Woody Allen

Douglas McGrath

Woody Allen started his career in show business as a teenager. He would send jokes in to the popular newspaper columnists of the day-men like Earl Wilson and Walter Winchell-who would print the jokes they liked and attribute them to Woody. He did not inform these big Broadway columnists, of course, that he was a student at Midwood High School in Brooklyn-that might kill the big Broadway sheen they liked their columns to have. One day, someone from a big PR firm asked Wilson, "Who is Woody Allen?" Wilson didn't know-the stuff came in through the mail. "Some guy in Brooklyn," he said. 

The PR people located Woody and hired him to write jokes for them. When he showed up at their office on Madison Avenue, they saw right away that he was just a kid-he was 16 at the time--but they didn't care; the jokes weren't going to be attributed to him anymore. No, for $40 a week, every day after Midwood High let out in the afternoon, Woody would come in from Brooklyn on the subway, and until it was time to go home for supper, he would sit at a typewriter and write jokes. The PR people would then send the jokes to the columnists, now attributed to one of their clients: "At El Morocco last night, Jimmy Cagney was overheard saying..."


Very soon, Woody had one of the top jobs in TV, writing for Sid Caesar. But that was just a training period for him. He would go on to conquer nightclubs with his stand-up routine (if you've never heard the moose routine, you have not known true bliss), Broadway, and, of course, the movies. Depending on whether you count a couple of shorts and TV films, Woody has directed more than 40 films, all of which he has either written or co-written-including Bullets Over Broadway (1994), the picture that we did together.

Woody's latest film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, stars his most frequent leading lady in recent years, Scarlett Johansson, along with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Shot in Spain, it's his fourth film in a row to be made in Europe-and outside his native New York, which has provided the backdrop for so much of his work. Along with the familiar hallmarks of his style, Vicky Cristina Barcelona has a new quality: there are dissolves in the film, for instance, and close-ups in a way he hasn't used close-ups for a long time. They give the film a sometimes dreamy, romantic quality. It's a quality that will probably be gone from Woody's next film-a comedy starring Larry David-because, again, he's changing subjects and genres. He's 72, but light on his feet, always looking, always open to finding new ways to explore the mess we make of our chances in this world.

This is just my opinion, of course, but of Woody's 40-plus movies, I think there are more beauties, more classics, more stop-the-channel-surfing films than any other director in American film history. Is that too grand a claim? Woody would surely have a heart attack to hear me make it, and would quickly offer what he feels to be superior choices. So, to make him happy, I'll just leave it that there are not many people who have helped both Sid Caesar and Scarlett Johansson do their best work.



DOUGLAS MCGRATH: I thought I'd start by talking to you about something that you never seem to have a shortage of: ideas. Whatever your problems might be, writer's block has never been one of them. But when the time comes to start a new project, how do you decide what you're going to do? Do you base it on wanting to do something different from what you've done before? What guides the choice?

WOODY ALLEN: It's usually that I just go into the bedroom and think and look at my notes to see if I have anything that seems interesting that's occurred to me over the year, or if anything is occurring to me at the time. The thing that is the most viable is what I do. So there's no real rhyme or reason. Theoretically, I could do two musicals in a row, or a musical and then a terribly dramatic picture or something. People think that there's more calculation to it but there isn't-it's really just chance. I consider myself lucky to get an idea, so I proceed ahead as soon as one emerges that seems to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

DM: Do you keep a little notebook or a pad with you so that when things occur to you, as you're playing the clarinet or you're walking the kids to school, you jot them down?

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WA: I don't keep a notebook, but I do jot. I have a drawer full of matchbook covers and napkins and little notes. And some of them seem sensational when I'm jotting them down and then later I can't imagine what was so exciting about them. And then others actually hold up and become films.

DM: What film took the longest to go from the matchbook or the napkin to the screen? Is there one movie in particular that you held onto and struggled with the longest before you found it?

