Michelle Boorstein, the religion writer for the Washington Post, recently had a fascinating -- and, for some of us, back-on-our-heels surprising -- piece revealing a little-known pop culture secret: Woody Allen has an evangelical Christian fan base.
And not just any evangelicals, mind you.
Boorstein recounts conversations with both Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and the Wilberforce Forum, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, where both evangelical giants talked of their love of Allen's films.
Both Colson and Land are such diehard fans that they can -- and did, during conversations with Boorstein -- quote lines from Allen's movies.
Can you imagine Land, with his low Texas drawl, reciting Allen's famous monologue from Annie Hall?:
"The other important joke for me is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx but I think it appears originally in Freud's Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious - and it goes like this. I'm paraphrasing. I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member. That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women."
Yeah, me neither.
But apparently, Land can "rattle off an amazing amount of dialogue," Boorstein says, adding, "You can’t get the guy off the phone once he starts talking Woody."
"Earlier this year I was sitting at a cafeteria lunch table with evangelical icon Chuck Colson and some of his close faith advisors when the conversation took a turn I hadn’t predicted: Colson started talking about Woody Allen.
"It turned out Colson and some others at the table, who help him craft theological writings and classes, are hard-core fans of Allen, and were easily able to recite bits of dialogue. A debate launched about the religious subtexts of various Allen films and what were the moviemaker’s own theological conclusions.
"It was only when my regular chats with Southern Baptist leader Richard Land began turning to Allen that I got curious — what’s the deal with evangelicals and Woody Allen?
"It turned out that I was clueless to a fascination that now makes perfect sense, since Allen marries two things core to modern-day evangelicals: popular culture and religion. Think “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and the symbolism of the rabbi going blind; think “Match Point” and questions raised about the apparent randomness of life.
"Many of Allen’s films wrestle in a complex way with core moral themes, such as the nature of forgiveness, what to do with sin, whether life can have any meaning without God. And he does this as an agnostic."
Now, I am a HUGE Woody Allen fan. I've seen many of his films so many times I can recite them in my sleep. Many of my closest friends are also Woody-heads, so much so that when I got married 14 years ago, one of my friends gave me a Limoges box in the shape of a basket full of eggs. I remember my new husband looking at it quizzically as I crumbled into laughter. The reference was, at the time, lost on him, but I got it immediately.
It was a reference to a scene at the end of Annie Hall where Allen, as the protagonist "Alvy Singer," tells an old joke that goes like this:
"This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken.' And, uh, the doctor says, 'Well, why don't you turn him in?' The guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."
That little porcelain egg basket is my most favorite wedding present.
But I digress.... My point in revealing my own Allen fandom is, I suppose, to say that, as an evangelical myself, I derive a lot of pleasure from his films. Still, until I read Boorstein's piece, if I'm honest, I've usually thought of myself as a Woody-head in spite of being an evangelical. Now I know that I (and a number of my closest evangelical friends) am not alone. Land and Colson are strange compatriots to find in the Allen fan camp, but here they are. Welcome, fellas.
Boorstein says she began thinking about the Allen-evangelical connection after seeing an old video clip on Facebook of an Allen interviewing Billy Graham. I watched that, too, after my former colleague Roger Ebert posted it a few months back on his Facebook page.
If you've never seen it -- I hadn't -- it's definitely worth watching. The interview is from a one-hour comedy special Allen hosted for a TV series called The Kraft Music Hall. It aired on Sept. 21, 1969 and Allen's guests, in addition to Dr. Graham, included actress Candace Bergen and the band 5th Dimension (featuring Marilyn McCoo) singing the Laura Nyro hit, "Wedding Bell Blues."
It is classic TV. And the 11-minute interview with Graham is its crowning jewel.
See for yourself:
When Ebert posted the video on Facebook a while back, his comment was something to the effect of, "Television used to have great stuff like this."
Can you imagine that kind of worlds-colliding interview happening on TV today? I can't imagine such a meeting of the minds transpiring on CNN, FoxNewsChannel or even Bravo without the conversation devolving into incivility and snark. That's what we expect now from folks who, we surmise, are in some sense "enemies."
Imagine a reprise of the Allen interview with Billy’s son Franklin.
But perhaps I'm being too cynical. If Colson and Land can see the humor -- and value -- in Allen's films, maybe there's hope yet for fostering these kinds of conversations, on and off camera.
Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She is the author of several books, including The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers and her new release, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @godgrrl.