Woody Allen On Woody Allen: In Conversation With Stig Björkman, by Woody Allen
Admittedly, I have not seen most of the films this book talks about, and it would probably be ideal for a reader to have seen more of these films before reading about them, at least if a reader wants to get the inside references of what the subject and interviewer are talking about. There is a whole genre of books like this one where famous directors and other creative people have conversations with others because their thoughts are viewed as being important enough to convey as part of ponderous books. In reading this book, I’m not sure the subject is really worth the treatment of nearly 300 pages that this book entails. I could see this book as being more entertaining for someone who really loved the movies of Woody Allen, and who shared his fondness for works which were ambitious and a bit less accessible than his more popular ones, but for a reader like myself, this book was more notable for the tact of the interviewer in avoiding obvious and sensitive issues of a tabloid nature and the general insularity and snobbiness of the subject’s insights, although there were some worthwhile gems in here that are worth reading, at least.
This particular book is organized in terms of the movies that the interviewer and subject talk about, in order from Allen’s beginnings in the Jewish caberet scene (1) through Take The Money And Run (2), Bananas (3), Play It Again, Sam (4), Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (5), Sleeper (6), Love And Death (7), Annie Hall (8), Interiors (9), Manhattan (10), Stardust Memories (11), A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy/Zelig (12), Broadway Danny Rose (13), The Purple Rose Of Cairo (14), Hannah And Her Sisters (15), Radio Days (16), September (17), Another Woman (18), New York Stories (19), Crimes And Misdemeanors (20), Alice (21), Shadows And Fog (22), Husbands And Wives (23), and Manhattan Murder Mystery (24). To say this book is organized, though, is to give it a bit too much credit, as the conversations wander and twist their way and are sometimes a bit repetitive and do not always demonstrate either the interviewer or subject in the most positive light, especially when Allen insults the populist taste of American film critics and filmgoers or traditional morality. Even with these caveats, though, there is still enough to enjoy to make it worthwhile to read this book if Woody Allen films are your sort of thing.
One of the most notable insights to gain from this particular book is that Woody Allen is both a very insular director in terms of the way that he tends to focus on what he knows best, including show biz and New York City, and ambitious in seeking to direct films that range from comic to melodramatic to tragic, which has led to a disconnect when his audience has expected something more narrow than he wanted to do, and has taken his serious statements about loving rain and dreary days as something to laugh about. Allen’s ups and downs as a director have involved his own attempts to master the craft of directing and to tell the stories he wants to tell, but at the very least he has been able to ensure a good relationship with a studio that knows that not every film of his will make money in the United States (they tend to do better in Europe, which makes sense given Allen’s European approach to morality and aesthetics) but that if he can keep the costs reasonable he can create a film a year about whatever he wants to do, and that is a good arrangement for a director like this, resulting in someone who likes to finish his work and then move on to something else in a prolific and creative career that has spanned several decades now.