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Woody Allen: The Rolling Stone Interview

A conversation with the iconic filmmaker

Woody AllenWoody Allen

Woody Allen in 1970.

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I don’t know, Woody Allen seems sane to me. Maybe I’ve been in New York too long. But it goes further than that: Woody Allen is one of the most well adjusted people I’ve met in New York.

Could this be one of the seven warning signs that New Yorkers are even more deranged than had previously been imagined? And should the governor place the National Guard on full yellow?

It could also mean that characterizations of Woody Allen have been somewhat extreme over the years. Or maybe Woody Allen has changed some.

On the way to the interview in his film-editing studio in a Park Avenue hotel, I passed a door marked “Service Entrance” and almost went in. I was feeling humble and nervous, about to encounter a man described as a comic genius, a modern existential hero and a filmmaker on the level of Bergman and Fellini.

But Woody Allen put me at ease. He answered the door himself, dressed in a garage-sale-style sweater and a wrinkled shirt. His hair was unmanaged. And he was nice — very casual, not at all condescending, and self-unimportant. He wasn’t cynical. He didn’t even try to be funny, although his brutal honesty and extraordinary seriousness about the smallest of things made me laugh a lot. He insisted that he was not obsessing over the essential nothingness of the universe at the moment and invited me to sit down. He sat down too, and not at all in the fetal position. It was Saturday. He was working. His newest film, the nostalgic Radio Days, was about to open. He had finished shooting another film just the day before and had begun work on yet another.

For a man often depicted as a tormented neurotic, Woody Allen appeared remarkably relaxed, “centered and directed,” as pop psychologists say, honest and sincere. And also quite rich. In addition to fortune, he has fame but somehow doesn’t get bothered much by fans, while always getting a good table at Elaine’s.

True, he is troubled by morbid introspection (he sees the concentration camp as a metaphor for life, a thought you’ll never see on a greeting card) and by an inordinate fear of bushes and wood-chucks. Yet he does have a blond movie star for a girlfriend.

He loves New York, where he seems to lead a charmed life. In his only brush with crime, burglars broke into his apartment, were scared off before they took anything and left a TV set from a previous break-in.

Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and raised in a home where, he says, the basic values were “God and carpeting,” he is now fifty-one. His appearance hasn’t changed in twenty years. Ours has.

He is also more amusing than we are. He began writing jokes for gossip columns at the age of sixteen and barely managed to graduate from high school.

He is at once remarkably productive — he’s written and directed fifteen films since 1965 and written or acted in five more — and the only person I have met in New York with Leisure Time. Time for walking around, watching the Knicks, seeing friends and browsing — remember browsing? — in bookstores. He also plays clarinet at Michael’s Pub, where he plans to be on Academy Award night, even though his film Hannah and Her Sisters has been nominated for seven Oscars.

He has the joy of children – Mia Farrow, the aforementioned star, has eight (five of them adopted) — but he lives across Central Park from her and doesn’t have to change diapers. Unlike most New Yorkers, he recognizes his neuroses, obsessions, phobias (could be the three decades, off and on, of psychoanalysis), and seems to be living comfortably with them now in a large duplex apartment overlooking Central Park.

On this day, Woody Allen seems almost . . . happy.

You are making a film a year. What drives you?
It’s not a big deal. There have been times when Sidney Lumet or Bergman have done three films in a year. It takes me a couple of months to write a film, several months to shoot and edit it.

A guy who drives a cab or works in an office works more than I do. I have time to practice my clarinet, see films, go out to dinner and see people. And my work doesn’t have the sense of labor about it.

But if I worked at a different job, I couldn’t wait until I got home to write. I enjoy it. It’s like being paid to play baseball or something. It’s like I’m on a constant vacation.

This doesn’t sound like Woody Allen talking at all, actually enjoying yourself. Normally you are portrayed as a basically neurotic, workaholic, tormented — shall I go on? — recluse who is incapable of enjoying yourself. Is this something new?
Probably the truth about me lies somewhere in between. Writers have tended to . . . emphasize certain characteristics because it makes good copy.

I’m being paid to do what I like. And that is essentially to write and occasionally perform. I do have some trouble with my nonwork time, that is true. I’m not a person who gets too much of a kick out of traveling, country houses, boats, vacations or things most people do have a good time with.

