Recent scandals and a patchy if consistent output haven’t dimmed Woodyallen’s enthusiasm formaking films – though he doesn’t understandwhy people still want to watch them, he tells Donald Clarke
“I am realistic to my detriment,” Woody Allen says. “There is no God. There is no purpose to the universe. One day the sun will burn out. Earth will be gone and further down the line the entire universe will be gone.” We’re not finished yet. “Everything we’ve created will have gone: Beethoven, Shakespeare. It’s a meaningless thing. I am realistic in my appraisal of the human condition, but not realistic in my everyday life. I do many, many foolish things.”
Speaking with the fleshand-blood Woody Allen is a most peculiar business. It takes only the odd “um” and the occasional “ah” to establish that, yes, the onscreen personae really is a variation on the 78-year-old Brooklyn legend.
It’s been an uncomfortable time of late for Allen. Recent allegation of sexual abuse – deemed off-limits in this conversation – from Dylan Farrow, his adoptive daughter, have, following denials, left those outside the family in a state of confusion. The stories are incompatible. We weren’t there. None of us really knows anything.
Meanwhile, the Allen show continues uninterrupted. Here he is in Paris, promoting his 47th film as director. Every time he looks to be on the way out, like near-contemporary Bob Dylan, he digs out another unexpected gem. Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris, numbers 46 and 44, respectively, were unexpected critical and commercial smashes. “I never know. It’s always a surprise,” he says. “I never thought Midnight in Paris would be a hit. Who knows who Ernest Hemingway is any more? The people who go to the cinema are young people. They’ve never heard of Gertrude Stein. We thought: it will open; a few people will come. It ended up being seen in France, Argentina, everywhere.” Woody’s latest, Magic in the Moonlight, seems unlikely to emulate that level of success. Starring Colin Firth as a grumpy magician who, in 1920s France, seeks to unmask Emma Stone’s clairvoyant, the film is firmly in the “middling” sector of Allen’s oeuvre. As ever, it opens with credits in the familiar Windsor font accompanied by a tune from the Great American Songbook. As has so often been the case, Allen seems to be yearning for the days before rock’n’roll.
“I grew up with those songs,” he says. “And we all love the music we’ve grown up with. I talk to kids and they grew up with The Beatles. They think that’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever heard. For me it was Gershwin and Cole Porter.”
The kids who “grew up with The Beatles” are contemplating retirement. Half of that band are dead and the other two have passed into their eighth decade. It’s as if the “Great Allen Project” is aimed at stopping the world from advancing forward.
Since Annie Hall emerged in 1977, there has been only one year (that’s 1981, trivia fans) when an Allen film did not bring its hot jazz and Windsor type to lucky cinemas. Nobody else in the history of cinema has managed this steady rate of production. The troughs come and go,
‘I am realistic in my appraisal of the human condition.’ Below: Allen on the set of ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ with Emma Stone and Colin Firth