(I wrote this during some "downtime" at work. I see that there has been another post by Jeff and one from Ben since earlier today. I'll read them right away and maybe respond later.)
Thanks, Jeff, for that LONG post!
Here are a few quick thoughts:
1) I'll concede your points about referentiality in films and art. I don't have a problem with it. In fact, I love it. When done right. The Simpsons has become a pop culture reference machine. Tarantino carefully evokes images and moods from other films to bolster his own films. Scorsese casts Max Von Sydow in his pulp thriller and has him ask the protagonist if he believes in God. All of these instances work fine on their own, but reveal a deeper meaning to those "in the know."
What Allen does is explain many of his references as he makes them (through Gil's reaction or through other characters), helping the audience along. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. It's just all easy and obvious and accessible. You guys see this as a strength. I disagree.
The main thing wrong with it is that it is all presented in a calculated way to make us identify more and more with Gil.
2) Woody Allen, like most comedians, desperately needs to be loved. I think he uses cheap tactics to have us relate to Gil. We don't see anything positive about Gil besides his nostalgia, yet we're rooting for him. My "caricature" criticism is primarily directed at the contemporary characters.
3) Even though those stupid girls didn't know the definition of "pedantic" (or maybe because they didn't know), I bet they still looked down at that character just like Allen wants them to. Same thing with the parents and the fiancé. I bet they enjoyed the free 20s spirit. Instead of real characters that we can form an opinion about, we get directed how to feel. I guess this is what I didn't like. I feel like Allen is directing the audience as much as he ever directed the actors. I don't like being directed.
4) Compare this to a minor masterpiece like Meek's Cutoff. Reichardt, for the most part, gives us complex characters and complex situations. And she never fully indicates how we should judge these characters. The audience is given a lot of room to think. Which, of course, means that we're left with lots of room to be confused.
5) I can accept a bit of this stock stereotype business in children's movies. And even enjoy it. I get tired of it quickly in an "art cinema" context.
6) About comedy and caricature. You're probably right. I just watched a Bill Hicks stand-up routine (inspired by Ben) and was struck by how effectively Hicks knocks down any chance at dialogue. His bit on pornography is what I'm thinking about. He talks about the Supreme Court being unable to define it past "images which cause sexual thoughts." Hicks then talks about Wrigley's DoubleMint girls and advertising causing sexual thoughts, culminating in a really funny proposed "Drink Coke" ad. Hicks them goes on to ask what the problem with sexual thoughts is, especially when the criticism is coming from "be fruitful and multiply" fundamentalists, and then he dismisses any concerns. Now some of the opponents of pornography are ignorant and ridiculous. Sure. That doesn't mean that there aren't serious arguments against pornography. In that moment, I realized how powerful Comedy is. There is no argument against porn that can trump a couple of Hicks' quips.
7) Don't take the above to indicate that I'm anti-comedy. I'm actually a bit of a Comedy nerd and watched a lot of stand-up on Comedy Central and HBO during the early '90s.
8) Am I a romantic? I don't know. Talk to my wife.
9) I'm not sure why I numbered this. It's all a bit rambling.
10) This "quick" response turned out to be a lot longer than intended.