So you’re happier when you’re working.
Yes, it’s an important distraction. I’ve always felt if one can arrange one’s life so that one can obsess about small things, it keeps you from obsessing about the really big things. If you obsess about the big things, you are impotent and frightened, because there’s nothing you can do about aging and death. But the little things you can spend days obsessing about, such as a good punch line for the third act. And this is a nice problem to obsess over because it’s not surgery. . . . I’m a little more morbid than the average person.

Do you envy the guy who goes to work and goes out on his boat and drinks beer, and all this stuff never occurs to him?
No. I do occasionally envy the person who is religious naturally, without being brainwashed into it or suckered into it by all the organized hustles. Just like having an ear for music or something. It would just never occur to such a person for a second that the world isn’t about something.

And I wouldn’t go out in a boat. I’d hate the boat. I’ve been out on a boat twice and I got seasick and sunburned and windburned and I was trapped. That would be hell for me.

Are you agnostic?
Agnostic — I mean, I know as little about it as anyone, you know?

You seem to be approaching your work in a more relaxed manner.
I think as the years go by, and you gain more confidence, you become more secure about it. My first couple of films, I would have been more frantic and nervous.

Do you ever worry that you are doing things because they are easier and that the film will suffer a bit?
I’m aware that I’m doing it because it’s easy. I mean, I’m completely aware that I’m shooting in New York because it’s easy.

But maybe the finished product is worse because you take it easy. Is that a concern?
Yes, I do think it. And I’m happy to go along with it, even though it’s worse. I think, “This may be worse, but it’s easy.”

I can’t make that — doing things the easy way — fit with your continuing to work so hard and make so many films.
I do say to myself, you know, “This scene would be much better if we went to, say, Philadelphia to shoot it.” But I don’t really want to go to Philadelphia to shoot it, because it’s a two-hour car ride. So let’s find a street downtown that we can fob off as Philadelphia, and it won’t be as good. I won’t have the vista. I won’t make a great shot of the Liberty Bell or something.

But you are trying to make great films, are you not?
I’m trying to make as wonderful a film as I can. But my priorities are always in order, and they’re never artistic. Artistic accomplishment is about third or fourth.

I’m not sure I buy that.
I swear.

But you are such a perfectionist. You pay such close attention to every detail. There is a story about an extra in Radio Days wearing a 1940s-style garter, even though it won’t show onscreen.
Still, I wouldn’t put making a film above inconveniencing myself where I shot it or an important engagement or appointment.

What’s more important?
Oh, for instance, I’ve wrapped films early in the day so I could get home in time to see a Knicks game on television. Sure. They’ll say, “But there are two more hours of light.”

It sounds like the obstetrician who induces labor so he can make his tee time on the golf course. Is that an important Knicks game you’re talking about or just any Knicks game?
Important. There have been times when I’d be out with a beautiful woman, and I would think to myself, “Do I really want to stay up all night, till four in the morning?” Because I’ve got to go in at six o’clock in the morning and shoot the next day.

And I think of my priorities. I think, “What’s more important?” The time spent with the beautiful woman is much more important to me than the other time — being on top of it the next day.

Is this a new approach?
It might be. It might be the gruelingness of the filming that has worn me down to a degree. If you were to hang around the set of a picture of mine, you would see that it’s all work, even if it happens to be a comedy of the broadest type, whether making Hannah and Her Sisters or Bananas. It’s hard work and has a grim, businesslike quality to it. It’s not a gang of guys joking and having a lot of fun. Maybe the films would do better if it was, I don’t know.

I want to make more intimate films, which are easier and faster to do, shot indoors, with no bad weather, fewer actors and fewer sets.

But Radio Days doesn’t reflect that approach?
No, but that was the last straw. That was such a hard job physically for me. It was exhausting to direct. Not all the film made the picture; originally there were 200 speaking parts. You have to do musical numbers and crowd scenes and nightclub scenes.

When I was doing Hannah, you know, that was an intimate picture, and I was dealing with small numbers of people, filming in Mia’s apartment, and it was a physically easy picture to do. And then I wanted to do a completely different kind of picture. But while I was in the midst of Radio Days, I thought, “God, what did I get into?”

