Doodad Kind of Town

Kicking Back with TCM: The Dick Cavett-Woody Allen Interview
January 19, 2008, 4:07 am
Filed under: Woody Allen

This was a brutal week for me – it started out with excruciating dental pain and an emergency root canal, followed by a whole week of unanticipated crises at work. And just in time for the weekend, arctic winds blew into town and brought with them a wind chill factor in the neighborhood of 15 below.

Friday night was therefore not a night to hit the multiplex; it was a night to stay home, stay warm, and unwind. Or rewind, as the case may be. I’ve been recording a lot of good stuff from Turner Classic Movies over the last couple of weeks, and having a quiet Friday night gave me a chance to catch up with it.

TCM has been re-broadcasting selected programs from Dick Cavett’s 1970s talk show from time to time. I finally caught his 1971 interview with Woody Allen. It was a fitting way to kick off a weekend in which I’m hoping to catch Allen’s newest film, “Cassandra’s Dream,” although it had the distinct feeling of having been pulled from a time capsule.

At the time of this interview, Allen was not long out of his stand-up comedy years, having directed only two films (“Take the Money and Run” and “Bananas.” Well, three if you count “What’s Up, Tiger Lily” which he apparently doesn’t, since he consistently refers to “Take the Money” as his first directing effort.) It’s fascinating to hear the young Allen talk about filmmaking. “I like my films to look sloppy,” he tells Cavett – and his early films do indeed have a slapped-together, loosey-goosey feeling. Obviously, he aspires to a more polished aesthetic these days.

I found particularly interesting Allen’s claim that he didn’t like to see other comedy films because he was afraid of being influenced by them. He went on to say that the great film directors like Fellini – whose work was very personal – didn’t need to be aware of anything outside themselves in order to make their art. That’s a telling comment, and one that I think still applies to (and limits) Allen’s work to this day. His entire oeuvre has a very insular feeling, as if he has no cultural references outside his own immediate experience. And I don’t think that relocating his films from Manhattan to London in the last few years has changed that at all.

When Cavett asked him to name three films he would consider among the very greatest, Allen came up with only two titles “L’Avventura” and “The Seventh Seal.” With a little prompting from Cavett, he eventually added “The Grand Illusion.” The boy has taste, I’ll give him that. (And, c’mon, we knew he’d throw at least one Bergman film in, right?)

It wasn’t all about movies, though. Cavett, a long-time, close friend of Allen’s, coaxed out a relaxed, happy-go-lucky side of the comic/filmmaker that we rarely see anymore. Allen – cracking wise about his love life and his years in analysis, playing clarinet with a jazz combo – was charming, silly and self-deprecating in a breezy, offhand sort of way. It was a refreshing contrast to the Old Mr. CrankyPants persona that comes through in the occasional interview these days, and a reminder of how laugh-out-loud funny Allen was in the days before he got so-o-o-o serious (and before the scandals in his private life started to somewhat overshadow his work as a director and performer.)

I also finally got around to watching “Sweet Smell of Success,” a classic I’d managed to miss for years. But I’ll save that for another post.

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