedness. Though it’s true that not all of his films are always really kicking in the most efficient gear, about every other one is received very well both critically, financially (relatively speaking) and from the audience (as well as can be determined from the web tubes). They maybe don’t have quite the panache that modern film makers are exploiting today and anything remotely resembling experimentation is non-existent, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t solid films that many people are still talking about today.

Steven Soderbergh’s Address on the State of Cinema

At the San Francisco International Film Festival, semi-retired (His HBO Liberace film is still in the queue) Steven Soderbergh gave a 35 minute talk to participants on his feelings on cinema, art, the business and all those things in between. The organizers politely asked nobody to record or repost this (although several were live tweeting the event) but as Soderbergh laments right in his talk, nobody can keep a secret any more. Perhaps the ‘don’t record this’ request by the powers that be was simply reverse psychology. Nevertheless, that the cat is now out of the bag, so have a listen.

Bon Mots:

“Whenever people start to get weepy about celluloid,” Soderbergh thinks of a quote he attributes to Orson Welles: “I don’t want to wait on the tool. I want the tool to wait on me.”

“The problem is that cinema, as I define it and as something that inspired me, is under assault by the studios and, from what I can tell, with the full support of the audience.”

Quoting D. Rushkoff, “There’s no time between doing something and seeing the result and instead the results begin accumulating and influencing us before we’ve even completed an action. And there’s so much information coming at once – and from so many different sources- that there’s simply no way to trace the thought over time.”

“Psychologically, it’s more comforting to spend $60 million promoting a movie that costs 100, than it does to spend $60 million for a movie that costs 10.”

“If you’ve ever wondered why every poster and trailer and every TV spot looks exactly the same – it’s because of testing. It is because anything interesting scores poorly and gets kicked out.”

Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Say Wha? [UPDATED]

Is this simply nothing more than a commercial for a perfume by a couple of well known directors or is this a tease at something greater? I’m too lazy to do the leg work on this one, so if any Third Row reader has any knowledge about this, let me know.

Here’s maybe a clue: I don’t recognize the gentlemen in the commercial/teaser, but I recognize the girl as the shop owner in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It’s this girl.

Whatever the case, neat little nugget from Anderson and Coppola…

UPDATE: OK, so I figured this out. It is an ad for Prada. The directors are doing a three part short for the company (reminds me of the BMW ads so long ago with famous directors all taking a crack at shooting Clive Owen driving fast). At any rate, Part 1 and Part 2 of the short is under the seats…

Would you like to know more…?

How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song: Available March 26th!

At last year’s Flyway Film Festival, Matt and I were honored to be among jury members for the fictional narrative feature category. While voting, it was a pleasure to award best director to Gary King for his musical, How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song. Now, some may be screaming bias, but our jury is not alone in the festival world of awarding HDYWAJSS accolade after accolade. And now for the good news…

You can see HDYWAJSS starting Tuesday no matter where you are. You don’t have to wait for a festival screening to check it out as it will be available for download on several major platforms (Vudu, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, etc.) and a DVD and Blu-ray will also be available on Tuesday. Here’s the OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE


As a side note, if you’re in the Minneapolis area, I’ll see you at the upcoming screening on April 11th because despite being able to see it at home starting Tuesday, quite honestly if you can get to a big screen to see this spectacle. It’s quite shiny! Sign up for the Tugg to ensure your spot today. It will be at the Southdale AMC. Probably see you before and after stumbling from bar to bar in the area.

Jurassic Park IV Director Confirmed: Colin Trevorrow

Apparently Colin Trevorrow was high in the running for the Star Wars VII gig (as reported by the internet). I saw the new and thought, “who?” Looking him up on the ever faithful IMDb, it seems he’s done very little; the most visible part of the repertoire being the much underseen Safety Not Guaranteed. The short of the long of this is, I still think to myself, “who?”

Here’s what producer Frank Marshall (‏@LeDoctor) had to say via Twitter: “Thrilled to have director on JP4, Colin Trevorrow, an exciting young filmmaker who understands and respects the world that is Jurassic Park.”

Except that it will be in 3D. The original Jurassic Park is hitting theaters again in early April… also in retro-fitted 3D. Can you feel my excitement?

Full press release:

Long-awaited fourth installment of this groundbreaking film franchise from Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment to be shot in 3D

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA, March 14, 2013 — Colin Trevorrow has signed on to direct Jurassic Park 4, the highly-anticipated fourth installment of the blockbuster franchise that has grossed $1.9 billion at worldwide box office since the first film was released in 1993.

The Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment production will be produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley with Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer. The script was written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes).

