For sheer inventiveness and variety of films, the work of writer and director Woody Allen is unmatched. Their number, also, is impressive, almost forty movies since his first one, the hilarious fake documentary (it was made before anyone had coined the word "mockumentary") _Take the Money and Run_ in 1969. Not every one is a classic, but some certainly are, whether comedy (_Annie Hall_), comedy with a dramatic edge (_Manhattan_), fables (_The Purple Rose of Cairo_), comic intimations of the godlessness of our universe (_Crimes and Misdemeanors_), or drama (the recent _Match Point_). So if you are familiar with the movies, you will be fascinated with _Conversations With Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking_ (Knopf) by Eric Lax. Lax was a reporter in 1971 when he was assigned to check out the new director. The conversation didn't turn into an article, with Allen replying just "Yes" or "No" too often, but Lax tried again, this time for just a chat, which grew into more formal interviews, and as the years went by, discussions about his projects as Allen was working on them. Allen has participated in recent conversations with Lax just to make this book current, and has clarified and added to the text, so that the work is a unique look into the mind of one of America's great filmmakers. Because the conversations are with Woody Allen, too, they are funny and self-deprecating, but also generous in giving credit to others.
It is fun to learn where he gets his ideas. "When I go to sleep at night, put my head on the pillow, or walk down the street, I like to be thinking of story ideas. I'm always thinking about new plots. I would do anything to avoid that horrible moment of What do I do next?" It is a fruitful method; he knows he will have more story ideas than he can ever get done (he is now almost 72). It is part of his work, and it keeps the existential despair away: "To _practice_ the clarinet, to _get_ on the treadmill, to _get_ in the room and write - all that stuff helps. It helps militate against giving oneself over to the horrid gloom of reality." Allen has much to say about himself as an actor. He knows he has a narrow range: "I can play some versions of what I am, a New York character." He may be modest about his own acting talents, but over and over he praises the actors he has worked with. There have been many great ones, often repeatedly, and they must love working for him, since with his budgets (around $15 million a movie) they cannot expect star wages. "You hire Ian Holm and Gena Rowlands, what does it take to get superb performances out of them? Nothing. You just have to tell them what time to show up and provide the coffee and doughnuts." He praises his audiences, too, and frets about over-explaining: "You think the audience is not going to get it, so you explain it, clarify it, but the truth of the matter is, they're _always_ far ahead of you. [_He smiles._]"
There is so much here about the making of specific films and specific techniques. It is a revelation, for instance, that a climactic scene within _Manhattan_, in a classroom where he chastises a buddy over moral issues and makes references to mortality based on the display skeletons in the room, that the skeletons just happened to be there in the classroom for the filming. "I would not have thought to write them in." Here is his one-word explanation for why he so often uses long master shots: "Laziness". Shooting over and over again from different angles to be combined in the editing room is not (usually) for him: "We'll be here all day today and all day tomorrow doing this scene. I don't have the patience or concentration... I design a shot and will get all the information in and we'll finish it and move on." Long master shots are not from any artistic need, and he doesn't think of himself as any sort of artist. "I see myself as a working filmmaker who chose to go the route of working all the time rather than making my films into some special red carpet event every three years. I'm not cynical and I'm far from an artist. I'm a lucky working stiff." I don't agree, but I do think his audiences are lucky to have such a great body of work to enjoy and to think about, and that they are lucky to have this book as a guide to his own interpretation of a long and successful career.
on February 9, 2010
Conversations with Woody Allen may very well be one of the finest books in regard to Woody Allen. The whole book consists of questions given to Woody at diffrent time periods. Many of which were during production of his films. This books allows you to generate an in depth understanding of Woody and who he really is. Within the book you find virtually everything. Images from many of his films, as well as a biography of his younger years, his favorite music and films, and whats going through his mind while filming and writing his one of a kind pieces. Each chapter consists of a diffrent subject, from directing, writing, editing and scoring the film. All of which give the reader an understanding of Woodys methods.
Woody Allen is a master in his field, and I highly recommend this book to whomever is into film, or hoping to get into film. You will understand methods in which one of the greatest director/screenwriters uses, as well a side you never expected from such a comic character on the big screen.
on September 29, 2008
I am 47.
I started to see Allen's movies a long time ago.
Every year, 90 minutes with an unknown friend,
sometimes fun, sometimes tragic, always entertaining.
Every important moment of my life could be associated with a Woody's film.
Every sentimental feeling, as well.
I have the habit to discuss a movie, after having seen it, usually in a "Pizzeria" with my friends.
I want to reassure Mister Allen that this habit is alive.
The book shares with us his professional story along the years, from the sixties right now.
It's a fantastic way to live all the emotions from the opposite point of view,
and it is a real pleasure.
