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Posts Tagged ‘Woody Allen’

Saul Bellow’s great novel, Humboldt’s Gift, partly fictionalizes his own idolization and subsequent friendship with Delmore Shwartz. The idea of a young, unknown writing a fan letter to a famous writing and then moving half-way across the country to essentially study under the master was a profound one for me when I first read that book.

Rimbaud similarly contacted Paul Verlaine. Their famously tumultuous love affair soon followed.

I doubt Philip Roth had much of a physical relationship with Bellow, but it seems their three decades of friendship began in much the same way—with the young, unknown upstart meeting the literary figure who so influenced him. I’ve
never felt Roth surpassed Bellow as an artist, but he certainly achieved a wider fame and sold more books than Bellow did. No matter these two literary friendships, Bellow did famously complain about the lack of community with his generation’s great writers.

I always thought the only people who could possibly connect, on that very deep and fundamental level, with a great writer was another great writer. There is something deep and shared between them that is unsuspected by regular people. Or maybe there is no mystical bond. There’s no more of a special connection than the truth that people who share a mutual hobby or interest often flock to each other, while in public and in regular life they often suppress their true passions. Railroad enthusiasts and stamp collectors. I suspect these stories carry across all the arts, though, and there is always something fascinating about the friendship and appreciation between two great artists.

The literary importance of the friendship between Hawthorne and Melville after Melville contacted the older, more accomplished writer (although Melville had the earlier commercial success) is without question. Here we find Hawthorne’s genius (as Melville saw it) awakening something nascent in Melville’s own soul. Under this encouragement Melville ceases to be the man who wrote sea adventures and became the great artist we remember and admire today.

Of course, sometimes hero worship leads not to surpassing the idol, as Melville surpassed his, but to emulation, as Woody Allen, who so admired Ingmar Bergman from afar, and then later emulated in films like Interiors, going so far as to use Bergman’s iconic Persona cinematographer Sven Nykvist in films like Another Woman and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Through this relationship Allen learned of Bergman’s admiration for his films, and the two later became good and mutually respectful friends.

I remember thinking about this story when, years ago, in my early 20s, I wrote an ailing Saul Bellow a letter of appreciation. I may have implied or made assertions of our, ah, kinship, letting the master know I was also, in my small way, attempting to become a writer. Thankfully I did not bore him with any of my pages, although I have since, occasionally, reached out in this way, as they did in the old days—although, mostly out of desire to share my appreciation and humble thanks, than any attempt to make friends.

Who are your idols? Have you contacted them? Met them? Surpassed them?

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Since my early 20s I have admired Woody Allen’s integrity and ambition as an American artist–especially one largely self-taught and working in a popular medium. That his ambition has evidently lessened in later years (no longer do his pictures attempt greatness–Allen now seems content to simply make movies, no matter their quality) has not affected my regard.

Most of these quotes are taken from Eric Lax’s excellent biography, Woody Allen, although others are gathered from that most obvious of sources, IMDB. Consider this a portrait of an artist in his own words:

“The vision of the audience is never as deep as the vision of the artist involved. They are always willing to settle for less than you want for yourself.”

“Almost all of my work is autobiographical—exaggerated but true. I’m not social. I don’t get an enormous input from the rest of the world. I wish I could get out but I can’t.”

“[My ambition] would be to make a film that when I finish I can say ‘This picture ranks with Bunuel’s best and Bergman’s and Kurosawa’s.’ That would give me a nice inner feeling of warmth. So far, I haven’t even come close. I think I’ve made some decent movies and a larger number of okay movies, but I’ve never made a great movie” while elsewhere he said, “I realize that is aiming high, but I think it’s not a very satisfying accomplishment for me to aim at a more modest goal and achieve it.”

“If they said to me tomorrow, “We’re pulling the plug and we’re not giving you any more money to make films,” that would not bother me in the slightest. I mean, I’m happy to write for the theatre. And if they wouldn’t back any of my plays, I’m happy to sit home and write prose. But as long as there are people willing to put up the vast sums of money needed to make films, I should take advantage of it. Because there will come a time when they won’t.”

“I can see it in the dailies when something’s wrong. But I don’t always know exactly what I’m doing. I just know when it’s not right. So I’ll say to an actress with a question about her character, ‘Just do what you’re doing at the moment.’”

“In the United States things have changed a lot, and it’s hard to make good small films now. There was a time in the 1950s when I wanted to be a playwright, because until that time movies, which mostly came out of Hollywood, were stupid and not interesting. Then we started to get wonderful European films, and American films started to grow up a little bit, and the industry became more fun to work in than the theatre. I loved it. But now it’s taken a turn in the other direction and studios are back in command and are not that interested in pictures that make only a little bit of money. When I was younger, every week we’d get a Federico Fellini an Ingmar Bergman or a Jean-Luc Godard or François Truffaut, but now you almost never get any of that. Filmmakers like myself have a hard time. The avaricious studios couldn’t care less about good films – if they get a good film they’re twice as happy, but money-making films are their goal. They only want these $100-million pictures that make $500 million. That’s why I’m happy to work in London, because I’m right back in the same kind of liberal creative attitude that I’m used to.”

“I’m going to try before my life is over to rise to the occasion and make one or two [films] that would be considered great by any standards.”

“I can’t imagine that the business should be run any other way than that the director has complete control of his films. My situation may be unique, but that doesn’t speak well for the business — it shouldn’t be unique, because the director is the one who has the vision and he’s the one who should put that vision onto film.”

“There are two things that bother me about [the Academy Awards] …. They’re political and bought and negotiated for—although many worthy people have deservedly won—and the whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don’t. Also, it’s hard not to get a slightly skewed feeling about the Academy Awards because apart from the ads and the campaigning and the studio loyalties, it’s a popularity contest really, because if the picture is not seen well or didn’t do very well its chances are hurt….”

“Hollywood for the most part aimed at the lowest common denominator. It’s conceived in venality, it’s motivated by pandering to the public, by making a lot of money.”

“How can you have any positive feelings, or how can the whole thing [the Academy Awards] have any credibility? I find it hard to accept so much of what they extol and what they ignore.”

“Of course, I would love everybody to see my films. But I don’t care enough ever to do anything about it. I would never change a word or make a movie that I thought they would like. I really don’t care if they come or not. If they don’t want to come, then they don’t; if they do come, then great. Do I want to do what I do uncompromisingly, and would I love it if a big audience came?Yes, that would be very nice. I’ve never done anything to attract an audience, though I always get accused of it over the years.”

“Retire and do what? I’d be doing the same thing as I do now: sitting at home writing a play, then characters, jokes and situations would come to me. So I don’t know what else I would do with my time.”

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