Have you seen the Woody Allen documentary?
Writer, director, actor, comedian, and musician – Woody Allen – has his life and creative process documented by Robert Weide on-camera for the first time.
It is so so good.
I wasn’t especially grabbed by the thought of 3 hours with Woody Allen but was informed he still writes all his material on the typewriter he bought at 16 years old for $40 – an old Olympia portable. Cut and paste is executed with scissors and small staplers. Woody Allen: “It’s very primitive (he is laughing) but it works for me.”
Woody Allen starts it off with: “Writing is the great life. Because you wake up in the morning and you write in your room. In the room everything is great because you don’t have to deliver. So you write it and imagine it is Citizen Kane and that everything you write is great. But when you have to then take it out and do it, then reality sets in. Then all your schemes about making a masterpiece are reduced to I’ll prostitute myself anyway I have to to survive this catastrophe.”
And there it is, the creative process, laid bare. Hilarious. He is very funny.
I loved learning that at 15 he sent his jokes in to newspapers and they printed them. From there he was invited to write for comedians, radio and TV programmes and by 16/17 he was making more money than his parents and has worked every day since.
He loves playing the clarinet and plays on location, in the car, and every week at the Carlisle with his jazz band. In 1978 his film Annie Hall was nominated for 4 Academy Awards. He didn’t go to the ceremony because it was on a Monday and on Monday he plays clarinet with his band. He’s been nominated for 23 Academy Awards and has only attended once.
Back in the early days for one whole year he got up on stage night after night to master performing. He hated it. He was sick, the audience talked among themselves, he was shy, inconsistent and, although he’d written all the best lines, didn’t deliver them as a comedian. Then after all fear, the practice, the work, the persistence, one night he went out on stage and performed as Woody Allen.
He writes and directs one film a year. Woody Allen: “I go for quantity. If you make a lot of films occasionally a great one comes out. Films never come out in the end how you expect them to at the start.”
He has hundreds of scraps of paper noting different ideas he has had squirreled away in his bedside table. When he comes to start a new movie he sits on his bed and goes through them all until he finds an idea he likes.
He only ever does exactly what he wants and interests him the most with a full commitment. He is very clear that he makes films he wants to make. “I never pursue commercial success, which is probably why I never get that end result.”
He isn’t afraid to mess up. He cast and shot September twice, explaining that his writing hadn’t developed sufficiently the first time around. If the cast isn’t working he just changes it and re-shoots.
He arranges for the script to be hand delivered to an actor who has a few hours to read it (whilst the delivery guys sits outside) before it is collected. Actors are rarely left with the script overnight.
Actors speak of wanting to please his vision and do their best work. He has no rehearsals, gets straight in, does a handful of takes and gets what he wants. ‘Make it up, mess up your lines, put your back to the camera, just go, no pressure, keep it simple. But hurry it up as it’s time to get home for the Knicks game.’ Many actors win Academy Awards for their performance in his films.
Of course he recounts how at 5 years old he discovered his mortality for the first time. He has been against death ever since. He shares how one of his nursery nurses explained and demonstrated that she could suffocate and kill him. And a time that a car tried to mow him down in his school playground (you can’t help but see a scene of Charlie Chaplin car dodging death.) School was of no value to him and he still wakes up every day grateful he no longer has to go.
During his last film with Mia Farrow it came to light that he had been having an affair with her adopted daughter. Just 3 days later Mia Farrow came back to work to complete the picture. Spare a thought for Woody Allen at the Christmas dinner table. His ex is now his mother-in-law. The perfect Woody Allen comedy.
He’s created a remarkable life with the philosophy: “The only thing that stands between greatness and me is me. There are no excuses.”
Woody ends: “When I look back on my life I’ve been very lucky that I’ve lived out all these childhood dreams. I wanted to be a movie actor and I became one. I wanted to be a movie director and a comedian and I became one. I wanted to play jazz in New Orleans and I played in street parades and joints in New Orleans and opera houses and concert halls all over the world. There is nothing in my life that I aspired to that hasn’t come through for me. But despite all these lucky breaks, why do I still feel (laughing) that I’m screwed some how?”