All Woody Allen in 10 phrases from his memoirs

By Luis Pardo (Translation from Spanish)


Surely we didn't need Woody Allen's autobiography; much less, if in addition, he dedicates more than half of the book to trying to clean, in a clear and impeccable way, his image of plague, irreversible pariah since his partner and muse Mia Farrow accused him of sexually abusing his adopted daughter of seven year old Dylan Farrow. The book has no better jokes than those that shine in most of its movies or in its hilarious stories. Nor will this Apropos of Nothing be the best place to go in search of the creative keys to his masterpieces. It is not even surprising that he insistently shows himself as the opposite of an intellectual who is only interested in baseball, as an impostor who has not really read anything by Dickens, Cervantes or Joyce. He had already boasted about being a gañán before in a thousand interviews.

As if that were not enough, it is tiresome to pay so much compliments to the endless list of actors and actresses he has directed in a career that is still underway and began more than half a century ago. And yet, what a mistake it would be to dodge his memoirs and miss the birth of the myth, those blessed first two hundred pages, funny, witty, evocative, sensational, so reminiscent of his Radio Days and some moments from Annie Hall and Broadway Danny Rose.

As expected, the jovial, winged and funny tone of its first part is irremediably dissipating. And that Allen makes an effort –sometimes with success– to never lose his humor when describing the two vital earthquakes that supposed, at the beginning of the nineties first his breakup with Mia Farrow as a result of starting a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn , adopted daughter of Mia and composer André Previn; and the renewed attacks three years ago in the wake of the Me Too movement by the American press, a large part of the cowered and interested film industry and, once again, the Farrow clan, his former partner, his daughter Dylan and his only son biological Ronan.

They are not, of course, the memoirs that the director of Crimes and Misdemeanors would have liked to write and us to devour but they do not disappoint, they are always read with pleasure and a smile and offer a self-portrait that we will try to summarize in just ten sentences.

At five years old I became aware of mortality and thought: oh no, I didn't sign up for this. A few years ago at a press conference at the Cannes Festival they asked him again about his relationship with death and he answered very seriously: I am totally against it. That painful and early discovery that we are finite generated one of those obsessions that have not left him since then and that have motivated anthological moments in his cinema; without going any further, in Annie Hall and Hannah and her sisters. Fortunately, not only has he never tried to take his own life, but he has come to the conclusion that “the blood is stronger than the brain. There is no logical reason to cling to life but who cares what the brain says? The heart says: Have you seen Lola in her miniskirt?

My mother was called so many times to go talk to the teachers that she became a familiar face. You only have to see how Allen has portrayed teachers in his cinema to imagine the terrifying memory he keeps of his school days. He speaks of "frigid anti-Semites" willing to make life bitter for a boy who is crazy about girls ("What am I supposed to like, multiplication tables?"), who ignores the religion that corresponds to him (“I loved the pig, I hated beards”) and that it is soon clear that he would like to be an FBI agent, a private investigator, a gambler like his father, a magician, a journalist or a jazz musician.

He longed for the day when he could walk into a bar in Manhattan and say "business as usual." One day, the boy from Brooklyn crosses the bridge and enters the island of dreams. Then arises a love that has not subsided. Production problems have led him to gladly shoot in Paris, Venice, London or Barcelona, ​​but if it had been up to him he would never have stopped photographing the change of seasons in Manhattan. He left the penthouse overlooking Central Park not because of the annoying and incessant leaks but to gain square meters when he adopted two girls after marrying Soon-Yi. Allen tells in the book that some of the best postcards that happen at the beginning of Manhattan were a stroke of luck. They are three prodigious minutes to the chords of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. “Chapter 1. He loved New York City…”.

I grew up experiencing a mild sense of anxiety, just like being buried alive. The psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who have given him so much play in his films make an appearance in his memoirs, but the truth is that much less than expected. Although much loved by his parents and lucky enough to make a name for himself as a creator of gags for columnists when he was still a teenager, he could not help but always be a fearful guy, in need of professional medical help, "someone to have close and with whom to share my suffering”.

