(Knopf, 416 pages, $30)
By Eric Lax
Woody Allen has always been a reticent fellow in his interviews, perhaps unsurprisingly given the media’s ingrained reluctance to let comedians step outside their comic persona and exist offscreen as the serious, sometimes boring, normal people they often are. Allen’s best interviews have always been those that let him speak at length, allowing readers time to realize that he doesn’t communicate solely in zingers and one-liners.
Such expansiveness is what commends Eric Lax’s book-length interrogation of the filmmaker, assembled from interviews conducted regularly over 35 years. Beginning when Allen was acting in Play It Again, Sam in 1972 and going up to 2006, this may be the longest-running interview in movie history. Lax, who also wrote a biography of Allen, has an easy, familiar back-and-forth with his erstwhile subject, who talks about the various stages of filmmaking—often in minute and unexpected detail (for example, the subtle differences between his various DPs, several of whom barely speak a word of English). He also mentions a telling remark from Pauline Kael—“We want you to get the girl!”—that reoriented his entire comic persona. As well as revealing his working methods, Allen reasserts his comedic debt to Bob Hope (they share a perfect balance of craven cowardice and raw lust) and his lifelong love of the Marx Brothers. He even attempts to account for how his New York Jewish-absurdist core sensibility coexists with his often wintry, Dostoyevsky-via-Bergman worldview. Since the interviews took place over such a long period of time, the information and even the jokes tend to circle back and repeat themselves. Some of the material may sound like stuff you’ve heard before, but even recycled Woody is entertaining.
Review written by John Patterson.