I share also more of Mister Allen's reflections about life and death, and i was very
disappointed when his italian voice (Oreste Lionello), in a recent TV interview on an italian network,
used Mister Allen face to express ideas completely different from the author.
Explicitly, but anycase a sort of violence against Mister Allen.
Woody, life is very difficult, but it would have been worst without you.
Thanks a lot.
on March 19, 2014
This book is an approximately 350 page conversation between Eric Lax and Woody Allen, with Allen doing all the talking. Although Woody Allen on Woody Allen by Stig Bjorkman and Woody Allen: A Life in Film by Richard Schickel are both excellent, this book digs the deepest and is the most thorough.
The chapter titles should be enough to make any Woodyphile salivate:
1. The Idea
2. Writing It
3. Casting, Actors, and Acting
4. Shooting, Sets, Locations
8. The Career
At many junctures Allen gets quite technicial, and you feel like you're getting some sort of mini-film school education. What more could you ask for!
And not to mention that there are a number of big surprises along the way. (For example, did you know that Allen, relatively recently, wrote a novel? And you'll find out what happened when he let Vincent Canby read it.)
This book is a five star MUST READ for Allen fans.
on December 4, 2007
Ok I don't like Mr. Allen...I simply thrive upon his presence in this universe.
I never just saw a Woody Allen movie, read a Woody Allen short story or listened to a Woody Allen monologue...I was a participant in them. No I don't think I am psycotic, maybe a semi-adjusted bipolar person, who is cynical and overly critical about most things in this life, however swimming in the wake of Mr. Allen I somehow manage to smile at the "awful grace" of this existance. I do feel guilty since he does the heavy lifting and I benefit from it.
Recalling his movies is like recalling my first kiss, scoring my first touchdown, pineing my first broken heart or noticing death for the first time.
I recall each flick; when, where, who I saw it with, and the state of mind I left the theater to pursue the endless nuances of the adventure.
To the book. I hesitated picking it up as it is four hundred pages and did I really want to be mesmerized by Mr. Alllen and Mr. Lax during this very busy time. I resisted for almost four days then I was seduced, trapped and on my way to an intellectual orgasm that seems to continue when I turn each page.
These two guys are like friends you wish you had who made you totally comfortable hearing them talk and thilled that you are allowed to just be in the room and honored to be listening.
If you are an educator you must study it, if you are a doctor you must examine it, if you are performing artist you must value it, if you are a writer you must consume it and if you are, like myself an everyday person you gotta love it.
Bravo guys you gave me a great holiday gift.
on November 17, 2015
Fascinating and very in-depth look at the mind of this prolific and not-afraid-to-be-different moviemaker, and at absolutely everything that goes into creating his films. Very absorbing, engaging, and extremely educational -- I was sorry when it ended. It's funny, I'm not a fan of all Woody Allen films -- quite a few leave me somewhat indifferent -- but, at the same time, of the top 10 films of my long life, at least 3 are by Woody Allen (Husband and Wives, Annie Hall, and Hannah and Her Sisters). I also very much like September, Another Woman, and Manhattan Murder Mystery. From this Eric Lax talking-with-Woody-Allen book you'll learn about all the films and get a great deal from discussions about all of them, whether or not they're your favorites. Excellent.
on December 5, 2007
This is one of those rare books where we actually get a clear insight into the creative process of a great filmmaker. Techniques, style, philosophy and approach are covered in great detail. Gives awesome insight into the man and the movies he made. I really enjoyed it.
on February 5, 2008
This is a great way to learn about Woody Allen, his craft, and his films. Organized thematically and chronologically, you see what films Allen really cares about and what he did just to fill the time. Some of his films were clearly throwaways for him. He made them because he's always working, but hardly remembers them and doesn't care to (Scoop, Small Time Crooks, Sleeper). Others are passions, like The Purple Rose of Cairo or Husbands and Wives. Allen is also, not surprisingly, self-depreciating, believing that his career is mostly self-indulgence that only a small audience appreciates. Of course, this underestimates himself and how impressive it is that he can have a regular output of one or two movies a year that, regardless of whether they are one of his best, are always well made, well acted, and interesting. The insights into how Allen works and how quickly, are interesting for fans. It also makes those of us who fancied ourselves writers realize what a true talent is. The best part of this book, there is no diversion into Allen's personal life which may be of interest to some, but not this reader. This is a great way to read about Allen's career, his collaborators, and his methods.
on November 9, 2013
Perhaps no reporter has gotten to know Woody Allen better over the course of his career than Eric Lax, and that intimacy translates here to a series of in depth conversations about life, philosophy, writing, and filmmaking. As a fan of Woody Allen and his films, I was sad to come to the end of this book. A really great read.
on January 27, 2010
My husband is a big Woody Allen fan...he's read so many biops, but this one seems to be the one he really can't put down.