My first attempt at drama was influenced by Bergman, my film idol. It may be that in his autobiography Allen talks about fifty artists to whom he declares himself devoted: from Bob Hope and Fred Astaire to the myths of European cinema, the Fellinis, Truffaut or Bergman, whom he has celebrated, even defended, in the dialogues of his films. He has also shamelessly emulated them by hiring his cinematographers or his favorite actors. But that doesn't make it any less unique. Allen, like some of those mentioned, is much more than a great filmmaker, he is in himself a whole film genre, and you can count those on the fingers of one hand.

I'm sorry to say but I don't have what it takes: ear, tone, rhythm, feeling. He was born with a stainless talent to write funny stories but not to create music, his great passion. The enthusiasm and love of New Orleans jazz has led him to practice endless hours of his life with the clarinet. His celebrity has allowed him to go on tour with his band to give concerts throughout Europe. But he is not kidding himself and when compared to his idols he is perceived as “a weekend player who faces Federer and Nadal”. For the rest, musically we associate Woody Allen with the best of the great American songbook: the soundtrack of his films has its origin in his record collection. He confesses that choosing the songs is his favorite moment of realization, "knowing that thanks to the music it will seem better than it really is".

Laughter is not an exact science. Woody Allen maintains that it is difficult to know why the same jokes work for some people and leave others cold. Even in his best moments, the director of Bullets on Broadway may not be funny to everyone, but, yes, those who like his humor have been providing good times for a few decades and making several generations of fans happy. His comedy doesn't come out of nowhere; everything SJ Perelman wrote is known by heart, "a being superior to the rest of the comic minds", and he is a declared fan of Bob Hope, Elaine May, WC Fields and, of course, Groucho Marx, of whom he says that he bears a remarkable resemblance to his mother. Reading the book, there is no doubt that he could make a more than good living again billing stand-up comedy for the comedy club.

I know that before you shoot anything you have to remove the lens cap from the camera. Well, that: he enjoys making movies (“the fun of making a movie is making it”) but without going crazy. "I like to shoot a scene, move on to the next, finish and get the hell out." Allen never tires of presenting himself as a very limited director without the energy of Scorsese, Coppola or Spielberg, as a director who barely gives directions to the actors, as a creator without a work of art on the level of Wild Strawberries or The Seventh Seal. Pure flirt considering we're talking about the guy who, just in the '80s, did such different and cool stuff like Radio Days, Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. We already knew this from previous interviews but in the book he insists that he doesn't read film reviews,

I wanted to get on the subway with Barbara Westlake, travel to Manhattan, take her to my penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue, drink a Dry Martini, go out on the terrace and kiss her in the moonlight. This was Woody Allen's life plan as a brat when he met Barbara Westlake in kindergarten. And he fulfilled it. Not with Barbara but with his first two wives, the teenage Harlene and the beautiful but unstable Louise Lasser, with his beloved Diane Keaton and other women, several of them also actresses (Stacey Nelkin, Jessica Harper...) and so on up to those two points. of inflection that were his 12 years with Mía Farrow and, immediately afterwards, the nearly 25 he has been with his current partner Soon-Yi. So he knows from experience the best and the worst that couple relationships bring with them and he has told it like no one else in the cinema, much better than their hypochondria or the nonsense of life. His are also some of the most romantic moments in the history of cinema, such as that walk in Manhattan with Diane Keaton and her dachshund, which culminates on a bench overlooking the Queensboro Bridge at about dawn.

I don't believe in an afterlife and I really don't see how important it is that people remember me as a filmmaker or a pedophile. At 84 years old, he has the right to be back from everything, but you only have to read the book and the space he dedicates to the matter to know that it is not exactly like that. Allen has a family that is and will be in contact with the media that have decided to put him in the same bag as other men who have either been convicted, admitted having committed sexual crimes, or have been accused by many women many times. . In his case, the investigations carried out always ruled out that he abused his daughter when she was seven years old. There are quite a few pages in his memoirs of regret for not noticing the many signs that discouraged starting a story with Mia Farrow, extraordinary in everything she shot under Allen's orders. And even so, with the pain of having lost contact with two of his children, he confesses that he does not regret the experience because thanks to that relationship he found the love of his life. That said: a romantic.