1965-1976 - Discovering himself.
1977-1997 - Genius.
1998-2007 - A bit lost. Lots of changes to his crew, changes to his filming locations, uninspired writing.
2008-Present - Wisdom. Assured genius.
The thing that's great about 'Midnight In Paris' is how funny it is. The concept is hilarious, and the dialogue is full of the Woody Allen magic that we have been treated to so often in the past forty years (I am not actually that old, so I can only assume it was a treat). But now it's different. Woody doesn't chase after your laughs. He was always good like that, anyway, he'd make a joke without making a joke -- but now he does it to the extreme. The humor is so quietly embedded into the story and characters that you could quite easily miss it.
I've seen 'Midnight In Paris' twice, in two different countries. Woody Allen has a big European following. Curiously, when I saw it in Poland, there were no laughs from the audience. Yet they turned out in big numbers. Back in London, yesterday, the audience was smaller but the laughs were bigger.
The film isn't about laughs though. It's about Paris. It's about not appreciating the present. Gil (Owen Wilson) is not happy in the present; but finds contentment is the 1920's, where he is mystically transported back to. Ironically, once he's there, he finds that the characters are yearning for the 1890's. Everyone thinks the past is some golden era. Everyone thinks that. My seven year old cousin thinks that.
'Midnight In Paris' isn't a totally new idea. Woody did it with his short story 'The Kugelmass Episode' - in which the main character finds a magician who can transport him into any work of literature. He finds himself dating Madame Bovary in the 1850's.
What he didn't realize was that at this very moment students in various classrooms across the country were saying to their teachers, "Who is this character on page 100? A bald Jew is kissing Madame Bovary?"
This exact same device is used in 'Midnight In Paris'.
Woody fans will also see a similarly to 'The Purple Rose Of Cairo' - a film in which Mia Farrow's character, Cecilia, falls in love with a film character, Tom Baxter, and also the actor who plays him, Gil Shepard. But it's not a rehash of ideas, these aren't remakes. Instead, we see an artist digging again and again into his fascinations, preoccupations and interests. That's what art is, finding your corner of the world and pounding away at it, constantly trying to bring meaning to it.
I think that Woody Allen fans are relieved to see his recent output including this film and 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', because it shows that the legacy isn't finished yet. Woody is still here. The true artists will always have times of failure -- and that's sure to be the case for Woody.
'Midnight In Paris' is an artistic success as well as a box office one. Woody matters, his work matters. Cinema is full of the voiceless, the rehashes, the obvious. Mr. Allen represents something different, and there are few like him. Even the perceived auteurs working the studios today; for the most part, they don't take any risks -- here's someone who does, and we cherish him for it.