What is the statute of limitations on a writer stealing from himself? I considered this point as I watched with a reasonable measure of delight Woody Allen’s latest, To Rome With Love, which packed the local cinema in the fashion of his early works. In a broad sense, of course, Allen repeats himself often — what other writer and director is such an authority on neurosis? Yet there’s been a large change in his work over his mature years. His writing is less reliant on the sure-fire laugh and more on the elements required to heighten stake and anticipation. There are, to be sure, laugh-out-loud moments in the new film. But it is the composition that impresses; the writer follows chronology and convention only when it suits him. Otherwise the action follows a calendar that makes no sense at all but seems exactly right.
The question of plagiarism from self arises in the idea of an occasionally invisible character played by Alec Baldwin, who advises a young man on matters of love. Anybody who remembers Play It Again, Sam, released in 1969, may recall how well the technique worked when Jerry Lacy, playing Humphrey Bogart, offered advice in this way. That was, if my math is correct, 43 years ago. So it seems that Play It Again, Woody is a defensible strategy.