Trevorrow directed Safety Not Guaranteed for FilmDistrict and Big Beach Films starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson. The critically-acclaimed film debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival where screenwriter Derek Connolly won the prestigious Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. The film also won Best First Screenplay at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards, where Trevorrow was nominated for Best First Feature.

Universal will release Jurassic Park in 3D on April 5. With his remastering of the epic into a state-of-the-art 3D format, Spielberg introduces the three-time Academy Award®-winning blockbuster to a new generation of moviegoers and allows longtime fans to experience the world he envisioned in a way that was unimaginable during the film’s original release.

Watch David Lynch’s Short Film: “Idem Paris”

I‘ve been watching David Lynch do all of these various, personal projects for some time now (mostly courtesy of content over at Twitch). But I haven’t seen a feature length film since 2007 (unless you count his “Duran Duran” doc). Not that I care mind you; I’m not the biggest Lynch fan on the planet and much of these short films and online interview segments are actually quite a joy to watch.

His latest appears to be a brief look at a lithograph company called Idem Paris. An “old-fashioned” printing company he’s used to produce quite a bit of his own art. Nothing real involving here, but there is a sort of strange hypnotic nature about the short with its dialogue-free, pulsing machinery and hissing steam engine. It’s actually quite visceral and heavy; makes you want to watch out that your fingers don’t get pinched or mashed – though probably nothing more than a couple minutes of a look.

…a statement from Lynch regarding the short from Indiewire:

Hervé Chandès from the Fondation Cartier brought me over to Idem and introduced me to Patrice Forest. I see this incredible place, and I get the opportunity to work there. And this was like a dream! It just opened up this brand-new world of the lithography and the magic of lithography, the magic of the stones. And it was a great, great thing! This thing of lithography, this channel of lithography opened up and a bunch of ideas came flowing out and it led to about a hundred lithographs. I will say that Idem printing studio has a unique, very special mood, and it is so conducive to creating. Patrice has the greatest attitude for all the artists and he creates this space of freedom and this joy of creating. It’s so beautiful! And I think the place is very important—in other wors, the same stone could be moved to another place, and I think that the work that comes out would be different. It’s a combination of the stone, the place, the people, this mood, and out comes these certain ideas.

Nice to See Iñárritu Doing Quality Things in His Spare Time [*eyes roll*]

I‘ve always been one to enjoy (occasionally love) the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu. And I’m all for director experimentation (cue Soderbergh). But not so much when it comes to performance art and interpretive dance. Especially when it potentially puts his other feature film projects (The Revenant and Flim-Flam Man) further from my grasp/eyes. But hey, maybe you are.

So take a look at the video (yes, video) below and if you’re not into it about the 4 minute mark, you might as well give up. But if it’s your thing, enjoy; knowing that you’re pissing me off.

After being invited by Benjamin Millepied to a rehearsal for the L.A Dance Project’s premiere performance, Oscar-nominated director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Biutiful, Babel) was inspired to make a video-exercise that documents movement and dance in an experimental way, with a stream of consciousness narrative. Teaming up with choreographer, Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan), the result is NARAN JA (One Act Orange Dance).


Kubrick’s Perspective

Here’s a fantastic little montage of video clips from almost all of Stanley Kubrick’s films (the latter ones anyway) that vividly display the director’s love for symmetry. The juxtaposition that can be seen within the editing is, in a word: stunning. Ah, those hallways!

Clint Mansell’s, Requiem for a Dream score is kind of overused these days but works pretty well in bringing Kubrick’s vision to life; bursting with color, energy and mastery.

There are multiple moments within the montage that quickly venture back and forth between two films very quickly (see :52 & 1:16) that are particularly exciting and well imagined. Thank you to kogonada for putting this together. But most of all, thank you Mr. Kubrick for existing and still the reigning champ as my favorite director and creator of my favorite film.

If you’re now hungry for a little more insight into Kubrick, contributor RowThree Kurt Halfyard sent along to me this wonderful interview with Stan, performed on 27th November 1966 by Jeremy Bernstein. You can check it out under the seats…

Would you like to know more…?

Countdown to Prometheus: A Ridley Scott Retrospective

With this week’s release of Prometheus, Ridley Scott returns to his roots, revisiting the world of his second feature film for the first time in over thirty years. It seemed like a good time for us in the third row to look back over Sir Ridley’s career as a whole; with brief essays about selected films from throughout his filmography as well as a week-long tribute to Scott’s films and the Alien universe.

