“the idea of an actor who becomes the writer, the director, the true auteur, who places himself at the centre of that cinematic universe consistently through a number of films so that ultimately the persona does enter the culture” – Annette Insdorf on Woody Allen
They say the films of Woody Allen are an acquired taste, that not everybody likes them, certainly it’s true that his films are not considered to be financially successful in the conventional sense. As a kid, I loathed the Allen films I occasionally stumbled upon on television, finding them to be tedious and unfunny. It wasn’t until years later that I became hooked on his irony, via Deconstructing Harry and especially the scene where he is arguing with his wife (played by Kirsty Alley) because she is the obstacle to him seeing more women. Allen has also been prolific, producing 48 films in 46 years, an impressive output, and even more so when we consider that Allen has made all of his films in the commercial sector and with complete artistic freedom, no financier goes anywhere near his productions – people talk about independent filmmkers, Woody Allen is the real thing.
However, I was piqued recently when I learned that Woody Allen doesn’t take a break in between films, ie – when he finishes editing one film, he sits down at his typewriter the next day and starts to write the script for the next. No holiday, no chilling out in Ibiza, just a continuation of the work. This consistent work-rate does go someway to explaining the consistent quality and sheer volume of Allen’s work, but does not tell us the full story. Afterall, what drives a man to write, direct and star in feature films for almost 50 years (and counting)? That’s not an easy question to answer. Allen has little interest in critical acclaim, but clearly he must have a great love for his work – you cannot dedicate yourself to something in the way Allen does without loving it – he must love (and be pre-occupied by) going through the process of and completing a new work, and he must enjoy seeing the effect his work has upon an audience (although I don’t believe that Allen is obssessed with popularity). We also know that Allen possesses a pre-occupation with death, and has an overwhelming consciousness that life is finite, and therefore he may simply be trying to get as much as possible done before he goes. Another clue might be Allen’s recent comment that he is still searching for the delivery of a cinematic masterpiece (many consider Manhatten to be one, but Allen himself does not), and so his prolific output could be the result of an obsession with mastering his art, an addiction to constantly refining and strengthening his aesthetic – certainly he has the creative engine for such an undertaking.
Whatever drives Woody Allen, his accomplishment has been astonishing, and is certainly something actors can look at as inspiring and worth aiming for. Woody Allen has worked his entire life on material he loves and with total artistic freedom. He understands that his performances and his skills and talents do not exist in order to flatter so-called “gatekeepers”, but to serve the particular film he is working on, and further explore whatever artistic lines of enquiry pre-occupy him at any given time. That doesn’t seem like a bad way to live life .