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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Woody Allen: The Life and Work of a Man Who Doesn't Give Interviews

By Dvora Inwood

"WOODY ALLEN WON'T do interviews. Not any interviews. We wish we could tell you differently."

I was crushed. I read a 367-page biography about the man over Spring Break. I was prepared to use the power of The Crimson's name to produce the Arts Feature of the Year. No such luck. He simply does not do interviews. I shouldn't have been surprised.

Woody Allen doesn't need to seek popularity.

He wouldn't have been impressed by a "Harvard newspaper" anyway.

Woody Allen is an artist. He writes, directs and frequently acts. He controls every aspect of the production, from background music to editing. No studio gives a director the kind of freedom Woody Allen readily receives anywhere he works.

He doesn't even release a title or script to producers before or during filming. And the actors in his films don't get the full script; they only receive the lines for the character they portray.

WOODY ALLEN WAS BORN in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up loving sports, movies and magic tricks (viewers of his latest flick, Shadows and Fog, should remember this). He hated school and failed out of New York University after one semester--but Allen continued to educate himself by reading philosophy and literature.

Woody Allen began his writing career while still in high--school he developed one-liners for other comedians and eventually performed his own stand-up routines. He based his stand-up act on self-created, fictitious character full of neuroses. Allen's selfmade image has pervaded the movie characters he portrays, causing an inseparable image of Woody the character and the man to persist to this day.

In reality, Woody Allen is not the meek, uncertain man he usually appears as in his movies. After a small role in the 1967 hit What's Up, Pussycat?, his first screenplay, he vowed never to allow anyone else to direct his work. Since then, he has directed 21 of his own screenplays.

Allen's films have often been called intellectual--an adjective he strongly reject. His films lack overarching political or cerebral messages and he limits his audience to those who don't mind dialogue over high-excitement action. Both his comedies and dramas explore personal relations and the human condition.

ALLEN'S MOST RECENT film, Shadows and Fog, is an excellent, though unusual, comedy which has been unfairly denounced by reviewers.

Set in the 1920s, this black-and white film depicts and events of a foggy night when a circus arrives in a small European town. The town has been terrorized by an elusive strangler (Michael Kirby) who has been murdering citizens--and Woody, ironically enough, has been impressed by vigilante groups to help stalk the killer.

Allen compensates for the grim premise by offering an array of characters as a source of comedy. For example, a sword swallower (Mia Farrow) leaves her clown-lover (John Malkovich) after catching him with the fortune-teller (Madonna). She finds shelter with a bunch of prostitutes (Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates, Lily Tomlin) and winds up getting paid for sex by John Cusack.

Meanwhile, the Vigilante groups roam the streets and fight over who will protect the townsfolk from the strangler (who sometimes slits victims throats from ear to ear but "mostly strangles").

Allen's filming style spoofs the German expressionist genre--similarities to Frankenstein and The Seventh Seal abound. The film is shot entirely on soundstages designed by Santo Loquasto. Narrow cobblestone streets, gaslights and footbridges enhance the gloomy atmosphere. Shimmery ponds and a fake night sky further increase the mood and the comedy. Allen establishes the tone of the picture when a mystic (Charles Cragin), who uses his sense of smell to sniff out the strangler, leads to a torch-bearing mob through the winding streets.

The audience catches glimpses of the real Allen throughout the film. His fascination with magic and love-lust relationships plays a large role in the film. His careful selection of music is apparent "Mack the Knife" and Berthold Brecht pieces increase the European spirit.

WOODY ALLEN THE MAN evades the media as easily as the strangler of Shadows and Fog escaped his pursuers. To his public, he remains a brilliant mystery who presents them with a unique film each year. When not in the middle of film production, Allen constantly writes screenplays.

Eric Lax has published the most thorough biography (Woody Allen, 1990) about him to date. He chronicles Allen's life and career through narrative and discussion with various friends, family members and colleagues in the film industry. The book provides well written entertainment and insight for current and potential fans alike.

Unfortunately for newspaper reporters, Woody Allen does not want to be a glorified star. He criticized the first director he worked with for trying to please everyone. Instead, Allen wishes to write interesting stories, inspire perfected performances from his actors, create films. He does not need to promote himself to the public. His films say it all.

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