Has Woody Allen finally changed his tune on Los Angeles?
After all, it’s been more than 35 years since Alvy Singer hilariously dissed the city in “Annie Hall,” saying that people here “don’t throw their garbage away, they make it into television shows" and that "the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.”
Judging by Allen’s busy schedule this month in Southern California, it would be reasonable to assume that the filmmaker has finally made his peace with La-La Land.
On Saturday, he and his regular jazz ensemble played to a wildly enthusiastic crowd at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A. Later this month, he starts production on a new movie, the first feature he has shot in L.A. in decades. (The movie will also shoot in his native New York.)
Allen’s staging of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” is being revived by L.A. Opera in September, with Plácido Domingo playing the title role. The production -- Allen’s only operatic staging to date -- received glowing reviews when it debuted here in 2008.
So L.A.'s not such a bad place in the end, right Mr. Allen? The question, posed to the director after Saturday’s concert, elicited a bemused grin. “Well, I wouldn’t go crazy ...,” he replied with a gentle roll of the eyes.
If Allen, who turns 80 this year, is still on the fence about L.A., it’s clear that L.A. has never stopped being crazy for Allen, even setting aside the four Academy Awards he’s won (though never personally collected on stage). The Orpheum crowd saved its biggest applause for Allen’s clarinet playing, which trilled with high-pitch energy through New Orleans-style jazz sets and encores.
Always the self-deprecator, Allen joked at the top of the concert: “It’s like touring doing Gregorian chants. Whenever anyone pays to see us, we’re amazed.” Wearing a blue button-down shirt and khaki slacks, Allen otherwise blended in with the six other members of the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band as they executed numbers including “Down by the Riverside,” “Easter Parade" and the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Allen’s appearance on Saturday marked his third jazz concert in L.A. in the past five years.
“I think he’s perhaps softened a little bit on L.A., but I think he could never remain here open-ended,” said Robert Weide, the producer and director of "Woody Allen: A Documentary,” who was in the audience on Saturday.
Weide said that he has remained in touch with Allen since the documentary aired on PBS in 2011. When Allen was scouting locations in L.A. for his new movie earlier this year, Weide and his wife drove the director around some Hollywood haunts from his stand-up days and from when he briefly lived here in the mid-1950s as part of an NBC writers’ program.
“I was shocked to see him actually wax nostalgic about Los Angeles,” said Weide, adding that Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood was an Allen favorite. "But ‘nostalgic’ is the operative word here. If Woody were given a choice between living out the remainder of his life in Los Angeles or being waterboarded for 20 minutes, I think he would have to give it some serious thought.”
Some fans on Saturday also doubted that Allen’s attitudes about L.A. have changed significantly over the decades.
“Absolutely not,” said Tom Meyers, who attended the concert with friends. “I think he puts up with us,” added Casey O’Brien, also part of the group. That didn’t stop them from raving about the concert or sharing their favorite Allen movies -- “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Annie Hall” and “Sleeper.”
Jazz clarinet has been a staple in Allen’s life since his youth, and his love affair with the genre was memorably cataloged in “Sweet and Lowdown” and Barbara Kopple’s documentary “Wild Man Blues.”
He continues to perform frequently with the Eddy Davis band at the Carlyle hotel in New York.
Quincy Jones made a late appearance in the audience on Saturday and later praised Allen in a brief interview.
“I first fell in love with his work as script writer,” he recalled. “He’s always been great. That’s what filmmaking is -- great stories and songs.”
After the concert, Allen signed autographs for fans outside the theater in a chaotic scene that recalled “Stardust Memories.” One fan carried posters from “Manhattan,” which the director autographed. Another caressed his face in pure adulation; the filmmaker didn’t flinch.
But the most Allen-esque moment of the evening came just before that as the director said goodnight from the stage.
For those of you who had seen him perform jazz before, he said, “You’ll notice that I have not improved.”