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Getting to Know the Real Woody Allen

By DANA BATES Subscribe to RSS | April 26th 2012 | Views:

I took a speed reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia -- Woody Allen

A clear-eyed examination of Woody Allen’s body of work shows that every particle of his creative being is driven to entertain his audience whatever the medium. Everything else he does is secondary to following his ideas and placing them on paper to record them as faithfully as possible onto film, on stage, or in a book. Mr. Allen’s gifts as a social commentary writer are his endless stream of ideas that he fearlessly pours onto to the page. Without forethought, his work reaches out to audiences and stirs emotions on many levels.

At the early age of 15 Woody Allen was earning good money writing one-line jokes and became a top television comedy writer at 19. In his mid-twenties, he was encouraged to perform as a stand-up comedian and he successfully developed a public persona as a nervous neurotic. He also wrote for The New Yorker and published collections of short pieces and plays. In his early thirties, he began writing for the Broadway Theater where his plays continue to appear. Last year Mr. Allen's one act comedy, Honeymoon Motel was staged with plays by Ethan Coen and Elaine May. The word on the street is that he is adapting his film Bullets over Broadway into a musical scheduled to open next year.

Mr. Allen’s first movie work was for “What’s New Pussycat?” With Peter Sellers and Peter O’Toole, followed by his directorial debut for “What’s Up Tiger Lily?” (Allen also co-wrote). He realized early the necessity to control his writing and remains an independent writer and director on all his movies. “I can’t imagine that the business should be run any other way than that the director has complete control of the film. The director is the one who has the vision and he’s the one who should put that vision onto film,” he said.

At 35 Woody Allen began regularly writing, directing, and staring in movies, many of them comedies based in Manhattan. A few films are on the dark side, e.g., Interiors in the style of Ingmar Bergman, others are laden with conflicts both funny and sad, Hanna and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Zelig are good examples. Mr. Allen has won four Academy Awards (recently Best Original Screenplay for Midnight in Paris) and has been nominated 23 times. His actors regularly receive both nominations and Academy Awards for their work in his films, particularly in the Best Supporting categories. Mr. Allen refuses to attend the Awards or acknowledge his Oscar wins. “I have no regard for that kind of ceremony. You have to keep your prospective. You think it’s nice at the time because it means more money for your film, but as soon as you let yourself start thinking that way, something happens to the quality of work. But I have an affection for Hollywood because I’ve had so much pleasure from films that have come out of there.” he said.

The myths surrounding Woody Allen are that he is highly neurotic, has an artistic temperament and difficult to deal with. “Histrionics are the last thing you’ll find on Allen’s set”, according to Robert B. Weide¹. Those that have observed and worked with him directing movies say that he is a very shrewd and intelligent man who knows exactly what he wants. He is low-keyed and unflappable as a director, calm and confident, barely talks to the actors, but brings out their best. His approach is “hire the best actors, shut up and get out of their way.” Although, according to one actor, “This notion I hear that he doesn’t direct, I mean, that’s kind of ridiculous. He gets what he wants. There’s not much free rein as we’re led to believe, because he has a sense of how the scene’s going to work and we need to move within those parameters.” Mr. Allen once said, “It’s not rocket science or quantum physics. If you’re the writer of the story, you know what you want the audience to see because you’ve written it. It’s just common sense. It’s just storytelling, and you tell it.”

Between takes he remains near the set accessible to cast and crew. Usually he is in a chair nearby talking to his assistant, reading a newspaper, or practicing his clarinet. He works mainly in single master shots and rarely bothers to shoot from different angles. This way he stays on schedule. Once he gets a good shot he moves on and usually wraps up at a decent hour in time for the Kicks tipoff at Madison Square Garden. (He is a long-time fan and season ticket holder of the NBA’s New York Knicks)

Mr. Allen's heroes are George S. Kaufman and the Marx Brothers, and his idols are Ingmar Bergman, Groucho Marx, Federico Fellini, Cole Porter, and Anton Chekov. His film philosophy is rather than confronting the human condition with problems that are unsolvable; a movie best serves its audience by entertaining and refreshing them for an hour and half or so. He admits that his movies have both obsessive themes and subjects that interest him. No matter how different his films may appear they are Woody Allen films and have common threads. He believes that since he produces enough films, hopefully, some of them will come out fresh but, “there’s no guarantee. It’s a crapshoot every time I make one."

One myth about Woody Allen that needs to be expunged is that he was never a nerd. In fact, Mr. Allen was a popular high school student active in baseball and basketball. His next film, Nero Fiddled, a comedy set in Rome, will be released this year.

DANA BATES - About Author:
See an original Woody Allen comedy routine go to Also, visitors will soon discover a new Humor page. To be sure, Woody Allen will be well represented. Look for it and enjoy.

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