Woody Allen makes a movie every year—he’s got Café Society coming out later this month, and a movie due in 2017. There are no details about that movie yet, but Kate Winslet will star, along with Jim Belushi, and The Hollywood Reporter says that Juno Temple and Justin Timberlake have also joined up. Ugh. Can you imagine how insufferable JT will be about being in a Woody Allen movie? There’s still plenty of prestige attached to Allen, and for some reason ole Pippers keeps getting cast by actual fact good directors (see also: Fincher, David; Coen, Joel & Ethan). One day we’re going to look back and realize that Justin Timberlake’s acting career was the glitch in the Matrix.
Earlier this summer I wrote about Ronan Farrow’s essay calling out the actors who continue to work with his father despite serious allegations of sexual abuse made by Dylan Farrow. Allen is having no trouble casting up his current projects, which also includes an Amazon original show starring Miley Cyrus, so there’s no slow down on people willing to work with him. And he’s still getting funding—Amazon is apparently on the hook for his 2017 movie, too. That makes two movies and a TV show Amazon is producing with Woody Allen. Certainly we should question actors who work with Allen, because they’re willingly joining the system that protects him.
But let’s really give it to Amazon, who is funding him. Lainey framed it as an equation of power, and it certainly is for Amazon. They’re a fledgling studio/distributor, trying to carve a niche and compete with bigger, more established traditional studios, as well as rival streaming service Netflix. So far, Netflix is far more accomplished on the TV side, so Amazon has been spending big on prestige movies to set themselves apart as the home of premium digital cinema. Enter Woody Allen and his shiny New Hollywood name.
Amazon invests in Woody Allen, and they get the benefit of his reflected “glory”. Allen, meanwhile, gets to feed on the continued perception that he is one of American cinema’s most admired filmmakers. If Café Society or Woody Allen 2017 turns out to be actually good, then they both might get to take a trip to the Oscars. Or perhaps to the Emmys, if the TV show is anything to write home about. Allen’s success increases Amazon’s clout, Amazon’s strength means more money for future Allen endeavors.
No one gets into the Woody Allen business to make money, so it’s not like it matters if his movies bomb. If, after a couple years of collaboration, Amazon decides it’s not a fruitful partnership—read: both his movies are bad and don’t add any polish to Amazon’s reputation—they’ll move on. But there will be some other outfit, ready to step in and try their hand. Backing Allen is a gamble—most of his output is bad-to-mediocre, but every few years you get a Blue Jasmine or Midnight in Paris, so someone is always willing to roll the dice.
The only thing that could possibly end the Woody Allen cycle is if releasing his films became such a f*cking nightmare that it just wasn’t worth it. That is, I think, what Ronan Farrow was hoping to bring about—an atmosphere of constant, combative questioning about why anyone would choose to work with an accused child molester. Backing an Allen film is basically an agreement to lose money, but take away his prestige factor and there’s no real reason to do it.
But that’s not the atmosphere surrounding these casting announcements for his 2017 film. The Kate Winslet announcement refers to him as an “auteur”, and THR’s announcement today notes the “high-end talent” he brings to his films. Prestige words for a prestige director. And so the cycle continues.