by Rob Stimpson
In the abundant amount of ‘Best Films of 2011’ lists there was perhaps a somewhat surprising title that kept reappearing time and again; a time travel film written by Woody Allen? Well, yes, but Midnight In Pariswas one of the highlights of the cinematic year of 2011, and was hailed as Allen’s best film for years, a triumphant return to form for the old master. Just as Vicky Cristina Barcelona was similarly hailed in 2008. EvenMatch Point, which divided its audience in Marmite fashion, was considered as at least a step in the right direction in 2005.
Of course, with so many films labelled as a return to form, this must mean that quite a few along the way have verged on mediocre, or worse, just plain awful. Yet, if you consider the fact that the last year in which Woody Allen didn’t release a full length feature film was 1981, any criticism of the quality of his work over the years takes on a completely different aspect. If any artist, be they film director, writer, actor, actress, musician, singer, constantly produces material year in, year out, for a decade, let alone multiple decades, then at some point the quality and integrity of their material will inevitably waiver. It’s the law of averages. Gifted people working in a creative industry cannot simply churn out masterpiece after masterpiece in their chosen field; sooner or later the shameful label of mediocrity must be applied. But why does the inevitable dip seem to gall people so much?
Selling out, cashing in, jumping the shark, call it what you will, but it seems that more than ever fans of cinema and music in particular expect those that they idolise to have careers of a near fantastical perfection, and when this perfection is not attained then the one time idols are written off for a few years before they can make a glorious comeback. But we seem to forget that this is their job, the money they earn from their efforts is what pays the bills. It is, of course, a lot of money, and the lifestyle it maintains is one of luxury, but should that be held against someone given the chance to live such a life? People in all walks of life are trying to make as much money as possible, so why shouldn’t a beloved actor or actress appear in a film they knows is poor if it pays well? They have a job that millions of people worldwide would commit numerous crimes to attain. In an age where the over use of cliché is rife, these people are actually living a dream, so of what great consequence is the occasional bit of innocuous fluff if they have made, and continue to make, work of great quality in the long run?
Look at Robert De Niro; arguably the greatest actor of his generation, if not of all time. Since the year 2000 he has appeared in The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Godsend, Meet The Fockers, Righteous Kill andLittle Fockers, to name but some of the worst. Indeed, it is …Rocky & Bullwinkle’s heinous, eye gouging take on De Niro’s own ‘are you talkin’ to me?’ scene from Taxi Driver that could possibly be the nadir of his career. It is still painful to watch over a decade later. It still defies comprehension. Why would an actor of such distinction, a man who commands respect and is revered in his trade like few others, lower himself to such inane and pointless film making?
As with most things in life, the answer to this question could lie with Larry David. The misanthropic messiah who created Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm committed a De Niroesque career faux pas when he made a cameo in an episode of Hannah Montana, the antithesis of everything he seems to stand for. However, David made it clear that his teenage daughters were huge fans of the show, and given the chance to guest star in an episode alongside them, he naturally accepted the offer. Think how big a thrill it must have been to be able to give your children the chance to appear in their favourite TV show alongside their father. He owes nobody an explanation, he just made a decision based purely on his personal life. Who are we to say anything?
And therein lays the point. An actor or actress becomes beloved for the simple reason that people like the work that they produce. If they continue to produce work of towering quality, then the admiration will grow ever stronger. So surely, after bringing so much enjoyment into our lives, they can be forgiven for the odd turkey, or for propping up their pension with the occasional confusing cameo. Letting off some steam in a frivolous role or having some fun in a pointless comedy is probably a nice break from the familiar; and I’m sure the money isn’t too bad either.
Regardless of criticism, Woody Allen’s legacy will always be Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Purple Rose Of Cairo. These will tower above his lesser efforts and will live forever, so ultimately, should he care what people think about his lesser efforts? Should we even care about them at all? For all the criticisms of Robert De Niro’s later career, you can just choose to ignore it and instead opt for The Godfather Part II, Raging Bull or Goodfellas for an evening’s entertainment; it’s what they’re there for, to be watched time and time again, whereas the fact that he made a cameo in New Year’s Eve will slip out of our minds as quickly as the film itself. No artist is obliged to make the satisfaction of their fans their main priority. They should just produce whatever work they see fit or have a vested interest in. If they feel the need to earn some extra money, then who are we to criticise? A career in any form of show-business can be notoriously short, so at times it needs to be exploited, but that alone doesn’t make someone a sell out. Mistakes and wrong decisions will be made, but who of us has can claim to have never made one of those? If you don’t like a piece of work by an actor or actress that you had previously adored, then just don’t watch it again, and just revisit the reasons that made you fall in love in the first place.
Words – Robert Stimpson | Photo – David Shankbone