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Woody Allen and Wealth by Lisa Szefel

In aesthetics, art, film, society on July 30, 2013 at 18:05

From: Woody Allen and Wealth by Lisa Szefel, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

Indeed, in a career that spans almost five decades, Woody Allen’s oeuvre has evinced an ethos that eschewed greed, materialism, ostentatious display, as well as unearned and undeserved ease. The ultra-rich had no taste, know-it-alls deserved to be brought down a peg, while the self-effacing, meaning-seeking, long-suffering individuals of modest means served as moral anchors. However, during a four-year interlude, from 1996 until 2000, Allen moderated his equal opportunity skewering of affectation, arrogance, and ignorance on both the left and the right. Softening his lens on the entitled rich, Allen went from critic to apologist. In doing so, he anticipated then refracted Americans’ fascination with New York, cash, and conspicuous consumption during the phase of triumphalist capitalism that in some ways ended with the 2008 crash. The turn demonstrates how one of the greatest film makers and astute cultural commentators of our time was transformed by an era aptly characterized in Matt Taibbi’s appraisal of Goldman Sachs: “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” When Allen returned to his former form, this time with more mastery and insight, Americans in the post-Cold War, post-economic bubble era followed in greater numbers than ever before.

A walk through Allen’s films reveals the extent to which money, or the lack thereof, has played a recurring, often central, role, determining plot, character, and setting, from the beginning. In his directorial debut, the mockumentary “Take the Money and Run,” Virgil Starkwell steals pens, snatches purses, hustles pool, counterfeits money, and robs everything from banks and gumball machines to veal and breading. “Under constant economic pressure,” he is an all-around failure subject to extortion who spends his life in and out of jails too unlucky to even make the “Ten Most Wanted” list because, as he laments, “It’s who you know.” In the end Virgil receives an eight hundred year sentence in federal prison. Asked if he regrets a life of crime, Virgil responds: “I think that crime definitely pays and that, you know, it’s a great job. The hours are good. You’re your own boss, and you travel a lot. You get to meet interesting people. I just think it’s a good job in general.” While appreciating the perquisites of a man of independence and means, he lacked the privilege and knowledge needed to amass money; he just took it and ran until he ran completely out of luck.

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

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