I said to myself, “Forget it!” I just want to do some nice intimate pictures, a couple of people in a room with some nice personal conflicts.

Nice personal conflicts?
Yeah. Just in terms of sheer physical exhaustion, it’s more fun for me to make a small film than a big film. Cecil B. De Mille or Stanley Kubrick or [Franco] Zeffirelli — they love getting a hundred people out there. They love moving them around, and they do it beautifully. But to me, getting two people in a room to talk is more relaxing filmmaking.

Is the film you just finished shooting like that?
Yes, it’s a much-smaller-scale thing, sure. It’s a one-set, virtually.

Can you tell us anything about it?
Well, I can only tell you a couple of things. Mia’s in it, of course, and Dianne Wiest. I’m not in it.

Not even as a narrator, which you are in Radio Days?
No, no. And it’s a small film, a small idea, a small, intimate kind of film, principally dramatic but hopefully with some laughs in it.

And you’ve begun writing another one?
Yes, planning it. That’s ninety percent of the work — pacing the floor, thinking it out, the plot and structure. The actual writing just takes two to three weeks. Writing it down for me is the easiest part.

You use what almost amounts to a repertory company, with many of the same actors — many of them close friends of yours, such as Mia, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest and Tony Roberts — in each film.
It’s much easier to work with my own friends and acquaintances because if I’m shooting with Michael Caine [who was in Hannah], when I finish, he goes to India or England to do another picture. But Mia or Dianne Wiest or Tony Roberts, I can call them up on a moment’s notice and say, “Listen, I’ve got a great idea for a new scene, let’s meet and shoot it.”

Does that really happen?
All the time, on every picture, constantly on Hannah. In the original version of Hannah, there was only one Thanksgiving party, at the beginning of the picture. And when I saw the picture and started to get ideas about how it could be developed and amplified in a good way, I thought, you know, “Let’s make it end with Thanksgiving too. That would be a nice thing.” I did that. And I said, “You know what would really be great too? If we had one more Thanksgiving party in the middle of the picture.”

So you just all gathered back at Mia’s apartment?
Right. Shooting at her apartment made things easier, too.

Also, you sometimes use friends of yours who aren’t even actors.
Yes, because I’m aware of them as good types. In a relatively minor acting part, it’s not so risky.

Are you more contented too in your personal life?
Well, for the last seven years I’ve been seeing Mia, and things have been stable. And I’ve been introduced through her to a lot of children and all the activities with them.

How do you get along with them?
Fine, fine.

Well, you are also portrayed as someone who probably wouldn’t get along with pets and children.
Oh, pets I hate. Mia has many pets. I hate them. I do everything I can to avoid them. She has a dog and cats and fish and a parrot and hamsters. She’s really got the full complement of creatures. But I’ve never had problems with children.

Are you ever sorry you don’t have children of your own?
Well, as it’s turned out, I’m so involved with all of hers, as a group and individually. Individual ones prevail upon me to take them places or to hang out with me.

If you spend time with Mia, you automatically spend time with a lot of children because that’s a huge part of her life.

What is the latest count of her children?

And you think that children have had an effect on you?
It’s, it’s a . . . pleasurable dimension. And it’s extra pleasurable for me because she has always done all the hard work, and I sort of live across the park and get to have the fun of the kids without having to raise them and do all of that stuff.

Do you function okay when you leave the city to visit Mia’s country home in Connecticut?
No, I don’t function okay. I’m like a fish out of water. I’m just not comfortable. When the evening comes, it gets dark and there’s no place to go. A walk in the woods at night or something is not very appealing to me.

Why not?
There’s nothing to do or feel or see. I’m definitely a child of the city streets, and I feel at home on my own two feet, you know, not in a car or a train or anything like that.

In Manhattan, I know the town. I know how to get places. I know where to get cabs. I know where to duck in and go to the bathroom if I have to. And what restaurants to eat at and which ones to avoid. I just feel at home in the city.

I don’t go swimming in her pond because I’ve seen snakes in the water.

You know how to swim?
I was always a good swimmer, a good athlete.

I really was, in many sports. Baseball and basketball and track.