WA: It wasn't a struggle, but the longest thing that I ever had like that was the idea for a film that I don't consider a masterpiece at all, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion [2001]. The idea of a detective who is hypnotized by an unscrupulous character, and made to rob, and then consequently becomes both the robber and the person who is looking for the robber, occurred to me 40 years ago and remained in my drawer as an undone idea. I think it actually occurred to me as a sketch because I was just a sketch writer at the time. But it always had a certain interest to me, so I came back to it and touched on it many times. But I could never really figure out how to do it or if it was worth doing. And then, finally, I did it and made, I think, the fatal mistake of playing the lead myself when it should have been played by a more serious actor. I think as soon as I played the insurance investigator-and I probably made the character an insurance investigator because I wouldn't have been credible at all as a detective or as a policeman-it had a certain junkiness to it. There was a lack of substance and seriousness. Whereas if it had been someone like Jack Nicholson playing the part, then it still would have been funny, but it would have had a better spine, a better center.

DM: Is there a film that happened the fastest-an idea where you just thought of it and then sat down and wrote it through and shot it?

WA: A very quick one for me was A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy [1982]. It happened while I was working on Zelig [1983]. We had a few weeks off, and I was looking for ways to kill the time, and it just occurred to me to try to do a movie set in the country. The idea was to do a movie that was kind of like Manhattan [1979], but where I stole the beauty and the charm of the country, which really doesn't come natural to me. I wrote it from scratch in about three weeks' time with no prior structural ideas or character ideas or anything, and then I decided I would shoot it while I was shooting Zelig. So I shot them simultaneously on some of the same sets.

DM: Really? Was that not confusing a little?

WA: It was emotionally confusing. Everyone said to me, "How are you going to shoot two films at once? You'll be exhausted. It's so much work." And I, of course, pooh-poohed that. The truth is that it isn't much work. But the real trick is that, emotionally, it's very hard to pull out of one film and then focus on the other. That I found very difficult.

DM: What in the world possessed you to write a movie set in the country?

WA: Inertia. I was sitting at home not doing anything and for some reason it just crossed my mind that Mia [Farrow], who I was going with at the time, had a pretty house in the country and wouldn't it be nice to do a little pastoral romance with the Mendelsohn music and the flowers and the moonlight? And so I did it. The film was hugely unsuccessful-nobody came to see it. But I enjoyed making it. It was fun to shoot the country in a pretty way.

DM: Your new film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, is an interesting comparison here because, though it's set in a city, it has a less urban feeling than many of your films. How did you decide to make this movie? Was it based on an idea that you'd carried around for a long time? Or was it something that came more quickly?

WA: That's an idea that came to me. The people of Barcelona called and said, "If we put up money for the production, would you be interested in making a film in Barcelona?" And, of course, I was because, one, they were ready to put up the money, and two, Barcelona is such a lovely city that it's a treat to be able to live there for the months of shooting. I would not have accepted that invitation if it was the Gobi desert or something. So I accepted the offer, and then I was faced with having to write something for Barcelona. Just coincidentally, when it was announced that I was going to make a film there-before I had anything written-Penélope Cruz was in New York and her office called and said she'd like to come over and meet me. So she came by and said, you know, if I'm doing something in Barcelona, then she'd be interested in participating. And, of course, that was a godsend to me because she's so gifted and so beautiful-I couldn't get my mind around it when I was talking to her. And then they said that Javier Bardem would also be interested and was available, so I thought to myself, "Okay, I want to make a film in Barcelona." Then I had to think up an idea. I thought, you know, "I don't want the film all in Spanish, so it's going to be about Americans." And then I thought, "Well, a few girls visit Barcelona and they become involved in a situation..." And, gradually, one thing piled on another and the story developed. I wrote it, and when I got over there to shoot, the locations dictated the ambient feel of the picture. So even though the movie is shot in Barcelona, it has a slightly more rural feel because Barcelona is an older city and it doesn't look like New York City or Paris or London. It's got quite a Mediterranean look to it-quite a warm, floral, easy-going look. So, you know, it has that quality. It was fun for me. It was, in a certain sense, the first really foreign film I've ever made.

DM: Tell me how.

