Film Commentary: In Defense of Woody Allen

A response to Ty Burr’s column called “Here’s why Woody Allen is overrated”in yesterday’s Boston Globe.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen's latest film "Cafe Society." Photo: Amazon Studios.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen’s latest film “Cafe Society.” Photo: Amazon Studios.

By Ken Bader

Dear Mr. Burr:

I found much to disagree with in your take-down of Woody Allen. I believe that Mr. Allen’s “genuine keepers” include, in addition to the six you named, Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets over Broadway, Match Point, Midnight in Paris, and many others.

Your overall criticism of Mr. Allen for a lack of “self-examination or sustained inquiry” seems to stem from a personal distaste you apparently have for the man, rather than a legitimate critical criterion you would apply to other esteemed directors. For example, have you concluded that the adoration of women so apparent in the films of Truffaut and Cukor “masks a deeper contempt”? Do you really find the works of, say, Hawks, Huston, and Kubrick to be as self-revealing as Annie Hall, Stardust Memories, and Another Woman?

You even belittle Mr. Allen’s work on Annie Hall and Zelig, two films you view favorably. You write that the former’s provenance is “muddied.” Actually, it’s not. Neither co-writer Marshall Brickman nor editor Ralph Rosenblum thought Mr. Allen’s first cut was coherent. So the three filmmakers collaborated to make it work. To diminish Mr. Allen’s contribution to Zelig on the grounds of the extraordinary visuals, editing, and special effects is simply bizarre.

I don’t object to your low opinion of Mr. Allen’s films. After all, you are not alone. I do, however, resent your insulting those of us who don’t share your view. I, for one, continue to enjoy Mr. Allen’s work, not because it makes me feel “smart and arty” or “culturally elevated” or because I am reluctant to examine myself or my assumptions. Rather, I find Mr. Allen’s films witty, insightful, and brilliantly designed, acted, and directed.

Ken Bader has written about film for NPR’s Performance Today, The Christian Science Monitor’s Monitor Radio, and the Voice of America’s Critic’s Choice.


  1. Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on July 18, 2016 at 9:13 am

    I have my serious reservations about the quality of Woody Allen’s films, but I agree that Ty Burr’s piece that the director is overrated was slapdash and poorly argued. The Boston Globe has announced that it is going to depend more heavily on its ‘marquee’ arts critics, so they are going to have to step it up. More editing would help.

    Burr packs in the usual gossip, but then admits that he doesn’t know what is true or false about Allen’s private life and that it doesn’t really have all that much to do with determining the quality of his films, aside from Burr’s suggesting that Allen should have the courage to come up with a version of Lolita.

    As for criticism, the recycled tabloid part of the piece eats up the column inches — what little we get are middlebrow bromides. For example, “What seems pretty clear is that Allen doesn’t like people, period.” Does an artist have to be a people person? Neither Swift nor Beckett had much use for mankind. Does Burr really mean that Allen doesn’t like his characters? Or that the director isn’t a nice person and only nice people can be Great Artists? The history of art is filled with celebrated creative types that one wouldn’t take home to mother. Burr’s notion that Allen is incurious about life is more interesting, if undernourished: Should artists be curious like children? Like a doctor diagnosing a disease? Can’t one explore a limited number of ideas with curiosity?

    Given that Allen isn’t a mainstream fixture and has lost the younger generation, why should we care about him and his movies? Let him fade away. For Burr, “he still gets a lot of ink and attention, and not only for the tabloid stuff.” (Hey, they are writing about him in The Boston Globe). Burr’s ultimate culprits are those dumb boomers — mired in nostalgia and hung-up on faux-culture — who have to be wised up. Get ready for more of this convenient theme as time goes by …

  2. Roberto Autran Nunes on December 1, 2022 at 4:58 am

    Eu não quero alcançar a imortalidade através da minha obra. Eu quero tornar-me imortal sem ter que morrer. (Woody Allen)

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