That’s something a lot of people wouldn’t guess.
But I never know what to do in the country. I like to be able to be in a place where, if I want to, I can go downstairs and there’s stores and people around. I like to look at people. I like to watch people. I like to look at stores.

You can go around in New York and do that fairly easily without being bothered, can’t you?
I can do it because I’ll wear a hat, and that will cut down hugely on my recognition. I enjoy it, but as soon as I go to the country, I find it so quiet.

What is it you don’t like about the quiet?
I don’t find there’s a lot of things to do. I’m there and, yeah, sure, I can read a book for a while. But I can read a book in my apartment too. Mia and I are always arguing about this. I don’t mind on a given day — let’s say a beautiful fall day or something — I can see getting into the car and driving up to the country and getting out and walking around and looking at the lake and leaves and that kind of thing and then getting back in the car and coming home. That I can see. To go and spend two hours, five hours in the country, something like that. I can’t see bedding down in the country overnight. I see nothing in that.

I like to know, although I’ve never done it, I like to know that if at two o’clock in the morning I get a sudden urge for duck won-ton soup, that I can go downstairs, find a taxicab, go to Chinatown, get it and come back home. This is important to me.

You’re not telling a joke here, are you?
No, I mean it sincerely.

Why would that be important to you?
It makes me feel comfortable to know that I’m in that atmosphere. You know, after dinner if I want to take a walk, for instance, and go look in the bookstores and maybe drop into the Regency Theatre or go up to Elaine’s or something, I know that I have the options. I eat dinner out 360 nights a year.

I like the idea that it’s a live, active city. I don’t like to know that if I go outside, it’s all trees and bushes and paths.

Just because it’s dull, not because It’s threatening?
Both. I find it threatening too. I find that while it may be true statistically that the city is more dangerous, I feel less endangered in the city. This may be a false feeling of security, but it’s still psychologically helpful to me. I feel that in a crisis situation I’d at least have a chance. I know where to go and how to avoid certain things and where to seek refuge.

In the country, as I said in Annie Hall, if Dick and Perry — you know, the guys in In Cold Blood — if they show up at the house at night, I mean, you’ve had it. That’s the end of it.

So you aren’t just afraid that a woodchuck might come at you?
I wouldn’t like that either. I would not like to be in the country and come face to face with a rabid possum or rabid woodchuck. I don’t appreciate that stuff.

When was the last time you were outside New York City?
Except for Mia’s place in Connecticut? A few years ago, when Mia and I went to Paris and Rome for a week.

You don’t go out of New York to America?
Sometimes I get to thinking New York is America, but that is wrong. Once I was in the suburbs, and I drove by one of those theaters with about eight movies playing at once, and I almost couldn’t imagine one of my films playing there.

You could almost be a target for the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Do you have a valid driver’s license?
I do, but I haven’t driven a car in many years.

In how long?
Oh, I’d say twenty-five years.

With the exception of once I had to make a shot in Annie Hall, so I drove…

Not very well.
That’s why I don’t drive in real life.

Do you watch television? Do you own a television?
I watch sports and films and news.

Do you ever watch your own films on TV?
No, I never watch my films, anyplace, ever. They disappoint me.

Do you watch The Love Boat?

No, I don’t watch what is purported entertainment. Not that I watch highbrow stuff. . . . I watch baseball and basketball.

But I don’t watch the junk stuff. I don’t find it even remotely rewarding, on any level. It seems to me if I happen to see it while dialing through on the way somewhere, it just looks like elevator music, the height of soulless, plastic, brightly lit, antiseptic, you know . . . stupidity. I don’t think it is worth anybody’s time.

Have you ever been in a shopping mall?
I don’t know that I’ve ever been on a shopping mall.

You said “on a shopping mall.” Shopping malls are enclosed, you know.
Oh, are they? Then I’ve never been in one, no. Then what am I thinking of? When I visit Mia in Connecticut, sometimes she’ll go to buy something, and I’ll be in the car with her, and I’ll get off, and that’s where I think I’ve been on a mall.

And you don’t get off a car either. You get out of a car.

