INTERVIEW: Woody Allen's "Ending" Is No Finale; For the Record, He's 'Not That Crazy'
(indieWIRE/ 04.29.02) — At the Drake Hotel on a damp Sunday morning, Woody Allen was holding court to promote his latest effort, “Hollywood Ending.” Don’t run the other way. This is no “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” Like Woody at the Oscars, this is very funny Woody.
Talking about Oscars, Allen’s been nominated six times for best director, 13 times for best screenplay, once for best actor, and twice for best picture, and he’s won four. Take that, James Cameron.
Trivia aside, “Hollywood Ending” is about down-and-out arty director Val Waxman who gets a chance for a comeback thanks to his ex-wife (Tea Leoni). The only problem is that once he’s to start shooting, he comes down with a case of psychosomatic blindness. Can a blind man helm a film?
Maybe Woody’s telling us, “Well, he can’t do much worse than what those with 20/20 vision are doing right now.” To find out for sure certain, read, “Woody, The Interview.” DreamWorks will “Hollywood Ending” on Friday.
indieWIRE: In Kieslowski’s “Amator,” a man who has everything he desires becomes a film director and winds up with only the images of everything he desired. What does film mean to you? Are you obsessed by it?
Woody Allen: I’m not obsessed by it. One of the pleasures of my life as a child was to go to the movies. As an adult, I also to go to the movies. It’s also been a great way to make a living. I mean I’m someone who was thrown out of college and has no flair for business or medicine or law or any of those things. I’ve been able to make a very substantial living over the years making films, which is a loafer’s job. I mean it really is not a very difficult physical job to do. So I do like it, but I haven’t been obsessed with it. I mean if I couldn’t make another film, I’d be very happy to work in the theater or write books or something. But I do like film. It’s a very pleasurable form of entertainment for me.
iW: You always state your films are very far from mirroring your actual life. This one seems rather more autobiographical. Is it?
Allen: Well, only professionally. I mean I play a film director and I am a film director. But I’m not that crazy. I’ve never been sued for non-completion of a film. I’m not a hypochondriac like that. I’m an alarmist. There’s a complete difference. I don’t imagine I’m sick but if I get chapped lips or a hang nail or something, I think it’s cancer immediately. I go right to the worst thing, which is a different neurosis. I’ve never had any real psychosomatic illnesses.
iW: But quite a few moments in the film seem quite reflective on what we think we know about you.
Allen: I was able to do some very accurate reporting in the film because I know how a film director works. I know the nuances. I know what goes on on the set, what goes on in the hotel room meetings. So I was able to report that accurately in the film, and those are from experiences of mine. But you could be speaking to any film director and he would say the same thing. It happens to everyone. But the actual character . . . If I used my own character, he wouldn’t be nearly as funny as the character of Val in the movie.
iW: Many directors have made films about making films. It’s a big fat target. Why did you decide to take this target on now?
Allen: I never thought of it as a target. I only thought, My God! It’s a funny idea. I toyed with psychosomatic blindness and I thought of different professions that that would be funny in. I thought of surgery at one point. Boxing at one point. Then the notion of a film director seemed like a funny one to me but I wasn’t interested at all in satirizing Hollywood. I was interested only in the fun of a blind film director and a guy that was forced to make a film because his career was washed up. The only shot he could get now is from his ex-wife who dumped him and the handsome studio head who had taken his wife away. Now he has to work with these people every day.
iW: What do you think about digital filmmaking? Would you like working in digital, being able to have a smaller crew? More freedom? Or do you look down on digital?
Allen: No, no, I don’t. That would be great. They don’t have it perfected really
yet sufficiently. But it’s really getting there, and when it does get there I think it will open up enormous possibilities for filmmakers. It’s a great way of working. It would be nice to have more fluidity.
iW: You say you’ve been mistaken for an artist but you are an artist. “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” for example, is a great film. Your work has inspired thousands of directors, including John Singleton, who’s said your films helped give him the freedom to make the type of films he makes. Do you just play that down or do you realize what an important force you are in film history?
Allen: You know, it’s funny. I was just saying to someone else quite the opposite. When I look around and I see the films that I see, I see a very major influence by Martin Scorsese predominantly. Every filmmaker that comes out is influenced by Martin Scorsese. I see some influence by Oliver Stone on people. I’ve seen some Francis Coppola influence on people. But you know, I see all these young kids that make these comedies, and in no way have I influenced them. In one script years ago, “When Harry Met Sally,” I could see an influence there. But nothing subsequently from Nora Ephron or nothing from any of these young kids that come and make all these films. I see nothing in David O. Russell or the Coen brothers or Wes Anderson.
iW: Maybe the thing is you gave people freedom to film their own worlds. The lives around them. They didn’t have to exactly make a genre film. Singleton could make personal black films in the way yours mirror the Jewish experience.
Allen: Well, maybe in an overall theoretical way one could say these guys are making films about their own experiences, and I make films about my own experiences. But I don’t see that I have contributed anything in terms of the technique where you see a film and you say, ‘This guy got this shooting style or this kind of thing from seeing Woody Allen films.” I just don’t see it anyplace.
iW: “The Sidewalks of New York” was influenced by you. It’s sort of a bad Gentile take on Woody Allen.
Allen: You know, who knows? Maybe it’s more like me than it is like, I don’t know… Fellini. But it’s hard for me to see. People will show me comedies. I mean I saw “Election.” I thought that was a funny comedy. I didn’t see anything of me in it. I saw “Flirting With Disaster.” I didn’t see anything of me in it. You know the one with Bill Murray. The one he was nominated for an Academy Award for.
Allen: “Rushmore.” I saw nothing of me in it. Basically, they’re all contemporary young people who are good.
iW: You appeared at the Academy Awards this year. You’re going to Toronto for the first time. Cannes for the first time. Are you now in travel mode?
Allen: They asked me to do the Academy Awards thing. They’ve asked me to do a number of things since September 11 for New York, and I’ve done them. I wouldn’t want to say no. So it was not to get an award or to give an award. It was something for New York City, and I felt I wanted to contribute and do that.
The Cannes thing that I’m doing is strictly out of affection. The French have been for 25 years, 30 years now, very supportive of me. Very affectionate to me. I’ve shown my films at Cannes many times out of competition. They’ve invited me there many times. I’ve always said, “No, I don’t want to go.” And I feel that I would like to reciprocate once and show my gratitude and go. And I thought this film would be a good one to do it with.
iW: Over the years have your thoughts changed about whom your films are for? Have you thought about your audience much?
Allen: I haven’t thought about it because I know that it’s very small, and I don’t know who it is. And no film company’s ever been able to figure out who it is with all their marketing research and testing. It’s not young people. It’s not baby boomers. It’s not New Yorkers necessarily. It’s not Jews necessarily. It’s not mid-Westerners. There are no good clues to anything. I mean I’ll do very well inexplicably in Minnesota for some reason. I don’t know why, and not do well in Chicago or something. Nobody’s ever been able to figure it out. The one constant for me has been Europe. Europe, again inexplicably, embraced my films years ago and continues to. And this is not just Europe. This is the Far East and Argentina. South America in general. Brazil. Mexico.
iW: What about New York?
Allen: New York is very good for my films but, you know, it’s the oddest thing. They’ve never been able to figure out any demographics for them. They thought that I would do great in college towns, and in some college towns I do great in and some I don’t. They just can’t figure it out.
iW: Does this confound you?
Allen: I’m confounded as to why I don’t do better because I feel my films are accessible. They’re not all great but some of them are as good as other films out there that do much better that are no better than mine. So I’ve never been able to figure out why I always have had a very, very small audience.