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As Hollywood evolves with technology that allows movies to be shot without sets, and comic book characters dominate the roster, few traditions remain. One stalwart is Woody Allen, who continues to make a movie every year, with just little enough money to keep producers from meddling with his art.

 

Still, this is not the Woody Allen who broke all the rules in Annie Hall or romped around slapstick sets in Sleeper. Now 72, his gestures take a bit more time to catch up to his wit, and his hearing is pretty much shot. To ask him a question, one must be close enough him to read your lips. Allen acknowledged his near deafness, though never quite suggested the encounter was like a scene from a Woody Allen movie.

 

Allen still deals in much the same themes as he did decades ago. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a comedy exploring the different relationships two friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) have in Barcelona with a suave womanizer (Javier Bardem). To Allen, relationships have grown no more successful in the years since he wrote Bananas, Annie Hall or Manhattan.

 

"I have a pessimistic view of relationships," Allen admitted. "My view has always been that you talk about it with your friends, you scheme, you plot, and you see psychoanalysts. You see marriage counselors, get medicated, do everything they can, but in the end you have to luck out. It’s complete and total luck."

 

The filmmaker has been publicly linked to many of his costars, from Diane Keaton to Mia Farrow, and is now married to Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. In his experience, people just have to take their chances.

 

"You have all these exquisite needs, some woman has all her exquisite needs, and the odds of all those wires going together are very, very slim. If one of those wires is not there then it gets annoying and she gets dissatisfied, you get dissatisfied. So, to get it all clicking in is a very happy accident. It does happen to people, because there are so many people in the world, which statistically a certain amount of them luck out. They meet someone, fall in love, they are happy with that person, no real friction, but it’s luck. This is my observation of it, this can be argued, but if you ask me I would say that’s what I’ve learned."

 

If Allen's views have not changed, other aspects of the world have. He is now casting actors one or two generatios his junior. While they revere his insights, they also help keep him from sounding like an old codger.

 

"What happens is that you get a lot of help from people. I write the thing as best I can. They play it and when they play it they say, ‘We would really never say this. We would never go to that nightclub. We don’t do this anymore.’ They would tell me and I would strike it then ask, ‘What would you do?’ Then I add it and let them do that thing instead. I never think in terms of writing for a culture or for a generation. I just write the story so that it works."

 

His writing does continue to focus on women though. Before his film career, Allen admitted he could not write women very well. He credits his personal love life with opening up his feminine side, which happened to coincide with his movie career.

 

"I got into Play it Again, Sam with Diane Keaton on stage. Keaton and I started dating, we started living together, and became very close. Through some kind of Socratic osmosis or something, I started writing for women. I started writing for Diane, and I found I could write for women. Then I sort of only wrote for women. I wrote more and more for women, and I wrote for them all the time. I like women, I enjoy their company. The person I edit with is a woman, my editing assistants are all women, and my press people are all women. My producer is a woman. I just enjoy their company very much. I get a big kick out of them. For some reason I find them interesting to write about too. Men occasionally, but really my heart is in it more when I’m writing for women."

 

Woody Allen

Continuing his annual productions has required some new, modern financing for Allen over the years. Now even his films cost $15 million, and that is low budget for Hollywood. Mediapro, the financiers of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, have made a three picture deal with Allen. Though their Barcelona base provided him the inspiration for one film, Allen requires the freedom to set his future projects elsewhere.

 

"I said, ‘I can’t do three more films in Barcelona.’ So they said, ‘You can make them anywhere in the world you want to make them. We just want to be the producers, we want to finance the films.’ They were lovely people, we all had a very nice experience, and so I said, ‘Sure.’ Will it be fine if I make two pictures for them and they lose their shirt? Will they stay nice to me? Maybe they will, I don’t know, but maybe not. Lots of times they start off with a lot of hugs and kisses. Then you make a picture that tanks. My experience with these [Mediapro] people has been very positive so far and they seem like lovely people. I have great faith in them."

 

Perhaps what keeps Allen working so consistently are the lessons he learned as a little boy. "I think that the biggest life lesson I learned as a boy that has helped me and is still with me is that you really have to discipline yourself to do the work. If you want to accomplish something you can’t spend a lot of time hemming and hawing, putting it off, making excuses for yourself, and figuring ways. You have to actually do it."

