De­con­struct­ing Allen

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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

“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

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