Woody Allen is a workhorse of epic proportions; the man averages a movie a year, and his latest film, Midnight in Paris, just opened the 2011 Cannes Film Festival a couple days back (and was very well received). Admittedly, not everything Allen touches is gold, but hey, with that rate of production, the man can't be expected to be churning out perfection. Allen is, however, responsible for some of the greatest films of the past 45 years or so, including arguably the greatest romantic comedy of all time (a genre that produces trash at a rate unlike any other), as well as one of the finer tributes to Alfred Hitchcock you'll ever see. Recently, The Browser conducted an interview with Allen where he set out five books that have resonated with him. His choice of literature is of course interesting in itself, but the commentary from the eminently quotable Allen does not disappoint, either.
Allen's five choices are, as one would expect, incredibly eclectic:
J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye
Mezz Mezrow and Bernard Wolfe's Really the Blues
S.J. Perelman's The World of S.J. Perelman
Machado de Assis's Epitaph of a Small Winter
Richard Schickel's biography of Elia Kazan
Interestingly (for me, anyway; you probably don't give two shits, but I'm gonna tel you anyways), his experience with Catcher in the Rye is very similar to my own; it was the first novel assigned for school that I found myself reluctantly enjoying, and opened my eyes to the idea of 'reading for leisure'. His view on Kazan is also spot-on (as far as re: echoing my own thoughts on the matter). Great minds...
While explaining his choices, Allen of course offered up some gems. Some of my favourites:
"Reading and pleasure didn’t go together for me when I was younger. Reading was something you did for school, something you did for obligation, something you did if you wanted to take out a certain kind of woman. It wasn’t something I did for fun. But The Catcher in the Rye was different. It was amusing, it was in my vernacular, and the atmosphere held great emotional resonance for me."
"[L]ife, at its best, is a pretty horrible proposition. But people’s behavior makes it much, much worse than it has to be."
"The funniest human being in my lifetime, in any medium – whether it’s stand-up, television, theatre, prose, or movies – is SJ Perelman. There is nobody funnier than SJ Perelman."
"I’m sure an actor who adores Marlon Brando – worships him and sees every movie he’s made – starts to play a scene and a little bit of Brando creeps into it. It’s the same with Perelman: you read him over and over again – as I did and many of my contemporaries did when we were growing up – and then when you write, it’s hard to escape his influence. He had such a strong, inventive style."
"When it comes to romance, when it comes to love, everyone is in the same boat. The issues that Euripides and Sophocles and Shakespeare and Chekhov and Strindberg struggled with are the same unsolvable problems that each generation deals with and finds its own way of complaining about."
"This is the reason why I’ve never done political films. Because the enduring problems of life are not political; they’re existential, they’re psychological, and there are no answers to them – certainly no satisfying answers."
"You can distract yourself. You can go to baseball games and concerts and plays and have sex and get involved in all kinds of endeavours that obsess you, and you can even create problems for yourself, where they don’t exist, to avoid thinking about the bad problems. But, in the end, you’re caught. And reality inevitably disappoints you."
Regarding Elia Kazan's notorious decision to 'name names' before the House Un-American Activities Commission during the Red Scare:
"I’m a great compartmentaliser. I always feel one has nothing to do with the other. You can watch Triumph of the Will – it’s a magnificent work of art – and you can still hate Leni Riefenstahl because she was a Nazi. You can listen to Wagner’s music – it’s magnificent, and he was a terrible person. The same thing is true here. I’m not saying Kazan was a terrible person. Those issues were extremely complex and the easiest thing to do was just to remove yourself and self-righteously make criticisms. Some of those criticisms might be very justified when you argue them out, I don’t know. That’s a different argument. But the films that he did, the plays that he did – his creative work was wonderful. Whatever you think of Kazan politically, it has nothing to do with the fact that the guy was a great director."
Check out the whole interview over at The Browser.