 

In addition to filmmaking, Allen is known as a jazz musician, playing the clarinet. That was his first discipline, which he claims later influenced him as a writer.

 

"I have to go home every single day, know where I am, what I’m doing, and including 45 minutes of practice on my Clarinet because I want to play. I want to write, so I get up in the morning, go in and close the door and write. You can’t string paper clips, and get your pad ready, and turn your phone off, get coffee made. You have to do the stuff. Everything in life turns out to be a distraction from the real thing you want to do. There are a million distractions and when I was a kid I was very disciplined. I knew that the other kids weren’t. I was the one able to do the thing, not because I had more talent, maybe less, but because they simply weren’t applying themselves."

 

Any budding screenwriter might be the next Woody Allen, if only they finish their script. "I made the statement that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting at bat. They couldn’t do it. Once you do it, you write your script, or novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. What I am saying is that it’s a life lesson."

 

One Woody Allen tradition that has become less and less frequent is Allen starring in his own movies. Audiences are so used to seeing Woody Allen in Woody Allen movies that they assume somebody else is playing "the Woody Allen part," a phenomenon that continues to frustrate him.

 

"Years ago when Pauline Kael saw Interiors she insisted to me that I was the Mary Beth Hurt character, on the flimsy evidence that she was wearing a tweed sport jacket that I liked to wear. I was saying, ‘No, it’s not true because her problem in the movie is that she can’t express herself artistically. She’s full of feeling and can’t get it out. I’ve always been able to write a little bit, or make jokes, I’ve never had that problem.' As the years went by people would say, ‘John Cusack is you [in Bullets Over Broadway], or this one is you…’ so when I did Match Point someone said that Jonathan Rhys Meyers was playing my role. I’m thinking, 'How can someone possibly come to that? In my wildest incarnation I couldn’t play that role, be that character, or think that way.'"

 

Woody Allen

Now, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, some critics are already suggesting that Vicky speaks for Allen. She is the more cynical, uptight friend who finds fault with all of Cristina's naïve hopes for spontaneous romance.

 

"Not for a second would I think of myself in any relation to Vicky. I would have thought myself, and I don’t mean this because he’s so charming and charismatic, in Javier’s role. I could see a funny scene of me getting up in a restaurant and trying to pick up two attractive women, then not being successful at it, or getting in over my head. I could see Javier’s atheistic, existential point of view, as one I’ve expressed many times. No one has said, ‘Javier was kind of talking for you at times.’ They think that the girl is speaking for me. I see it as absolutely not so, but it’s interesting that it keeps coming up, so I can only think I have a blind spot. I can’t honestly say that my perspective on it is correct."

 

Allen is entering new territory with his next project. He is directing the opera Gianni Schicchi for the Los Angeles Opera. This also takes him out of his familiar territory of New York.

 

"I didn’t want to direct anybody else’s material before. I never directed a significant thing in the theatre live. The only live thing I directed were my own little one act plays. I certainly never directed on Opera. I’ve only been to about 15 of them in my life."

 

Gianni Schicchi is a one act opera, part of a trio by Puccini. Friends at the LA Opera, including General Director Placido Domingo himself, had been courting Allen for years. They convinced him he could do the simple one act.

 

"It's not like Aida with the elephants or something. They said ‘You can do it, and we’ll help you.’ This was like three years ago and I figured I'd be dead in three years, it's never going to happen, so I said ‘Okay.’ Then I didn't die. The time came and they said, ‘You have to come to LA and do the opera.' So tomorrow morning at 9:30 I start. I'll do my best. I hope that the Puccini material is strong enough that I won’t get hurt."

 

Pondering the thought of doing his job in front of a live audience brings back the familiar Woody Allen neurosis. "In opera, unlike the movies, they boo. I don’t know if I can take that. I've been disliked, but from a distance."

 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona opens August 15, 2008

 

CLICK HERE For the Feature Article on Vicky Christina Barcelona

 

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 84 - August 2018
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