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Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking Paperback – August 18, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Woody Allen biographer Lax has been conversing with the elusive, beloved film director for 36 years, and here's the proof: transcripts of their detailed shop talk distilled into chapters covering seven elements of filmmaking-writing, casting, shooting, etc.-and Allen's career as a whole. Despite a reputation for being odd and unapproachable, the man revealed in these dialogues is likable, forthcoming and even humble: "It's just not in me to make a great film; I don't have the depth of vision to do it." Fans, of course, will want to argue otherwise, but they'll be too absorbed by this fascinating, decades-long discussion to register the grievance. From the tremendous stable of actors Allen has directed-especially former muses Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow-to the deceptively intriguing details of editing Another Woman, Lax's interviews are penetrating but far from formal, giving readers the unique opportunity to hear Allen's thoughts on projects-in-progress (everything from Bananas to Match Point) and to join him on location. Fans will find a trove of Woody-on-Woody insight (heavy on second-guessing, light on personal details), and there's much advice for the aspiring artist: "The key is to work, enjoy the process, don't read about yourself... and keep your nose to the grindstone." Even casual fans will appreciate this work; with a handy index for tracking down favorite films and something interesting on nearly every page, it's a perfectly browsable volume. B/w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Fascinating . . . Readers will find a trove of Woody-on-Woody insight [and] something interesting on nearly every page.” —Baltimore Sun
“Lax’s informed questions . . . allow Allen to speak with intelligence and maturity.”
—The Washington Post
“Mesmerizing.” —Financial Times
“Remarkable . . . Fresh with an immediacy often missing in a retrospective.” —Raleigh News & Observer
“You feel that you are in the same room, listening to someone asking intelligent, informed questions and hearing the subject giving intelligent, relaxed answers . . . An entertaining book.”
—The Washington Times
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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.
I recently saw the AFI tribute to Diane Keaton, and Woody showed up in Hollywood to present the award. A rare appearance, since Woody makes his films in NY or Europe. I wondered why Diane gets this award, and Woody doesn't? OK, he's not Hollywood, but neither is Bergman or Fellini.
Typical Woody Allen insight: In one of his movies, he is visiting his brother in Sing Sing Prison, who is about to be executed. he is seated at a table opposite his brother. Next to his brother is a Catholic priest. Woody: "Why is a priest here? You're Jewish! We don't believe in Heaven!" His Brother:
"I converted to Catholicism. At least I have something to look forward to."
Ah, so that's what religion is all about. You never know if you're wrong.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and observations with me, Woody.
Haven't had time to finish the book yet.