Mercurial genius

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Mercurial genius

Woody Allen’s cinema has many layers of light and shadows. Photo by Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

“To me,” Allen said, “there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organised religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.” Allen spoke about his new film, how its themes resonate in his life and whether he has made his last movie in New York. These are excerpts from that conversation.

The ideas of psychic powers and past lives, or at least people who believe in them, are central to your latest film. What got you interested in writing about them?

I was interested in the concept of faith in something. This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going. And the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who can’t. I’ve known people who have put their faith in religion and in fortune tellers. So it occurred to me that that was a good character for a movie: A woman who everything had failed for her, and all of a sudden, it turned out that a woman telling her fortune was helping her. The problem is, eventually, she’s in for a rude awakening.

What seems more plausible to you, that we’ve existed in past lives, or that there is a God?

Neither seems plausible to me. I have a grim, scientific assessment of it. I just feel, what you see is what you get.

How do you feel about the aging process?

Well, I’m against it. (laughs) I think it has nothing to recommend it. You don’t gain any wisdom as the years go by. You fall apart, is what happens. People try and put a nice varnish on it, and say, well, you mellow. You come to understand life and accept things. But you’d trade all of that for being 35 again. I’ve experienced that thing where you wake up in the middle of the night and you start to think about your own mortality and envision it, and it gives you a little shiver. That’s what happens to Anthony Hopkins at the beginning of the movie, and from then on in, he did not want to hear from his more realistic wife, “Oh, you can’t keep doing that – you’re not young anymore.” Yes, she’s right, but nobody wants to hear that.

Has getting older changed your work in any way? Do you see a certain wistfulness emerging in your later films?

No, it’s too hit or miss. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything that I do. It’s whatever seems right at the time. I’ve never once in my life seen any film of mine after I put it out. Ever. I haven’t seen Take the Money and Run since 1968. I haven’t seen Annie Hall or Manhattan or any film I’ve made afterward. If I’m on the treadmill and I’m scooting through the channels, and I come across one of them, I go right past it instantly, because I feel it could only depress me. I would only feel, “Oh God, this is so awful, if I could only do that again.”

You recently told the European press that shooting movies in New York had become too expensive. Do you think you’ve made your last film here?

My first choice would always be New York. It would be my fondest wish – to work where you live is of course the most luxurious privilege, and I’m sure I will film here again. But the few dollars I have go further in certain places. The cities I’m talking about — London, Paris, Barcelona — these are very cosmopolitan, and they’re like New York. I can afford it a little bit easier. To me it’s a privilege to shoot in New York, and I don’t mind it being extra.

I just have to have it, to be able to afford it. I would always make the picture in New York for $15 million that I could make elsewhere for $12 million, if I had $15 million. But if I don’t have the money, then I can’t do it.

When you’ve got down time between projects, as you do now, how do you spend it?

I do the usual stuff. I take my kids to school in the morning. I go for walks with my wife, play with my jazz band. Then there’s the obligation of the treadmill, and the weights, to keep in shape, so I don’t get more decrepit than I am. I generally don’t see the big Hollywood movies. I saw Winter’s Bone the other day and liked the movie very much, loved all the performers. And when I was in Paris, I got a chance to read a certain amount, Tolstoy and Norman Mailer. Things that had slipped through the cracks over the years.

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