Talking To Woody

Woody Allen in May 2000
AP
Comedian Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of life is showing up, but these days he is doing better than just taking his own advice: the reclusive, workaholic filmmaker has turned into a whirling dervish.

Fresh from his first appearance at an Academy Awards ceremony, where he presented a tribute to New York filmmaking, he's packing his bags for his first trip to Cannes to open the film festival there. He's also doing interviews to promote his newest movie, "Hollywood Ending" while coyly denying it is autobiographical even though it stars him as an aging, neurotic, hypochondriac film director.

Allen also denies he is doing anything differently, saying events seemed to flow together making it appear he is suddenly out and about.

"I know it's perceived that way. I did the Oscars because it was an opportunity to do something for New York City. ... As for going to Cannes (to open the festival May 15), the French have been so affectionate to me ... I wanted to do something as a gesture of reciprocity," Allen said in a recent interview.

Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel, whose90-minute interview with the director recently aired on the Turner Classic Movies channel, says that despite Allen's protestations, he sees a changed man.

"I can only speculate, but the most important thing is that Woody Allen is 66 years old and even though he maintains that nothing lives on, I think he wants to tend to his late-in-life and posthumous reputation," Schickel said.

That reputation has been moving steadily upward since hitting rock bottom more than a decade ago when Allen and then- girlfriend Mia Farrow engaged in an ugly public brawl after Farrow learned Allen had an affair with one of her adopted children, Soon-Yi Previn, to whom Allen is now married.

That bitterness had not abated. Farrow refused to give permission for any film clips featuring her in Allen's movies to be used in Schickel's interview-documentary, meaning the critic had to do a lot of last-minute cut-and-pasting, taking out scenes featuring her in such seminal Allen films as "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Zelig."

"Mia and I talked for about a half hour. She just felt that she would not do anything to aid Woody's career," Schickel said.

In the documentary, Allen goes into detail on the origins of his films, tossing off one-liners all the way. He says, for example, that people think he is an intellectual only because he wears heavy black-framed glasses. As the college dropout explains, "The only reason I read 'Crime and Punishment' was that the girls that I was dating did."

As for why he made the highly praised film "Crimes and Misdemeanors," in which a man gets away with murder, Allen said he wanted to make an amusing film about "how God doesn't exist."

The glory of Schickel's documentary and of Allen's newest film "Hollywood Ending," which opens Friday, is that both are reminders of what a funny filmmaker Allen can be and how his wisecracking, angst-ridden screen persona has become as permanent a fixture of American cinema as Chaplin's "Tramp," W.C. Fields' drinking or Groucho Marx's wisecracks.

In "Hollywood Ending," Allen plays a washed-up, neurotic New York Jewish film director in his 60s who is given a second chance to make a movie, thanks to his studio executive ex-wife. As soon as he gets on the set, he goes blind. In short, he plays the Woody Allen character in the movie, something he told Reuters he really does not like to do.

Allen said that whatever his attributes as a director, writer and keeper of the comedic flame, he did not much like himself as an actor and could live without casting himself.

He said he was only in "Hollywood Ending" because:


  • The role called for a neurotic
  • He works cheap
  • He knows the director.
  • Dustin Hoffman doesn't work cheap.

"I would have hired Dustin Hoffman if he would work for little money. I have no real range as an actor and I have no compunction to perform and would be happy never to appear in my films again," Allen said.

But he said he cast himself to keep costs down. "If there is a part that I can play, I play — it. ... Most of my films are made for the amount of money a normal film spends on an Academy Award campaign," about $17 million.

Keeping costs down allows Allen the chance to make a movie every year. "The burden is not so great. That's why I have been funded for so many years. I am low risk and I break even and nobody goes bankrupt. A big bad film can lose $40 million or $50 million. But with me, you lose $2 million and if you have a success, you make $2 million."

"I never thought about my character. It emerged subconsciously. ... I am not the character in my films but I have some of the character traits. In real life, I can drive a car," he said.

Allen says "Hollywood Ending" is different from many of his films -- because he actually likes it.

"Every once in a great while I finish a film that I actually like. It is rare and I have 35 films. The film is close to the idea conceived in the script. For me, happiness is fulfilling my original intention."

Written By Arthur Spiegelman