I should have aimed much higher than I aimed. I mean, I was interested in show business and magic tricks and tap-dancing and joke-telling-these were, you know, the trivial, escapist activities of my childhood.—Woody Allen

WA: Because working in London [where Allen shot his last three films, Match Point, Scoop, and Cassandra's Dream] is kind of like working in New York. Everyone speaks the same language and the city is completely metropolitan, full of noise and traffic and bookstores and restaurants and theaters. It's just another version of New York or Paris-they all are very, very similar. But Barcelona is really like Europe to me. Occasionally, Penélope and Javier would speak Spanish on the set, and the atmosphere... When I look at Vicky Cristina, I see Scarlett Johansson and Javier riding bicycles in the country, and it looks to me just like the foreign films I used to see in the '50s and the early '60s. And because of that, I felt like all of the stylistic devices of the foreign films that I had grown up watching were fair game. It didn't demand the kind of journalistic, fast, traffic-y, nervous rhythm that you get in New York. It had a more slow, sunny, bicycle-ly feeling to it. And the story lent itself to being told that way. So I really felt like I'd finally achieved what I wanted to when I was a young man: I'm a foreign filmmaker. Of course it's not a foreign film-it's an American film. But it has that quality to it.

DM: The Spanish music that you use in Vicky Cristina Barcelona sets such a great mood right from the beginning. Was that music that you knew already?

WA: No, I didn't know that music. How I found the title song-the "Barcelona" song-was one of those show-business stories. I get a million things in the mail everyday. People send me their résumés, their photographs, their DVDs, the songs they've composed. I can't handle all that stuff, so I give it over to my assistant, and we try to answer the people politely but nothing ever really comes of anything because I'm inundated. But in this particular case, I was bolting out of the hotel in Barcelona to go and shoot at seven o'clock in the morning, and there was this CD that had been delivered to the room with the song "Barcelona" on it. Normally, I just chuck the CDs in a pile and I never really hear them. But because I felt like I had a slightly longer car ride to the location where we were shooting that day, I brought this one along and stuck it in the car just to see what it was like. And, you know, the second I heard the song, I said to the producer who was in the car with me, "I want to get this song and use it in the movie. It's perfect for what I want."

DM: I think I know the answer to this, but do you believe that CD being in your hotel on that day was an act of fate?

WA: I don't. That's just a pure accident. The thing arrived, and I happened to be running out and I grabbed it. It's just a pure accident.

DM: This is the third film you've done with Scarlett. Did you have her in mind when you were writing Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

WA: Well, you know, I always have Scarlett in mind. [laughs] I'm the president of her fan club. I wasn't thinking of her when I sat down to write Vicky Cristina, but as I got into it, I thought, "Oh, you know, Scarlett would be great to play this part because it's that kind of neurotic, sexually free person." And Scarlett oozes that out of every pore.

DM: Over the years, I'm sure you've had all kinds of reactions from actors who work with you. But sometimes you'll find people-particularly younger people-who have grown up watching your movies and are quite nervous around you, sometimes fawning and obsequious. How would you describe what Scarlett is like around you?

WA: Ah, Scarlett... She's not fawning and obsequious-I'm fawning and obsequious. She's got a great sense of humor. Scarlett is one of the few people who always tops me. Whenever I say something amusing, she always manages to say something quicker-and funnier than what I've said-in return. So if you add that wit and that speed to those looks and that sex appeal and that talent, I'm completely overmatched. So she's not fawning. I will say that the other members of the cast on Vicky Cristina were not fawning either. You know, I'm the kind of director that, if you haven't met me and you believe the nonsense that you read in the newspapers, you might think, "Oh, he's cold and intimidating in some way." But the second people start to work with me, two words flash on my forehead in big neon letters: NO THREAT.

DM: I know we've discussed it over the years, but occasionally you hear that some actors are thrown by the fact that if you're happy with a take or a scene, then you don't really talk about it much because you're ready to move on. Do you find that some actors need a lot of verbal reassurance?

