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Woody on Woody

By Woody Allen Jun 27, 2016

If I had to make films without complete control from start to finish, I definitely would not do it. I'm only making films because I'm as free there as if I were writing novels. You can't create unless you're completely free. Probably, if my parents had pushed along more cultural lines I might have started out being a more serious writer, because that's what has always interested me. But I had no cultural background whatsoever, and I mean absolutely none. I grew up in a typical noisy ethnic family in Brooklyn. I didn't go to a play until I was about eighteen years old, almost never went to a museum, listened only to popular music, and never read at all. 

I had only comic books as a kid, but from the first grade I was always the class writer. I remember very distinctly, I'd buy those little black and white notebooks, and say, "Today, I'll write a mystery story." I'd go home and write, and invariably the stories would come out funny. 

I certainly couldn't care less if I ever performed again and don't care much if I ever direct another film, but I would not like to be in a position not to write. It was just something I could always do -- like some kids had an ear for music. I could be funny. So in my films, things get filtered through a comic prism. 

When I'm sitting down to write something, my perspective seems to go to what's humorous, even if it's a grim situation. An extreme example would be Love and Death which takes a broad comic perspective, but what is it when you think about it? It's actually about war and people dying, betrayed by death or God at the end. People get the impression that my films are autobiographical. There may be a brush from life. I'll play characters who are in show business, who live in an apartment like mine, but those are outer trappings.

The popularity of certain pictures makes me uncomfortable. If that many people like a picture, maybe I'm becoming part of the establishment. I'm not challenging anyone. The most popular thing when you go to the movies is to sit down and see a lifestyle that you understand and are familiar with. The middle class likes to have its prejudices reinforced. Through some failure of my own, I may do that in some of my films. That's what's wrong with them. It's one of the problems I have. I feel I haven't gone deeply enough.

I started so far back with comedies like Take the Money and Run. They were made in the style of an old Marx Brothers movie with crazy jokes and cartoon-like situations, although I'm not saying they were good. Starting at the end of the spectrum, I've tried over the years to get more and more serious and rounded. I hope that before I'm finished I can make a couple films I can have real respect for, but that would mean making films as good as The Bicycle Thief or Grand Illusion. I want to just keep turning out films and develop all the ideas I can think of and not try to make the "great work" each time.

I think my films are romantic. I'm trying to be truthful, and I have such a grim view of life. Still, I tend to romanticize people and cultural heroes and the island of Manhattan. I never grew out of that. New York is not exactly the way it appears in Manhattan. I know that at two or three o'clock in the morning, if you're sitting down by the Brooklyn Bridge, you do take a risk. 

I thought of doing the scene in Manhattan where Mariel Hemingway and I take a carriage ride through Central Park, and having screams in the background, and people yelling "Stick 'em up." In the end, I went for a romantic piece of Gershwin music. So I do tend to create certain moments of escapist perfection. 

About happy endings, what you want is for there to be one truth and to be in possession of it, but you want it to be good news. If someone said, "I'll tell you tomorrow whether there is a God, whether life has meaning," I would say that it's better not to know -- because if the answer is "no," you'd better do some fast tap dancing. If the odds are 50-50, it's better not to know. 

This article was originally published in April of 1994 and is part of our Legacy series. Take a look back and laugh with some of the greatest voices in comedy history. 

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Woody Allen

Woody Allen is an American actor, comedian, filmmaker, playwright and musician, whose career spans more than six decades.