Scott’s background is in art and design, having studied at the West Hartlepool College of Art and London’s Royal College of Art in the 1960s. He directed one short film during his time at the RCA in 1965, but wouldn’t direct another film until 1977’s The Duellists. In between, he worked as a designer for the BBC and formed a company with his brother Tony to produce commercials. It’s unsurprising that with this background, his films are well-known for their visual style, with Alien and Blade Runner especially outstanding in the field of visual design (thanks not only to Scott but to concept artists like H.R. Giger, Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Syd Mead) and becoming extremely influential in the look and feel of later sci-fi films.

Later Scott films have not necessarily captured the long-term imagination of moviegoers to quite the same extent as those two, but his sense of visual style and narrative storytelling has never faltered, even when the stories he’s telling don’t quite live up to the flair with which he tells them. After trying on a number of different genres (romance, fantasy, crime drama, etc.), he settled into a string of highly acclaimed war films, from the pageantry of Ancient Rome in Gladiator to the modern grit of Black Hawk Down and the medieval scope of Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. Yet the anticipation of Scott’s return to the world of Alien shows perhaps just how much his early work continues to enrapture viewers.

If there are two legacies that stand out in Scott’s career besides his fantastic visual sense, the first is likely his recurring strong female characters, most notably Ripley from the Alien series (who is among the first modern female action stars in cinema, and has become a cultural icon even apart from her role in the film), and the dual heroines in Thelma & Louise, who have become feminist cinema icons of the highest order. And Scott’s other legacy is his pioneering use of the Director’s Cut, which he has employed on most of his major releases, whether it was his idea to release a secondary version or the studio’s. Scott has declared himself happy with the original release of Alien, with the Director’s Cut being merely an alternate version. Blade Runner, on the other hand, marks one of the most significant Director’s Cuts in the history of cinema, and helped develop the film’s rabid fan-base after its initially poor response upon theatrical release in 1982. The Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven represents a return to Scott’s original vision after the theatrical release was overly influenced by preview screening reactions. Whatever the reason, Scott and his studios have seen fit to revisit these films and others, some more than once, but notably without ever destroying the theatrical cut in the process (yes, we’re looking at you, George Lucas).

Without further ado, let’s look at some selections from Scott’s filmography in greater detail.

Would you like to know more…?

Here Comes the Ridley Train!

You can probably expect a deluge of Sir Ridley Scott and Alien related material in the-week-and-a-bit lead up to Prometheus, both around the web and here at Rowthree. To kick things off, here is Mamo!s Matt Price explaining why the British filmmaker’s ouvre should be looked at through the lens of iconic advertising imagery and he goes on to line up Scott’s filmography and legacy in that light. Here is another episode of Very Important Dudes and Dudettes in Film History, courtesy of our friends over at

Be careful John Woo…Don’t mess with Master Suzuki

One of the early announcements out of Cannes was that of a new picture on its way from director John Woo. Known for over the top action scenes, fine cheese and crates of doves, Woo will be looking to remake one of the classic films from Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu as part of its centenary celebration. Entitled Day Of The Beast, the film will be an English language take on Seijun Suzuki’s superb 1963 film Youth Of The Beast. Of its many great scenes, one of my favourites is when Jo Shishido’s main character survives being blown up in a house while he’s hanging upside down, manages to swing himself to a gun, fight off two remaining yakuza and then shoot himself free before finishing them both off. How can Woo top that?

Of course, I’m kidding when I tell Woo to tread carefully. I’m not one to believe that the original film can be wrecked by any attempt to remake it. In fact, any attention a remake can bring to an earlier film is definitely welcomed – especially when it’s something by one of my favourite directors. Though he was a studio director – in other words, he had to film whatever script they gave him with whatever cast they gave him – Seijun Suzuki figured out early on how to keep things interesting even when the scripts were standard B-movie fare. Akin somewhat to Hitchcock in viewing the role of the director to be more technical in nature (where does the camera sit, when does it move, how do I frame things, etc.), Suzuki was able to play with storytelling conventions a great deal by adding subtext and context via his images and visual style while avoiding exposition like the plague. The classic story is that Nikkatsu fired him upon seeing his 1967 film Branded To Kill after having warned him to play by the rules (his previous film Tokyo Drifter wasn’t exactly a straight line narrative either). His methods of telling his story made generic plots into interesting ones and I’ve never seen a film of his that didn’t make me broadly smile at something totally unexpected, make me think “Whoa, that was cool…” and yet still convey relevant information about the story or character.

So in anticipation of John Woo’s re-imagining of one of the classic yakuza films, here’s just a few examples of Suzuki’s work:


Youth Of The Beast (1963)


Gate Of Flesh (1964)


Would you like to know more…?