My friend Giovanna had a bunch of us over for dinner on a recent summer night. With a baby perched on her hip, or on the counter, she prepared a cherry pie, rhubarb crumble, roasted potatoes, green bean salad, panzanella, and a porchetta.
She’s extraordinary. So was the food.
It got me thinking about porchetta. She and her partner, who are both chefs, will make one—it’s basically a roasted boneless pork roast rolled up with herbs and stuff inside—and pick away at it over the week. I’m not ready to make my own, mainly because my local butcher does. So the other night I picked some up along with these beautiful little sesame seed buns they just started selling. The green grocer just got in their first batch of field tomatoes so I grabbed a basket and decided on Greek salad as an accompaniment.
As we are wont to do most summer evenings, the Beast I met on the deck for our catch-up cocktail hour while wearing our new matching hand-woven-in-Ecuador Panama hats. (We’re also ordering matching Persol sunglasses and I don’t even know what is happening.)
Foodie: You have to read the Globe and Mail piece Nathalie Atkinson wrote about Woody Allen. It’s so good.
Beast: I already did.
Foodie: It’s amazing, right?
Beast: Can she write or can she write?!
Foodie: No shit. But you know what?
Foodie: I still can’t let go.
Beast: Of what?
Foodie: Don’t make me say it loud! [In a whisper] Woody Allen!
Beast: Oh I get that. I hate to say it but Woody is still like pizza for me: even when it’s bad it’s still better than a lot of other take out.
Foodie: OMG I feel that way too! But I don’t think we should ever say it out loud. It’s just not a popular sentiment to have.
Beast: You’re right. And this isn’t palatable—why are you writing this down? You can’t ever talk about this, okay?
Beast: But his trope—the older guy who dates a substantially younger women—well, it’s a trope that exists in the real world and he keeps examining it and audiences keep watching it.
Foodie: But I don’t even know that I notice the trope all the time. Okay, yes I did the last time I watched Manhattan. It actually upset me. But for so many viewings, it didn’t. Does that make me terrible? It’s just that there’s other stuff going on, you know?
Beast: The Existentialism, the search for some sense of morality in a godless age. I get it. And yes, Nathalie is right: it would’ve been great if he’d just retired 15 years ago because he’s reducing his batting average.
Foodie: I would never admit this publicly but I didn’t hate Midnight in Paris.
Beast: It was better than Match Point, not to mention Magic in the Moonlight. Still, for me at least, none of the shit films diminishes his best stuff. Manhattan is brilliant precisely because it’s an uncomfortable movie: people are torn one way by their battles with their ‘base desires’ and in another by their intellects. There are never Woody Allen redemptive endings: Think about Deconstructing Harry! This totally pathetic loser alone with a universe of characters he’s created! God, if that level of self-referentiality doesn’t get him a few points I can’t imagine what would. It’s not the triumph of art redeeming a morally bankrupt character, but a man who is sentenced to live in the prison of his own pathological creativity. That’s Woody! That’s why he keeps making these average movies. He can’t stop.
Foodie: I didn’t like that one.
Beast: It’s dark. And I bet he knows he’s tarnishing his legacy. We are talking about a guy whose work can rival the most pretentious aspirations of Bergman and who can also go gag-for-gag and line-for-line with a guy like Henny Youngman.
Foodie: Who’s Henny Youngman?
Beast: He’s the ‘take my wife, please’ guy. But who else could give you that range? I think Crimes and Misdemeanors is the single greatest American movie ever made. And it doesn’t get dragged up a lot…
Foodie: It made a recent BBC list of the top 100 American films. So did Annie Hall.
Beast: Good. That’s a profound drama on the levels of some of the greatest works in the West. It’s basically about a respectable man whose lust and attempt for redemption through a tryst with a younger woman leads him to tragically accept that the universe is morally bankrupt. But it’s also hilarious! It’s so funny but it has a moral depth—and with the exception of Kubrick, who was more interested in probing moral ambiguity than talking about morality—Woody talks about what that is. Who else does that? From Annie Hall to Crimes and Misdemeanors through Mighty Aphrodite: That’s 20 years of making masterpieces that are untouchable. And his roles for women? He’s written some of the best out there.
Foodie: Don’t say that! There are plenty of people who believe that he only writes roles for women that are insufferable, pathetic and manic. But you know what? I feel like every Woody Allen character is insufferable, pathetic and manic! Not just the women.
Beast: The men are just as nuts as the women! They’re all nuts!
Foodie: You know, growing up, my mom always despised Woody Allen, especially after Soon-Yi. My dad has always loved him. I remember hearing them argue about him at the kitchen table. Maybe he’s always been divisive.
Beast: My parents were indifferent. I don’t remember how I got into his films. But I remember the first one I saw was Stardust Memories. And Crimes and Misdemeanors hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember thinking I wanted all movies to take comedy that seriously. And film, in general, to take life that seriously.
Foodie: There’s a time and a place. I mean, I’ll quietly go on re-watching Woody Allen movies but I’m also going to go on re-watching Last of the Mohicans, Jaws and Sense and Sensibility. [Pause] What’s the Woody Allen movie with that party scene where a woman is going on about horoscopes and the universe giving a damn about when we’re born and the rest of the crowd is having none of it and sort of making fun of her? That scene affected me years ago but I can never remember what movie it’s in.
Beast: I have no idea.
Foodie: We’re like the people in Nathalie’s column right now–the ones shouting “But what about Hannah and Her Sisters?”
Beast: But we’re whispering.
As luck would have it, the magical crystals/astrology scene I couldn’t place was in the Woody Allen movie we watched with dinner: Husbands and Wives. It’s a great scene. I also forget what an outstanding cast it has.
And, for better or worse, the movie was better than I remembered.