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Meeting “Woody Allen”

Meeting "Woody Allen"

There are lots of reasons I love this photo from Eugene’s Blog

As Variety’s Festival scribe Mike Jones records Woody Allen during a round table interview using a cel phone, Eugene is using his iPhone to snap this photo. Mike and his phone record the musings of Mr. Allen for Web casting. Eugene’s photo captures a moment.

In this instant, we see an old man holding court, both accessible and unassuming. Yet something from the subject’s enigmatic past lingers as we are left to observe him through two layers.

This paradox–that Woody, is both exposed and shrouded–actually brings me comfort.

It reminds me how, during the auteur phase of his career, Woody Allen was something of an enigma. Intensely private, his productions were shrouded in secrecy, untitled productions (Woody Allen Fall Project) forged by a tight-knit crew who worked from only a portion of a script, the full details of any production protected as closely as the recipe for Wonka’s never-ending gobstopper.

This working method–like some kind of alchemy–produced a string of works (at a clip of one per year) between 1977’s ANNIE HALL to 1992’s HUSBAND’S AND WIVES that garnered ten Oscar nominations for writing, (including wins for ANNIE HALL and HANNAH & HER SISTERS),…

La dee dah….la dee dah…

…and five Oscars for directing (including a win for ANNIE HALL) and performance Oscars for Diane Keaton (ANNIE HALL), and Diane Weist & Michael Caine, (HANNAH & HER SISTERS). While his prolific output continued–as did subsequent writing nominations, as well as acting wins for Mira Sorvino and Diane Weist, his post-1992 output marks a shift in focus for Woody.

This, of course, marked the period of the VERY ugly, VERY public break from Mia Farrow, and his subsequent marriage to sometimes daughter-figure Soon-Yi Previn.

The 90’s were an incredibly ambitious, and creative period for Mr. Allen. Between 1992 and 2000, Woody wrote and directed the following: a murder mystery (MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, which reunited him with Diane Keaton), two period comedies (BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, SWEET AND LOWDOWN), a teleplay, based on an old screenplay (DON’T DRINK THE WATER), a modern Greek tragi-comedy, complete with Greek Chorus (MIGHTY APHRODITE), a musical (EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU), two meditative self-examinations in the STARDUST MEMORIES mode (DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, CELEBRITY). He wrapped-up with an old-fashioned comedy, a la, his “early, funny films” (SMALL TIME CROOKS).

SMALL TIME CROOKS, the first of three films released by Dreamworks SKG, ushered in the era of the Woody Allen press-junket. In the 1990’s in the throes of accusations from Mia Farrow and his wedding to Soon-Yi , Woody went on the media offensive from appearances on 60 Minutes) and to opening up his private life to Barbara Kopple in the revelatory documentary WILD MAN BLUES (1997).

By 2001, the demystification of Woody Allen was complete thanks to a nasty dispute with his sometime producing partner, Jean Doumanian, and a , brutal crew overhaul with many longtime veterans canned in cost-cutting measures.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Woody Allen even made a surprise appearance at the Oscars, something he failed to do the 20 times he was nominated.

Ever since SMALL TIME CROOKS, Woody Allen has made himself for all manner of press: junkets, interviews, and public appearances.

(He stops short of appearing on programs like Letterman and Leno, possibly due to his own distaste for what these late night programs, where he was once a fixture in the late 60s and early 70s…it is worth noting that in a Carson obit, Woody Allen was quoted: “Woody Allen appeared on the show, paid Carson the compliment that “he appears to be most pleased when the guest scores. He feels no compulsion to top me.”)

Even I was invited to participate in a round-table junket for CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. The catch? In order to get the Woody interview, I had to conduct interviews with Helen Hunt (delightful), David Ogden Steers (wouldn’t talk about M*A*S*H, aka “the Green show”), Dan Aykroyd (didn’t he used to be the skinny guy?), and Elizabeth Berkley long before her reality television revival. (Who was it who said, “Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television?”)

This was also in the days before the iPhone. Hence, no cute photo of me at the table.

Is it possible that Mr. Allen is now over-exposured?

To wit, before the release of CASSANDRA’S DREAM, Woody made his obligatory appearance at the Toronto Film Festival, with a full-fledged press conference. The following is a sampling of interviews from radio, news and Web sources–from NPR to Ain’t it Cool to UK’s The List:

NPR interview with Scott Simon
A Cineaste Interview
Ain’t it Cool News’ Capone
McLean’s in Canada
UK’s The List
Premiere Magazine

Someone is having fun taking the piss out of Woody with a fictional Myspace Page, with “Friends” like Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Groucho Marx, Akira Kurosawa, and the New York Knicks…

Well from the suggestion of Soon-Yi, I finally decided to, you know, sell out and see what the hoopla is all about with this whole internet thing. To me personally, all this with people putting some kind of web page to, uh, introduce themselves to others is kinda, you know, despondent.

How much closer to Mr. Allen and his work do we feel now that we virtually can sit, at glass level at the table and hear him discuss the economics of releasing a film?

Do we feel any closer than in the stylized world of Woody Allen, where the line between art and life has always been fine?

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