At the opening of your film Manhattan, there is a statement that the lead character loves New York, even though he views it as a metaphor for the decay of civilization. Is this your view?
Yes. But I think of it often as it used to be. When I was growing up and could ride the subways with impunity at age ten . . . it was coming to the end of the really golden age. My guess is that in the Twenties and Thirties there was probably nothing to equal Manhattan ever in the history of the world. When you think that there would be a hundred plays at once, you just can’t get your mind around that. And the movie houses and nightclubs and speakeasies.

Is it depressing for you to look at some of it now?
It’s crushing to me. I speak to people that were in Broadway shows, older actresses, and I was speaking to one woman who was saying to me she and her girlfriend would do a show, and the curtain would come down at 11:15, and they would get dressed and go out for dinner in Times Square — two girls about nineteen years old, totally unescorted — and then go to a movie house on Forty-second Street after dinner and see a Katharine Hepburn or Spencer Tracy picture. And then walk home through Central Park. I wish I could have lived in New York in a different period.

Other directors say there are problems to shooting a film in New York, such as traffic and people walking through scenes. Norman Jewison said he just had a guy walk into a bakery where he was shooting, which was full of lights and sound technicians and actors. The guy said he didn’t care, he wanted four loaves of bread. He picked them up, and Jewison told him to pay the lady at the counter, who was Cher, the actress. He did.
Gee, I haven’t had too many problems. There is a lack of studio space, and the seasons can be merciless. But in the spring or fall, there are no drawbacks at all.

Is the film you just shot set in New York?
Well, no, it’s set in Vermont. But I shot it in New York.

How do you make New York look like Vermont?
It all takes place in one house.

What do you enjoy about filmmaking?
I enjoy the writing most. It always seems great in the writing. You’re at home alone in your apartment and you know it’s just wonderful. Then reality suddenly starts to creep in. You start to realize that this actor is unavailable, so you’re going to have to settle for that actor, and you really can’t afford $200,000 for a set, you’re going to have to get one for $15,000. Gradually the compromises come in. And those lines are not so funny that you thought were so great back in your apartment.

Or too funny? Too funny can obliterate all else.
Or it’s too funny, yeah, although too funny is usually one of those problems like too rich.

Do you enjoy the directing?
No, I would like to conceive of the film and then press a button and have the film master. Directing is enervating, and very often you’re standing around on freezing-cold street corners at six in the morning, and I don’t think anyone would find that much fun. And it’s long hours, and often the results are very disappointing when you see them the next day in the screening room, in terms of lighting and acting and that your idea was not so good. And you directed it too slow or too fast and you’re going to have to go back the next day and do it again.

Radio Days was warm and funny, but it didn’t seem as ambitious as some of your others.
Well, I don’t want to do a series of films that always seem to make profound statements. That would be really limiting. You want to do a certain number of films and try to do that, and I would like, in the course of my life, to do some broad comedies and a musical. You want to mix it up.

When I did Annie Hall, everyone wanted Annie Hall II, and the same with Hannah. But it’s very important for me not to do that. After Annie Hall, I made Interiors, and after Hannah, I made a completely different kind of film, because it’s important not to get suckered into the success syndrome because the public likes something.

Why this picture, Radio Days, at this time?
I spend almost a year on a film, and by the time you’ve lived with something for a year, you want to get on. You get bored with that subject matter and that style of film, so you want to get into something different.

Hannah was a living-room picture. It becomes dull, so you look for something different to do, just to break the monotony. And so I thought it would be fun to do something that was episodic and full of music and cartoonlike and nostalgic.

Why do you do so many films? Couldn’t you do fewer and make them all great, important works that would go down in film history?
No. I wouldn’t want to make those kinds of films. They’d be expensive and they’d be hard work and you’d have to emotionally commit yourself for years to the same project.

I’d much rather make small pictures and just make many of them. I don’t find any correlation between size and greatness. You take some of those Bergman films that are enormously complex, enormously complex. He shoots those things quickly, like in four weeks’, five weeks’ time. They’re the best films in the world, I think.

I just do as many films as I have ideas for, just as fast as I can. And when I’m finished making films in my life, I will have made whatever number of films, and some of them, if I’m lucky, will be very good films, and some of them won’t be good films, and some will be entertaining.

Something people always want to know: How much of Radio Days is autobiographical?
Some of it is loosely autobiographical, but very loosely. The radio programs, such as The Masked Avenger, were generic because it would be such a nuisance to get clearance on actual radio shows.

