Celebrity and authorial integrity in the films of Woody Allen
My dissertation examines the nature of Woody Allen's authority, which I regard not as a matter of his exercising his artistic control nor of his expressing a personal vision in his work, but as a consequence of an evolving contract between the author and his audience. To begin assessing this contract I compare Allen's self-presentation in his earliest films to that of other comic artists who have worked within the same generic conventions of the "comedian comedies." Though the narratives of these films have the similar principle objective of displaying the comic performer's personality, each of the comedians in them can be seen to exhibit a distinct awareness of the pleasures and obligations of visibility and, accordingly, of a unique sense of his contract with the viewer. I find that Allen, like Jerry Lewis, is willing to expose a weak and vulnerable persona to the audience, though his manner of doing so, like Bob Hope's, suggests an authoritative style of self-consciousness commensurate with the prevailing criteria for aspirants to visible fame. Looking at films Allen made prior to 1981, in particular 'Annie Hall, Manhattan' and 'Stardust Memories', I continue to emphasize what Leo Braudy might call Allen's "culturally approved authorship" and the importance of the spectators agency in the formulation of the bonds of his authority. While I evoke Christopher Lasch's ideas on the narcissistic culture of the time as a context for these works, I counter his negative reading of the narcissistic artist's "performative" relation to his audience, which Lasch sees as evidence of the author's unwillingness to fully reveal himself in his address to his audience. Moving away from Lasch's sense of the artist's unchanging obligation to be sincere, I concentrate on Allen's adversarial stance, on his acute awareness of, and contention with, his audience, and on the interdependence between author and viewer which this stance ultimately implies. In my discussion of 'Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose' and ' Crimes and Misdemeanors', I attempt to show how Allens self-presentation betrays the guilt and inauthenticity inherent in visible celebrity, which I connect to the alienated self-consciousness Barthes claims for the subject of photography. I explore the artist's contradictory desire to be a visible presence and also to escape the determining identification with his admired public image which remains a thrall to his audience. When Allen invests in the portrait of himself as an innocent victim of the culture of celebrity in these films he faces a paradox in his self-presentation. That is, his moral authority, which rests on his seeming ability to transcend spiritual alienation, is inseparable from his renown as a celebrated performer. Finally I look at the films Allen made during and after the personal scandal of 1992 in order to gauge Allen's efforts to rebuild his relationship to his audience and to deconstruct the persona which no longer seems to be representative of his mediated identity.