WA: I think, you know, that some actors would like that, even if they're too shy to really say it. But I always feel like I've hired the actor so I must think they're good to begin with or else I wouldn't have done that. If I don't say anything, they should feel like, "Good, I did it. I knocked it off and we're moving on." If I have to say, "Come on, let's do that again," or "Let's have a talk about that," then that's where I would think they would feel a little less comfortable. I've never been a big one for all that, you know, well-meant bon amie-that back-slapping, double-cheek-kissing nonsense-on the set. I don't have the patience for it and I don't feel that any of that is necessary. But I'm not intimidating or biting or mean. I am, as I say, no threat. Clearly, everyone sees, when they come to the set, a person who is floundering. [McGrath laughs] And I'm not being facetious when I say that people must start to wonder, "Now, wait a minute. How did this guy get any type of reputation at all? Because he doesn't really seem to know what he's doing." And then they start to realize down the line, you know, "His mind is not on this. He's unfocused. He's not sure what he's doing. He's hunting-and-pecking his way through this and I wonder if I did the right thing accepting this job for no money..."

DM: [laughs] Well, do you feel unsure when you're on the set? What's your level of confidence versus insecurity and doubt?

WA: My level of confidence is always high, but it's unmerited confidence. It's unearned confidence. I never do any homework whatsoever. I don't even know in the morning sometimes what scene I'm going to be shooting later that day. I've given it no attention, no thought. I just go to the set, and they give me the stuff that I'm going to shoot, and then I start to look around and figure out what to do and how to do it. So I feel complete confidence, but that doesn't mean that I should. I really do kind of flounder around. I'm not exactly sure what I want-I know more what I don't want. I know if somebody performs badly or if something is going to be too heavy-handed or stupid. But what I really want out of the thing, I find out as we go. Sometimes the actor does something and I think, "Hey, that's great. That's much different than I envisioned-and much better. This is a good way to go."

DM: Now, your next film after Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which you've just finished shooting, is set in New York. What was it like for you to be back shooting a movie there again? It's been a few films.

WA: It was great fun to be back in New York. I had a very interesting cast. I worked with Larry David in the starring role. Not many people know this, but it's the third film he's done with me-he was in New York Stories [1989] and he was in Radio Days [1987], both times in brief roles. But here he's got the major starring role of this picture. And in addition to being hilarious, he's quite a first- rate actor. And I worked with Evan Rachel Wood, who is just sort of a miraculous young actress-I mean, every instinct she has is sensational. And, of course, there's Patricia Clarkson, who I also worked with on Vicky Christina, and she's one of our great actresses. So I was in great shape.

DM: I know that it hasn't been that long since you last shot in New York, but is there anything different going on in the city now for you as a filmmaker?

WA: Well, it's gotten more expensive. You know, since New York is such a wonderful place to shoot, many big-budget films have come into the city and a lot of money has been spent here on movies, so it's become more expensive. If you've got a budget of $40 million or $80 million or $120 million, this is a nonfactor. But if you're like me and you have a budget of $15 million and you've got to make the whole thing work with everybody's salaries and the music and the song rights and the titles and the opticals and everything, then it's a big deal. So I did find myself financially struggling.   

DM: Will that affect whether or not you keep shooting in New York?   

WA: I'd like to keep shooting in New York. I like to shoot in the big cities. You know, New York is my home and I have a particular fondness for it. I think it's a place where you can generate any kind of story wonderfully. But I also would be very happy to make a film in Paris or Rome. I probably will do a few more films in European cities, as my father would say, "for the simple reason that my wife likes to travel." In the summertime, when I shoot, the kids are off from school and she likes to spend the summer in Barcelona or Rome or London or something. And so I like to make her happy. That is one of the reasons that I think of shooting in Europe. Then, another reason is, of course, that these European countries invite me and they make it very appetizing. They put the money in the bank. And they're not film studios. They don't have the slightest interest in the script or the casting-they just want me to be happy making the film. So it's a very nice experience. On the other hand, I'm a creature of the New York City streets. I like to sleep in my own bed and I love the early mornings in the city and the sunsets here. So, you know, it's a toss up.   

DM: You mentioned your family. You're the father now of two little girls, and yet your films haven't dealt much with fatherhood or that aspect of your life. Is that something you might write about someday?    