The sports program was hysterical, the inspirational story about the pitcher who loses his leg, then his arm, then his eyesight, but goes on pitching.
The man who played the role of the sportscaster for me, Guy Le Bow [a real-life veteran sportscaster], was fondly remembering off camera that radio show and was saying one story he had heard on it was Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed saying to Abner Doubleday, you know, go out there and don’t give up on baseball.

Abner was at his bedside after the shooting?
Sure. He had heard that for real on that show.

The film painted a grim picture of Hebrew school.
Public school was equally bad. I went to both. Double horror.

Were you funny in school? Did they send you out in the hall a lot?
There’d be periods when I was really quiet and never said anything and other periods when I was amusing and we’d get into trouble constantly. But it was never a pleasurable experience. It was a spectacular treat to be sick because you could avoid school, which was the blessing of all times.

What was so awful about school?

Everything. First of all, there were the natural things that kids would not like: sitting still, being disciplined, not being able to talk and not being able to have fun. It was a loathsome thing. The teachers were backward and anti-Semitic.

In your neighborhood in Flatbush? There weren’t a lot of Jewish kids in school?
Almost all.

But the teachers were just anti-Semitic anyway?
Uh-huh. And they were stupid and mean. They were unpleasant people, and one never wanted to go to school.

Did you write in high school?

Things that were not always appreciated by teachers?
I used to write things that they thought were dirty.

Were they?
No, they were dirty by the backward, ignorant standards of my teachers. My mother was called in to school so often because of that and other problems.

Like what?
Truancy, bad marks, causing disturbances. She was called to school so frequently that into her sixties, when my mother was still in the old neighborhood, kids who went to school with me would recognize her and say hello to her because she was such a frequent figure.

My mother’s eighty now. My father’s eighty-six. They live just a couple blocks from me. My sister lives ten blocks from me.

Has any of the stuff that borders on the autobiographical ever bothered them?
No, because the stuff that people insist is autobiographical is almost invariably not, and it’s so exaggerated that it’s virtually meaningless to the people upon whom these little nuances are based. People got it into their heads that Annie Hall was autobiographical, and I couldn’t convince them that it wasn’t. And they thought Manhattan was autobiography. Because I make the lead character a comic or a writer, I play it myself. I can’t play an atomic scientist. I’m not going to make the lead a mechanic. I know the language of certain people.

Although you say you were never the schlemiel you have made yourself out to be, does it feel good to make films where you get the girl and all of that?
I’ve had a certain amount of successes and failures in every aspect of life. My life where I grew up in Brooklyn and in Long Beach was completely average. I was a perfectly good schoolyard athlete. And I had friends and dated some girls and was rejected by others.

Do you ever reflect on your situation now and say, “Wow, I’m having relationships with movie stars”?
I’ve been in the movie business the last twenty years. So it’s logical that I would be seeing an actress or screenwriter or someone in my related field.

My life began being special when I was sixteen and got a job writing comedy. But even then I went to school in the daytime. I had lower-than-average marks and only went to NYU for a very short time to please my parents.

I was dropped by NYU after less than one year because of bad marks. I was a film major at NYU but couldn’t even pass my major. I took what was called the limited program — three subjects.

You failed the limited program?
And I couldn’t care less, because I’d ride the train to NYU from Brooklyn and I’d think to myself, “Don’t get off here. Keep going.” And I’d go right up to Forty-second Street, cutting school to go to the movies, hang out at the automat, buy the newspapers and go to the Paramount — and then go in to work in the afternoon.

By then you had a job and an inkling you might do well.
I felt very confident. . . . And again, to please my parents, who were so crushed by this because all of my friends were becoming lawyers and doctors and going to college and doing well, I also went for a very, very short time up to City College.

Have you changed along with your films?
I don’t know that I have changed. The films have. I’ve become more interested in doing what for me is intellectually more difficult and more challenging.

How do you respond when people ask you, in effect, “Why don’t you cut the crap and just be funny?”
Well, it has never really meant a thing to me what anyone said. I’m just sort of going the route I’ve chosen to go. If people like it, they like it, and if they don’t, they don’t. Crowd pleasing just never interested me.

