I make no secret of the fact that I am an admirer of the work of Woody Allen. I also make no secret about rejecting the ridiculous claims of child molestation against him…..allegations that have been investigated and rejected twice, by the way. It seems to me to be an injustice that has marred the reputation of an otherwise gifted and celebrated artist, who has put out over 50 movies as an actor, writer and/or director over his lifetime. Now in his mid 80’s he sees no reason to slow down and is still hoping to produce “a great film” to cap off his career.
After reading several biographies of Allen’s life, we are finally presented with the autobiography by the man himself.
In the autobiography, Allen takes us through the history of his movies from the conflict of What’s New Pussycat his first produced screen play – which was butchered so much by the director Clive Donner and some of the perceived “stars” of the movie….that Allen wanted nothing to do with the finished product – to the present day Rifkin’s Festival (which I have yet to see), and the autonomy he demanded to have the final say in every movie he signs on to make in order to preserve and protect the integrity of his original scripts. He is not a dictator though who must have his own way. He has always maintained that he will never make an actor say words that they are uncomfortable with and allows them, even encourages them, to say things in their own words – adlib a little as long as the original meaning of the script is conveyed.
The book takes us from Allen’s birth in 1935, through his childhood years and an early career as a writer of gags for established comedians – while still a school boy. His love of magic, his early stand up routines in clubs and of course his career as an actor, writer, director of some wonderful and diverse movies.
My copy, the Arcade Publishing hard cover version of 392 pages, was in my humble opinion informative and a delight to read and is peppered with some very funny one liners in typical Allen manner. Being humble, sometimes perhaps too humble, is I believe a fault of Allen’s. He is one of his own worst critics and is seldom, if ever, satisfied with the work he produces, even when it is hailed by other critics and given awards. Had he not been over ruled by the companies which produced his movies, some of them would have never seen the light of day. I do understand that some people don’t like him or his work, or are influenced by the lies and innuendo in the scandal pages of so called news papers and magazines, but in my opinion the are misguided and are missing out on the work of a modern day genius. I can imagine Allen himself cringing at those words “modern day genius”, but we all have our heroes – those we find worthy of putting on our own particular pedestal to be revered. Allen’s heroes are directors such as Fellini and Bergman (particularly Bergman’s 1957 movie The Seventh Seal), the writers Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams and Henry Miller, iconic actors Marlon Brando, Cary Grant….and jazz musicians such as Sidney Bechet and Bud Powell among others. He looks at their work and views his own efforts as inferior…but I beg to differ.
He is a creature of habit when it comes to writing and writes every day whether he is inspired by a particular idea or not. However he has been unpredictable over his choice of, and methods of, making movies to the point, he claims, that his financial backers visibly cringe when he tells them he wants to make this or that movie in black and white rather than colour, or to make a drama or documentary style movie, rather than a comedy. He’s certainly not shy about experimenting, as you’ll see when you read his autobiography….something I encourage you to do.
He is often complementary about the actors, co-writers, editors, camera crews and others who work with him to give his scripts life and produce the finished movies and yet puts down his own efforts and fixates about not being as good as Bergman and Fellini.
Like most of Allen’s fans – although I hate the word fan as I think it conjures up the image of an airhead who blindly follows their hero regardless of the end product….I’d rather say I have been appreciative of Allen’s work over the years – we tended to like “his early funny movies” such as Sleeper, Bananas and Love and Death and were stunned and initially disappointed by his more dramatic efforts on first viewing. But like a fine wine these mature with time, and a second or third viewing brings out the previously missed depths of the movie which we can now appreciate so much more.
The book of course covers his various marriages and relationships through the years with honesty – sometimes brutal, but mostly endearing, towards his ex’s. He continues to hold Diane Keaton in extremely high regard and is still quite obviously in love with Louise Lasser – to whom he was married for 4 years (1966 – 1970). He is very complimentary about Mia Farrow as an actress but is understandably less enamored with her as an ex lover or as a human being, particular after she put forward false accusations that Allen had molested her 7 year old daughter Dylan. This was after he had begun a relationship with Farrow’s grown up, adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Mia Farrow was understandably “The Woman Scorned” and did all she could to destroy Allen’s reputation by coaching Dylan Farrow to say that Allen had molested her. Something disproved twice over and declared false by two different judges. However this has been recently rehashed by Farrow’s son Ronan, a journalist who has dredged up the false accusations once again. It really is a very sad state of affairs brought about by a clearly mentally disturbed Mia Farrow brainwashing her children and poisoning them toward a man who had only loved and supported them in the past. You have to read the whole story to get the big picture about the scandal.
You also have to take into consideration the hoops that needed to be jumped through, the background checks done, for being declared fit to adopt children that Allen and Soon-Yi had to go through to successfully adopt twice, to realize that Farrow’s accusations were nothing more than fantasy, and yet some spineless actors in the industry are now distancing themselves from Allen although they themselves were never subject to, nor did they witness. anything inappropriate while working with him. Others however have come out publicly, despite potential backlash affecting their own careers, to declare their belief and faith in Allen’s innocence – such as Diane Keaton, Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson, who have worked with him many times. It seems so unjust to me that Allen’s life’s work should be tarnished because of unfounded accusations being perpetuated by the Farrow clan and by the gutter press, simply because scandal sells.
A good read and an interesting insight into the life and work of Woody Allen. I thoroughly enjoyed it and give it 5/5.