Opinion: Mortal Kombat - Woody Allen VS Tyler Perry...FIGHT!
We here at Nuking the Cat like to ask the bold questions, the daring questions, the questions that make you wonder “Dear lord, what sort of mental illness does this guy have?” Today…one of those questions has sprung forth. Ordinarily, I’d relegate something like this to the twitter feed…just a one off question that might make the reader chuckle then move on. But no…not this time. This time, I feel like I gotta beat something…so I’m gonna beat this question to death.
Is Tyler Perry the black Woody Allen…or is Woody Allen the white Tyler Perry?
And why the fuck do we care about either of them?
Woody Allen is known for 2 things: banging Mia Farrow’s foster kid and making upper-class academic white “comedies” that only really seem to grab the attention of cinema-snobs. Tyler Perry is known for taking over damn near every DVD shelf in any given store, yet I’ve not met a single person that’s seen any of them. Of course, I’m not exactly a people person…so maybe that’s not exactly the best barometer. Hell, for there being so many of ‘em, someone’s watching them…right? Oh, and for cross-dressing as an older black woman that says “hallelu-yer”…because, you know…like ya do.
Since we here at Nuking the Cat have a two-drink minimum [actually, that’s two-PAGE minimum. – Ed.], we have to dig deeper. Alas, I also have tons of other things that interest me…so it’s not like I’m going to be watching any of their films. Besides…it’s the INTERNET!!! If I had an informed opinion, I think I’d be completely ignored! [Have you seen the site’s numbers? You already are. – Ed.]
Thanks to Wikipedia, we can see that they’re both playwrights that moved up into cinema. Both are mostly geographically locked…Allen most noted for this films in New York City (though most of his post 2000 work has been in Europe. Maybe they find him funny there? After all, France still operates under the assumption that Jerry Lewis is funny…right? I shouldn’t slight European humor though…big fan of the British stuff and even I realize I’m painting with a very broad brush) while Perry is fairly Atlanta-centric. And perhaps these factor in to how the films are received. New York is seen as a producer of more quirky, artistic cinema (in opposition with its mass-market west coast counterpart, Hollywood) and Atlanta is seen more as rooted in urban culture or hip-hop. Bur reading over the wiki entries, there’s something that springs out to me…they both develop EXACTLY as you’d expect. Woody Allen takes the track you’d expect of him: writing some early TV, doing comedy in Greenwich Village, writing for the New Yorker, opening shows on Broadway and then from there launching into film where his movies, again, appeal to that white, upper-class, academic sensibility that he’s known for. Tyler Perry takes exactly the path you’d expect of him too: writing plays in Atlanta, taking them on the aforementioned “chitlin’ circuit” (which has also been called the urban theatre circuit…probably a better name for it, as it has roots in the South but also extends into the Midwest and, yes, even into Woody’s NYC), gaining popularity there before moving up to films that reflect his Southern, Urban and African-American influences.
That sticks out…why?
Because next we’re going to look at the complete and utter disparity of how their films are received by reviewers. I’ll provide you with two links, one for Woody Allen, one for Tyler Perry. What do you notice? One’s got a whole bunch of red, fresh tomatoes and the other is practically nothing but green splats. Now, again, I can’t personally judge either director’s content. The reviews for both might be legit…I couldn’t tell you. In watching trailers for films from either director, I can tell you that neither one of them appeals to me. If I never see a film from either director through the duration of my life, I think I’d be okay with that. That’s not me being closed-minded…because I’m certainly open to seeing films from either director should they create something that interests me…but the people in their movies are simply not people I can identify with and thus the humor becomes less “funny” and more “what a fucking idiot”. And if I want more “what a fucking idiot”…well, I’ve got real life for that, I don’t need it in my cinematic escapism. [Unless it's a horror movie, then "what a fucking idiot" is cherrished cinematic gold! - Ed.] But let’s get back to fruits vs. splats. Much of Allen’s pre-2000 work is all fruit (yes, there are some splats, that’s why I said “much of…”) while post-2000 shows an off and on, hit and miss tendency. Again, Perry’s oeuvre is rife with splats and Golden Raspberries. And yet, as I said in the opening, looking at the DVD shelves, people sure are buying it up.
So, do we get to play the race card now or what? Well, no. I can’t do that…mainly because I’m not black. I’m as honkey as the come. In fact, hell, I’m white, upper middle-class (if there is such a thing anymore!) and intellectual…I’m practically Woody Allen’s target audience. Again, strange that none of his films I’ve seen trailers for appeal to me at all. What I see is a failure of the eyes of the beholders…or a failure of the beholders of the eyes with the art shoehorned in there…dammit, you know what I’m getting at: reviewers suck. [Says the reviewer. Yeah, keep digging there pal, this’ll be fun. – Ed.] Sure, you can hear Kevin Smith say this and it doesn’t mean anything aside from “They didn’t get his dick and fart jokes so now he’s bitter”. But it’s something I’ve been noticing for years as well, looking in from the outside. There are maybe a handful of reviewers that I feel are still doing their jobs (Pete Travers and Richard Corliss to name a couple). The remainder feel like one of the following types: internet fanboys that bitch about how either the source material was not STRICTLY adhered to or that a minute detail COMPLETELY ruined the movie for them, hype-machines that are hoping to get their quote on the DVD/Blu-Ray packaging and the Old Guard…the stuffy intellectual types that feel that just because they got a master’s degree in the humanities that clearly their opinion is far more important than yours could ever be…you know, the aforementioned cinema-snobs. The card we CAN play here is that of context. There are some people out there, goodness knows they’re rare, that can take each thing, be it movie, food, book, etc. on its own merits. But far more common are those that bring their entire life experience with them and then judge the piece. Sure, that’s only human, we are who we are and we bring ourselves entire to each encounter. Sadly, most people that do that only take into account their own life experience…the one they brought to the piece…not the full life experience that created the piece in the first place. Want a mental exercise to go with this? Okay, imagine Woody Allen with a plate of ham hocks and collard greens in front of him. Not only does this risk fracturing the space-time continuum and destroying all of existence as we know it, but we know that this is the ABSOLUTE LAST PERSON whom we should consult on this dish.
What we have, ultimately, is one guy the Old Guard feels comfortable with and another they do not. There are periods of time where this sort of thing happens…coming readily to mind are the 70s where reviews of movies like Night of the Living Dead and El Topo showed that division of Old Guard vs. New Guard (well…for then). Looking back and seeing how those two films are regarded as classics, we can see that as a point where the guard changed. Are we coming to something like that now? Well, in terms of history, I’d like to hope so. It’d be a nice punctuation to end this particular age of movie reviews with the death of Roger Ebert…not to be disrespectful, but instead in the utmost respect. He helped to define what we typically think of as a movie reviewer but in his passing so too perhaps should pass his definition, due for a rewriting for a new age.
To answer our original question, is Tyler Perry the black Woody Allen? Is Woody Allen nothing more than a white, Jewish Tyler Perry? Sure. They’ve got enough parallels for me…and the works of neither one really appeal to me all that much.