The Taser's Edge

What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (dir. Woody Allen)

What’s not to love about Woody Allen?  Aside from the fact that some people just can’t stand him as a person, his art, or his personal life, nothing.  I did a count this week, and I’ve seen 28 Woody Allen films (29 counting Antz).  And this weekend, I caught his directorial debut, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, which streams on Netflix.

The closest comparison to Tiger Lily might be an extreme version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Take a crappy movie, and then not only supply fake lines to ridiculous characters for humor’s sake (as MST3K did), but create an entire fake plot.

Woody Allen-level gold (whether or not you like that kind of gold) to follow at :48 and 1:45.  Don’t worry: despite Allen’s press, Tiger Lily doesn’t actually contain any raping or pillaging.  It does, however, contain a hip new soundtrack by The Lovin’ Spoonful, the beginning of which you can catch in the final seconds of this clip:

The movie might be a better symbol of a film career which at its best has been devoted to ambitious ideas and creating risk-taking art than a good film in itself.  Allen would likely hate the comparison, but the pattern of his artistic biography isn’t that far from Miles Davis.’  Their common M.O.: Explore and master an area with a few works, totally self-reinvent, explore and master a new area with a few works, totally self-reinvent, repeat a few times making sure to alienate old audiences and gain new ones all the time, have at least one really self-involved period where your art suffers for a while and your audience suffers with it, have at least one artistic comeback in which you prove that you’re still an undeniable genius, and generally just keep creating and sharing your art like crazy until you die.

Tiger Lily clearly took a ton of skill, and it mostly succeeds.  Success in this case, however, is making a totally incoherent Japanese spy movie into a mostly coherent American comedy with vaudeville and slapstick influences.  I for one think we can use more mostly coherent American comedies with vaudeville and slapstick influences today (think I Heart Huckabees as well as the films of major movie stars whom the Coen brothers get their hands on–Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and the greatest screwball actor of his generation, George Clooney).

A word of caution, however: one other classic film tradition that Allen retains in Tiger Lily is some serious racial insensitivity in the form of crazy faux-Japanese character names that sound ‘funny’ to American ears.  Is it all in fun?  Does it matter if it’s ‘all in fun’?  You can decide.