Film-maker Woody Allen has said great films are beyond him because he is middle class and too lazy, preferring to go home for dinner than face the challenge of a difficult scene.
While his fans would demur and cite triumphs such as Manhattan and Annie Hall, Allen said he lacks the intensity and perfectionism that make for greatness.
“I’m lazy and an imperfectionist,” he said. “Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come six o’clock, I want to go home. I want to have dinner. Film-making is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.
“Another shortcoming is that I don’t have the intellect or the depth or the natural gift. The greatness is not in me. When you see scenes in [Akira] Kurosawa films, you know he’s a madman on the set. There would be 100 horses and everything had to be perfect. He was crazy. I don’t have any of that.”
Allen, 79, has come in for criticism in recent years over the quality of his films. His latest film, Irrational Man, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone, has been called “murderously bad” and “nearly unwatchable”. Before that, 2004’s Melinda and Melinda and 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream didn’t fare much better.
“My problem is that I’m middle class,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR). “If I was crazy I might be better. If I shrieked on the set and demanded, it may be better, but I don’t. I say, ‘Good enough!’ It’s a middle-class quality, which does make for productivity.”
He indicated that he felt his film Match Point “came very close” to his definition of great, and that he starts each movie in the hope of creating a classic. “You always set out to make Citizen Kane or to make The Bicycle Thief and it doesn’t happen,” he said.
However, in the interview after the release of Irrational Man, he said that he regards film-making as a “pleasant” way to earn a living. “We all have to make a living in life and do something. Making films, by the general standard of jobs, is a very good one. You work with very gifted people. I work with beautiful women and good men. It’s not a tedious chore. I enjoy working.
“That probably accounts for my output. I lead a very sensible life: I get up in the morning. I work. I get the kids off to school, do the treadmill, play the clarinet, take a walk with my wife. It’s usually the same walk every day. If I were crazy, it would help.”
Allen also touched on his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn which, despite its controversial start – they have a 35-year age gap and she was the adopted daughter of his then long-term partner Mia Farrow – has been one of Hollywood’s most enduring.
“I started the relationship with her and I thought it would just be a fling. It wouldn’t be serious,” he said. “But it had a life of its own. And I never thought it would be anything more. Then we started going together, then we started living together, and we were enjoying it. And the age difference didn’t seem to matter. It seemed to work in our favour.
“Somehow, through no fault of mine or hers, the dynamic worked. I was paternal. She responded to someone paternal. I liked her youth and energy. She deferred to me, and I was happy to give her an enormous amount of decision-making just as a gift and let her take charge of so many things. She flourished.”
Allen identified a lack of curiosity as one of the reasons he has never taken recreational drugs. “The subject of drugs never interests me. There are a lot of subjects that don’t hold my attention,” he revealed. “I’m not interested in technology. I don’t have a computer. I’m not interested in travelling, popular music. I can’t bring myself to get motivated.”
Asked what he wanted to be remembered for as he approaches his 80th birthday, he said he didn’t much care. “It wouldn’t matter to me, aside from the royalties to my kids, if they took all my films and dumped them. You and I could be standing over Shakespeare’s grave, singing his praises, and it doesn’t mean a thing. You’re extinct.”
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