You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

As much as I love anything about Woody Allen, allow me: his films, his scripts, his books, his casts and his dead-end life persona, I am forcing everyone of you to read, to some, they are just trivial matters about him, but I am certainly abusing my space here.

Below, excerpts from the interview of Woody by John Jurgensen.  And surely I have to go watch the film (liking the ambiguity of the title) here in Paris no matter what:

Watch a clip from Woody Allen’s movie “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” featuring Antonio Banderas and Naomi Watts. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classic.

A film that to me, Woody just leaves a whole lot of loose ends. Maybe that’s deliberate, since the picture begins with Macbeth quote: “Life’s but a walking shadow … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Then, pointlessness is precisely the point here.

WSJ: Do you tend to give more interviews if you think the film is good?

WA: No, I talk about films really as a way to be a decent guy to the distributors. It’s a gentleman’s agreement. I have no obligation except a moral one. They put up the money. I don’t want to be one of those people, he won’t talk to anyone. That’s a self-serving position that is fine, but it’s not very nice to the guys who put up the money for the film.

WSJ: Your financial backers in Europe don’t ask to read the script in advance or have a say in casting. But are there some other strings attached?

WA: Yes, there are, but the people are usually sweet. Sure, there are dinners but very often the people in foreign countries are fun to socialize with. They’re international and charming and nice and they don’t talk to you about your film. That’s nothing compared to having to sit in a room with three people who are fine businessmen but wouldn’t have a clue how to make a film. I’d bankrupt their studio and they’d ruin my film. It’s just been good luck.

WSJ: You don’t read reviews of your films. Who among your trusted friends and family will tell when you a movie has failed?

WA: Everybody. From my wife to my sister to my friends, they’ll all say to me, I was bored. Or, it started off great and then I got bored. I like this much less than the last one, or this was the best one you’ve done in years. I’m not coddled in any way. You’d probably be surprised. They’re brutal, and I welcome that. Even when a film is a substantial hit. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was one, but a person close to me will say, I don’t care if it was hit, I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.

WSJ: What was their verdict on “Tall Dark Stranger”?

WA: They were positive about “Tall Dark Stranger” because they were critical of my last few films. They said they were very involved but they wondered if people will get the idea that, two things, in order to get through life you’ve got to be a little deluded and crazy; and having said that, it’s better to have faith in something, than nothing. Years ago I was on television having a discussion with Billy Graham about atheism. This was 30 years ago or more. He was saying, even if you’re right and I’m wrong, and there’s nothing after, I will have had a better life than you, because I do believe there was something. And I couldn’t argue with that, even though I wanted to.

WSJ: You’ve often said that you make movies to take your mind off the meaninglessness of existence, yet most of your movies dwell on that very issue. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

WA: It’s an obsession with me and I can’t keep it out of my films. But the process of making films is so technically demanding that it’s a distraction. You don’t spend your time thinking about the philosophical content, which is often very depressing. But you do think about these problems that are usually solvable. And if you can’t solve them, you don’t die. The worst that happens is you have a bad film.

WSJ: But when you’re sitting in your room writing the script, you have to confront this stuff, no?

WA: There are technical problems to that too, but I do spend a lot of time in morbid introspection.

WSJ: You’ve been very firm in your beliefs about this dead-end life. When did you arrive at that realization and make peace with it?

WA: I’ve never made peace with it. That’s my problem. My mother told me I was a very sweet kid when I was very little. But at 5 or 6, I turned into a nasty kid. I always feel that it was a reaction to becoming aware, and that I never have come to terms with it. I could never just be thankful. I think we’re getting a raw deal and I can’t reconcile myself to it. People say that death is a part of life and there must be something to it, but I just see it as bad news and I want everybody to stop sugarcoating it. Then maybe we can figure out how to deal with the problem.

WSJ: Your kids are almost teenagers. Do you ever talk to them about the bad news?

WA: I don’t inflict this on them. They’re 10 and 11. I always try to be positive with them, even though I don’t feel it in the same way. My daughter at night will say, I’m scared. What if someone breaks into the house? I say, don’t worry. You’re in the safest place in the world, knowing that I’m lying through my teeth. There’s nothing safe about it, someone could break in and kill us. I have no protection whatsoever. You put a good face on it.

WSJ: So, the beautiful women and the eroticism we see in your movies, don’t they offer respite?

WA: There are oases that you can momentarily find. Camus said women are all we can know of earthly paradise and I happen to agree with that as a male. I’ve often felt that life is a hard deal and it’s unrelentingly tragic and an uphill fight. But you can on a day walk into a movie house and for an hour-and-a-half see Fred Astaire dancing and escape in it. Then you walk back out of the darkness into the hot sun and into real life. You were at least refreshed. Like stopping in a bar on a hot day and getting a cold beer and you rest for 10 minutes and then go on with your journey. Instead of the Bergmans and filmmakers like that, is it the escapist filmmakers that are making a more practical contribution to life by giving you this respite?

WSJ: Do you ever wish you’d get a more visceral response for your films, in the same way that you get direct applause from an audience when you perform with your jazz band?

WA: No, there’s a certain kind of pleasure, even when I’m performing in the film, that I’ve done it and I’m in my house watching the Knicks on television and the film is out playing all over the world and I’m not there. I was a nightclub comic for years, and I don’t have any great craving for that. We play New Orleans music in these opera houses in Europe and the applause is thunderous and they’re stomping and they bring us back for encore after encore, and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s great because we’re glad the phenomenon is occurring, but it’s not a turn on.

WSJ: No adrenaline rush?

WA: There’s no adrenaline rush. There’s actually some guilt because I’m a terrible musician. While the band members are great, I’m tolerated and affectionately regarded because I do movies, but if I had to make my living as a musician I would starve. I’m like a Sunday tennis player.

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