When you go into the business, all of your illusions are shattered right away. You find out that great success does not change your life in any meaningful way and failure doesn't change your life in any meaningful way.—Woody Allen

WA: Well, if I did write about it, my guess is that I would write about it in a serious way. It's hard for me to see between the extremes of fatherhood in Long Day's Journey Into Night [1962] or on Leave it to Beaver or something where you have these kind of wisecracking kids and they're cutesy and you take them to FAO Schwartz and it's the kind of movie that you just want to dynamite. So it's hard for me to think of a movie with kids that I would want to make that is not tragically serious. Because as soon as you introduce kids into a comedy, you're already in the domain of cute or warm-all those viscous, nauseating places. 

DM: I think I have my answer. [laughs] You work a lot. You're almost never not working on something. Why? Do you enjoy it? Or do you do it out of a different need?

WA: I enjoy working but, but I do it really to... It's good physical therapy for me-it's important to get up in the morning and to do something. My grandparents used to get up in the morning and they'd sit and stare out the window all day long and grow old and fat. That's what they did-they did nothing. And I don't enjoy that. I get antsy. I like to do stuff. I like to get up and practice music and write something for The New Yorker or work on a script or direct a film. But what I do doesn't have to be movies. If my source of funding cut off tomorrow and I was never able to make another film, I'd be very happy writing for the theater, or if I couldn't do that, writing a book or a novel or an autobiography. I like to work because it keeps me occupied. What else do you do if you don't work?    

DM: Well, I'm not recommending this but you could go to museums, you could go to the ballgame, you could go to-

WA: I do that. I live near all the museums so I go to all of them. I'm ubiquitous at the Knicks games. I watch a lot of baseball on television. I do all that stuff. I've got plenty of time to play with my kids-I bring them to school in the morning. I have time to do the treadmill. I have time to practice the clarinet. I have time to go on tour with my jazz band, and take walks with my wife, and still make movies because none of this stuff is rocket science. None of it is that demanding. 

DM: Is there any source of satisfaction that you get out of working? I mean, I assume it's about more for you than just staying busy.

WA: There is an inexplicable delight in the act of creating. In the sense that if a guy paints a canvas... You know, I've done this sometimes where I've gone and bought a lot of paints and just for the fun of it had an orgy of painting. I mean, I can't paint at all.

DM: What kind of things do you paint?

WA: Autumn fish.

DM: Autumn fish?

WA: Autumn fish, yes. I can paint the general shape of a fish in autumn colors. They don't look like fish-they're fish like either a retarded adult or an infant would paint them. But, you know, it's that thing where you're doing the activity and all of the sudden someone says, "Hey, you've been doing this for six hours." It's like that with any kind of work. There's a very pleasurable feeling that comes from making stuff. You get lost in doing it and you don't think about all the nasty things that life has planned for you.   

DM: But do you take any pleasure at the end when you look at the finished product? Or are you already on to thinking about what's next?  

WA: I do enjoy it but very briefly. I'm not a person who has any sentimentality about the past. You know, I don't really have any photographs of me with my actors or posters of my films or any of that stuff up in my house. I don't save any of that stuff. I don't read anything about me. When I'm through with a project, yes, I feel, "Hey, this is good. It came out very nicely. I'm very happy," or conversely, "I'm so frustrated. I had such a beautiful idea and I screwed it up every inch of the way." But then we turn the film over to the people that paid for it and they put it out using some kind of voodoo system. They figure, "We'll do this much on advertising, and we'll put it out in 700 theaters during this time of year because if we put it out after Passover but before graduation..." They have this real voodoo system that never ever amounts to anything. And I don't want to hear about the film after that. So I give them the film, and then they ask me if I'll do a little promotion for it, and I do as little as possible because I feel like a person talking about his film does not induceanybody to see it. For me to say, "Well, it was very challenging making a film in Barcelona," or "It was incredible working with two beautiful women such as Penélope and Scarlett on the set everyday...." You know, it doesn't mean a thing to anybody. Nobody cares. People decide whether they are going to see the film or not based on whatever ineffable system their body uses, whether it's reviews or word-of-mouth from their friends or the smell of the picture to them. So I do a little promotion out of loyalty to the money people because I don't want to be a mean guy. But I have no interest in the picture. For instance, Vicky Christina Barcelona is coming out now. I've already finished the picture with Larry David, and I'm working on a script for another new film. So I have no interest in Vicky Christina Barcelona. If people love the film, then that is delightful. If they don't like it, then... hmmm... that's tough. They're either completely right in not liking it, or they're quite brilliant and they see flaws in it that I never saw, or they're philistines and they don't get it and I was right. But it's irrelevant because I don't really know or care.

