I was reading Woody Allen’s Side Effects, a collection of short stories from 1975-1980. Despite how wonderful I think most of Allen’s films are (yes, they are, both the comedies and the dramas) I’m finding most of these stories not to be so great. They read like a transcript that’s unfunny in printed format even though it might be very funny if read aloud.
It’s kind of the same problem I have with David Sedaris’s schlock fiction–that dude never would have sold one book, if NPR hadn’t let him read the stories aloud to radio audiences first! In Side Effects, there’re a lot of zingers about how Allen or his protagonists have intellectual thoughts that revolve around swedish stewardesses/asian coeds/handcuffs/blah-de-blah, but they do nothing to establish a scene, speak human truths, question established cultural practices, or make me laugh out loud the way his movies do (the one amazing story about a man who transports himself into the book Madame Bovary and makes Emma Bovary his mistress notwithstanding).
But what really cheeses me off is how, in his Poe parody “The Lunatic’s Tale,” which adopts a style similar to “The Raven” (but then basically drops it midway and turns it into a James Whale parody right out of “The Man With Two Brains“), he takes a jab at country music in general and then at Johnny Cash specifically! In the story, his character marries a clever and handsome woman named Olive Chomsky because she
…never said “Oh, wow,” or wore anything marked Pucci or Gucci or listened to country music or dialogue radio.
Later, though, he meets a smoking hot girl and makes her his mistress, but is tortured by her brain-dead behavior, which includes making him
satisfy the moronic whims of my sensual goddess who insisted I drop over to watch ‘This Is Your Life’ on television because ‘They’re doing Johnny Cash!’
To me, if you insult Johnny Cash, you better be his ex-wife, Sam Phillips, or Gil Scott-Heron. The fact that Woody Allen never bothered to analyze Johnny Cash’s songs, to realize he’s a man who can paint a picture with a song and in fact tell a story more poignantly and often more humorously than Allen himself, really makes me lose respect for Allen and wonder why I defended his less-than-perfect movies or sometimes wooden dialogue for all those years. It’s always heartbreaking when your heroes let you down.