Woody Allen is saying goodbye with the same wan handshake he used for hello 30 minutes ago. 'I hope I haven't depressed you,' he says apologetically.
Yes, the world according to Woody is so bereft of meaning, so godless and absurd, that the only proper response is to curl up on a sofa and howl for your mommy. Alternatively, you could try the Allen approach, which is to make a feature film every year and try, however briefly, to distract yourself from the darkness.
"You do the best you can within the concentration camp," he says, cutting straight to the life-as-Auschwitz metaphor. [OK, I rolled my eyes at that part.] "It's very hard to keep your spirits up. You've got to keep selling yourself a bill of goods, and some people are better at lying to themselves than others. If you face reality too much, it kills you."
What'd you expect, a pep talk?
You thought a sit-down with Woody Allen would cheer you up? He is not the anxious, gesticulating quipster he's played in so many of his movies, a man who bundles his despair with a batch of winning one-liners, a bit of vaudeville by way of Camus. There is little shtick about the real-life Woody Allen, who says that outside of his work, he is rarely funny.
Instead, he is chatty, rueful and, though he seems vaguely uncomfortable with the setting... he is almost evangelically passionate about a few subjects. None more so than the chilling emptiness of life.
"It's just an awful thing," he says, shrugging a little, "and in that context you've got to find an answer to the question: Why go on?"
Whether or not I agree with all that, I've got to admire someone who has the stones to say it to an interviewer. Then I got into this section:
We can marvel at [his body of work] and still acknowledge that our relationship with Woody Allen has been fraught of late. He is the only director whom moviegoers break up with, like he's a boyfriend or something. You hear a lot of variations on this theme. After Celebrity I called it quits. Or I gave up after Deconstructing Harry.Uh, yeah.
Behind the kiss-off is either (1) the aforementioned sense that at some point in the mid-'90s, he lost it. Or (2) the thing with Soon-Yi. (In 1992, for those in need a refresher, Allen started dating Soon-Yi Previn, the 21-year-old adopted daughter of former girlfriend Mia Farrow, a relationship that led to a bitter custody battle over the children Farrow and Allen had jointly adopted, a battle that Allen lost.) For some, the choice of Soon-Yi, to whom he's been married for nearly a decade, was evidence that Allen and reality had parted company, or that he was just too creepy to find entertaining any longer.
And then there's this:
"There's an upside to going from 19 to 25 because you stop making the Three Stooges mistakes you make when you're a teenager," he says. "But once you get up in years, like seventies, there's nothing good about it. The dynamite women you see on the street, that world is gone to you."
"You know, it's inappropriate," he mutters, as though he's about to think better of discussing this. "One of the great pastimes of my life was eyeing girls in short skirts, and that's gone. They're unavailable to you, and in the few cases where you could work your magic, it's to no practical avail because you can't plan a future if you're 70 and she's 22. So your flirtation life goes, which is a big part of everybody's enjoyment in life."
But how about this? Thanks to Woody Allen, a couple of generations of nebbishy non-jocks were able to get dates. He created the archetype of the nerd who lands the babe. Can he look back on that achievement with some joy?
"No. Because I was always the guy struggling on the outside to get in. I remember being in Chicago and I was invited to the Playboy mansion. This was a long time ago. And this bevy of beautiful girls was there and I couldn't get to first base with any of them. And this guy I was with said, 'They only talk to me because I'm with you. I can go to bed with them because I'm with you.' And I am me! And I'm not in bed with any of them."
He isn't knocking his past girlfriends, and no disrespect to his wife, whom he has often called the best thing that ever happened to his romantic life. It's just that he missed out on the whole groupie experience. And like a lot of things, it leaves him feeling cheated.
"For me, being famous didn't help me that much. It helped a little. Warren Beatty once said to me many years ago, being a star is like being in a whorehouse with a credit card, and I never found that. For me, it was like being in a whorehouse with a credit card that had expired."
But then, at least he's honest:
"I never wanted movies to be an end. I wanted them to be a means so that I could have a decent life -- meet attractive women, go out on dates, live decently. Not opulently, but with some security. I feel the same way now. A guy like Spielberg will go live in the desert to make a movie, or Scorsese will make a picture in India and set up camp and live there for four months. I mean, for me, if I'm not shooting in my neighborhood, it's annoying. I have no commitment to my work in that sense. No dedication."
Pity the poor filmmaker. Life isn't all hookers and blow, so it's... Auschwitz. Naah, I don't think so. Not today, anyway.