DM: Was that always true?

WA: It was true after the first couple films because when you go into the business, all of your illusions are shattered right away. You find out that great success does not change your life in any meaningful way and failure doesn't change your life in any meaningful way. And then you find out that the reviews of your film-1,600 reviews from all over America, each one contradicting the other one-don't mean anything to you either. So finally you just give up. If you don't have fun doing the film, then the results of the film will never give you any fun. You find that your film wins some kind of award or is much extolled, but nothing happens. Your life is the same. You still get the sniffles, the toothaches, and all that. Nothing meaningful changes in your life. So I gave up on that idea decades ago.

DM: Did your parents ever tell you what they thought of certain films?

WA: No. They didn't think much. They were just delighted that I was quote-unquote famous. But they couldn't discern between one or the other. They didn't get most of the pictures.  

DM: They didn't have a favorite and a least favorite?

WA: No, no. My mother would have liked the ones that had strong stories, and my father used to just walk down and look at the lines outside of the theaters.

DM: Well, that's important, too-especially for parents.

WA: I know. Sean Connery told me the same thing about his father. He said his father use to walk down and look at the lines and come back home and tell him there was a big line at this theater, a big line at that theater. My father did the same thing.

DM: Do you think your parents shaped or contributed to your worldview? Can you point to parts of your personality that can be traced to each of them?

WA: Yeah. I think-and my sister would agree-that I've inherited the worst of each parent. I have my father's hypochondria and lack of concentration. I have his amorality. I have everything bad that he had. Then I have my mother's surly, pill-like, complaining, whining attitude. The only positive thing you could say is that my mother instilled in me-probably at a greater cost than it was worth-an enormous sense of discipline, and a feeling that the highest achievement that I'm capable of is not good enough. And so I'm always striving, and that has rebounded to my benefit. I've earned some money doing that, and I've stayed on the straight and narrow for the most part, so that's been a help to me.

DM: This is an old-fashioned term, but based on that, would you say that you have fulfilled your promise?

WA: I don't think that I've fulfilled my promise, no. I think that the sabotaging of my promise began in childhood because, you know, I was not lead in the right direction by my parents really.

DM: Why? What direction did they lead you in?

WA: I mean, I never read a book until I was 18 years old. I never read a single book. I was a smart kid and I was not understood by my parents.

DM: Were they encouraging you to be something other than what you were?

WA: They were like all Jewish parents. They hoped that I would be studious enough to be a doctor or a lawyer or some professional thing. They were creatures of the Depression-they would have been thrilled if I had been a pharmacist or something reliable. But I don't think that I've ever fulfilled my promise. I think that I was born lucky with a very good sense of humor and a reasonably good native intelligence. But I should have studied and been bookish. I should have gone to college and become a philosophy major. I should have studied literature.  I should have aimed much higher than I aimed. I mean, I was interested in show business and magic tricks and tap-dancing and joke-telling-these were, you know, the trivial, escapist activities of my childhood. I should have been interested in writing novels and serious plays and poetry and things like that. Had I been better directed as a child, those are things that I think would have stood me better in life. I could have utilized whatever natural gifts I had in a more profound and deeper way. Now, I don't know this to be true-it's just something that I think.

DM: Well, I know you don't believe in reincarnation, but if you were to have another chance or if you could come back, would you wish to be something other than what you've been?

WA: Well, you know, if I could just hope to have a major talent, then I would rather have it in music than in any other field.

DM: Oh, really?

WA: If you said, "Would you rather be the best film director in the world or the best painter in the world or a great musician?" I'd rather be a great musician.

DM: You mean someone who plays the clarinet?