This kind of goes back to your school days, when what teachers said apparently didn’t mean anything to you. What then do you tell the youth of America? Is it okay for them to goof off and just do what interests them?
It’s hard to give advice, in that sense. You see, I was lucky. I don’t think you can count on being lucky. I was lucky in that I had a talent to be amusing. If I didn’t have that talent, I would have been in great peril. You can only be independent that way if you luck out. But you can’t count on it.

But people have always told me what to do. And I always listened politely and I’m always nice to them, but I always do what I want to do.

The world is full of people who are quick to tell you films you should be doing and what to cut out and what to put in. There is an old proverb: “He can’t think, but he knows all about it.”

Or, in more recent history, as you said on film, “Those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym.”
Yes, that was in Annie Hall, and I always felt people are very quick with advice, fast advice from the man on the street and profound advice from your peers. You read your books and you live your life and you see your friends and make your own evaluation as to what you want to do.

People are forever telling me, well, don’t do this joke, or don’t dress that way, or don’t do this subject matter, or don’t do that kind of film. You don’t want to do Take the Money and Run. You want to do a different kind of film. You don’t want to do Annie Hall, you know, because it’s really less funny than Bananas. You don’t want to do Interiors because of this and that. And I always listen politely, because they are nice people, but, you know, I do what I want to do, because your body demands it. You feel it. It’s not so much a conscious decision. You go your route.

Have you ever thought afterward that those people were right?
That could never be, because I’ve always done what I wanted to do at the time. This doesn’t square itself, necessarily, with commercial success. But who cares about that?

I’ve done films that were not commercial successes that I think were much better than ones I’ve done that were tremendous commercial successes.

For example?
I think The Purple Rose of Cairo was a much better film than Hannah and Her Sisters. Much better. Much more imaginative. It’s just a better film.

How about Radio Days?
It was the best I could do at that time. As with all my films, you know, when I see it I always feel disappointed, because I have such grandiose notions at first. But when you get into the very, very difficult world of having to translate those grandiose fantasies from a piece of paper and your mind to reality, and it requires props and people and huge crews and music and everything, it’s very hard to transfer it with the same perfection that you conceive it in your mind, where everything moves beautifully. So, I’m always disappointed.

How did Radio Days fall short?
Well, the concept in my mind was more glorious, was grander and more beautiful and funnier and more profound and more moving. It fell short in every important way. But this is not infrequent for me. It is quite usual.

And when you say this, you are not being falsely modest. The fact of the matter is that when you approach something, its potential is very often tremendous. And it’s not an easy job to milk the potential from something, to realize that potential. And the more challenging the project is, a movie like Zelig, the harder it is to get the potential out of it.

As one who thinks about mortality, have you ever thought in terms of perhaps only living long enough to do ten or fifteen or twenty more films, and that they’d better be good and they’d better be this kind or that?
No, only because it really doesn’t matter to me. It wouldn’t matter to me if I stopped making films tomorrow. I’d be just as happy to write books.

Do you get any enjoyment from fame?
No, I’ll tell you what I do like. The perks of being well-known are very good, because I can always get a hotel room or a plane reservation or a table in a restaurant. And you do get good service.

That’s it? You know, you really don’t have to keep doing a film a year and be compared to Bergman to get a table.
Yeah. One of the reasons I don’t travel more is because I’m bothered by the paparazzi. That’s one of the drawbacks of being well-known.

You’re really more free to walk around New York than you are in Rome?
Yes, or Paris, absolutely. There’s no satisfaction in the fame. When you’re a kid, you think there would be. But as soon as you become an adult you see that there’s nothing outside of these practical purposes like . . .

Getting a table.
And good theater tickets.

Is there some way that you want to be remembered?
No. Someone once asked me if my dream was to live on in the hearts of my people, and I said I would like to live on in my apartment. And that’s really what I would prefer.

Exactly. Nothing short of changing the human condition would be worth it. You drop dead one day, and it means less than nothing if billions of people are singing your praises every day, all day long.

Oh, come on.
You wouldn’t know it. It would mean less than nothing.

You wouldn’t like it if once a year there was a Woody Allen ticker-tape parade up Broadway?
You’d be better off with a couple of years’ extension.

In This Article: Coverwall, Diane Keaton, Woody Allen


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