WA: No, no. I wouldn't want to play the clarinet. I'd want to play the piano. I mean, I would trade my talent right now, even up, for Bud Powell's talent. That would be just fine with me. And I know I'm not picking Glenn Gould or Vladimir Horowitz-I'm picking a struggling jazz musician. But that would be fine.

DM: And you'd rather be a performer as opposed to a composer?

WA: Yes, yes. I'd rather be a performing musician. But that's something that I don't have the talent for. I mean, none of the arts are any good unless you really are great at them. If you're Matisse or Picasso or Horowitz or Bud Powell or Louis Armstrong... I mean, you really have to be great. Otherwise it doesn't mean very much.

DM: What's the worst thing about getting older?

WA: Well, of course, your body breaks down and you're closer to death. So, you know, that's an unbeatable combination.

DM: Is there anything good about it?

WA: There's nothing good about getting older-absolutely nothing-because the amount of wisdom and experience you gain is negligible compared to what you lose. You do gain a couple of things-you gain a little bittersweet and sour wisdom from your heartbreaks and failures and things-but what you lose is so catastrophic in every way.

DM: Not a good trade.

WA: No. And, consequently, the whole thrust of science and the medical profession is to try and prevent it from happening, to try to prolong life, to keep you from dying, to keep you from getting older, to rejuvenate you. I mean, that's everybody's wish. The fountain of youth is everybody's sought-after thing.

DM:  You've written a lot about death over the years. Have your feelings about it changed at all?

WA: No. It's a no-win proposition because you know what happens? You die. Don't forget that I'm not a religious person, so you die, and you disintegrate in one way or another-either you're cremated or you decompose-and you're gone. That's it. There's no other at bat. It's one strike and you're out.

DM: Of all your films, is there one that represents what you think is the best of who you are? It doesn't necessarily have to be the best film.

WA: Well, that sort of changes from day to day with me. There's a small group of my films that I favor over the large majority of them where I feel like I achieved, you know, something worthwhile in my own terms. There are a few of those films that I'm sort of proud to have done, and I feel that if you were to show them in a festival with Truffaut's films and Antonioni's films and Fellini's films... They won't be the best, but they won't be hooted off the screen either. They could certainly serve as the hors d'oeuvres or the warm-ups to the really great films.

DM: And which of your films are those?

WA: Well, I think The Purple Rose of Cario [1985] is a film like that, and Bullets Over Broadway [1994] is one, and Zelig [1983] is one, and Husbands and Wives [1992] and Match Point [2005]-I probably have six or seven that I feel are respectable pieces of work, where I don't have to run and hide my head in the sand. You know, I've got a lot of B material. I don't have a lot of failures-real abysmal failures. I mean, I've got some of them, for sure, but I don't have a lot. I've got a lot of B material. And a quantity of F material...

DM: I guess what I'm asking, though, is if there is one of your films that tells us the most about your philosophy of life? You know, if someone couldn't meet you, and wanted to know what Woody is really like or what gives us the most sense of his worldview-his fears, his optimisms, his anxieties, his hopes-is there one film that kind of best sums that up?

WA: Well, to date-if it's just that-I would probably say Anything Else [2003].

DM: Really?

WA: Yeah. You'd get it in a more abstract way in Purple Rose because clearly I do believe that reality is dreadful and that you are forced to choose it in the end or go crazy, but that it kills you. So that film does sum up a great feeling that I have about life-I mean a large feeling that I have about it. But in terms of just me personally as a kind of wretched little complaining vantz, I think you would see that in Anything Else. There's a lot of me in there.

DM: Very interesting. You're full of surprises.

WA: Well, it is me. I'm not saying that Anything Else is my best film, although, I didn't think it was a bad film at all- I think that one is better than many films of mine that were more successful. I won't say that it's never the case, but very often there's no correlation between the quality of one's work artistically and its commercial success. Everybody knows that.

 

There's nothing good about getting older-absolutely nothing-because the amount of wisdom and experience you gain is negligible compared to what you lose. You do gain a couple of things-you gain a little bittersweet and sour wisdom from your heartbreaks and failures and things-but what you lose is so catastrophic in every way.—Woody Allen

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