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December 15, 1997


Farzana Versey

The impotence of being Woody Allen

If you are in the business of fabrication, masks often come to your rescue. Woody Allen is Hollywood's major rescue operation. Which is why his biographer, Eric Lax, found in his character "a lucky bungler who is more a pawn of chance and a walking compost heap of neurosis than the hipster and sex bandit he images himself… The Woody Allen character is a hilarious version concocted from a wildly exaggerated personal basis."

The first film he saw was Snow White and his reaction to the goings-on was, "They were moving." He wanted to reach out and touch them.

He has admitted that he still looks at things through a six-year-old's eyes. "As I've grown older, my life has developed a more tangible continuity with my childhood than most people's". It is this that has made memories of Manhattan appear so vivid in his films. Even his apartment has wraparound windows that give a 360-degree angled view and bring the skyline into his room.

And yet, the market-place has never been his criteria. Whatever has happened in his life goes completely against conventional wisdom. What would you expect a man who has an affair with the adopted daughter of his live-in companion of many years and is accused of molesting another one to be like?

A man dying to taste variety? Apparently, in Paris, he once ate identical dinners every night for six months. Reason: "Once he finds something or someone he likes, he is loath to deviate from it or him or her."

A freeloader? Once, after a professional meeting, he asked to use his host's telephone. After he left, they found three dimes placed discreetly near the instrument.

A cocksure show-off? He found girls were not interested in him because, "I was a lowlife, culturally and intellectually". If they asked about Faulkner, he'd say, "I read comic books." But he soon began to "struggle to stay alive in that kind of company."

A chauvinist? His women characters are always strong because he feels, "They're more solid citizens."

A child-hater? In his own words: "Only after Mia have I seen children are so meaningful… It's a bigger kick getting a laugh from a baby than it is from a whole audience."

Afraid? Yes, he wished he had courage and religious faith. "I'd probably need less courage if I was born with religious faith." Yet, in his tribute to Bob Hope's character, he called him, "Vain, a womaniser, a coward's coward, but always brilliant."

He was probably already justifying his future actions: He could also be a very convincing fake -- a maniac behind the sobriety.

But the artistic person who shirks duty and cheats has to resort to cowardice. His cultural moorings and sensitivity (however harsh be his personal actions, he is perceptive about them) do not permit braggadocio. The victim of his misdemeanours must surely go through torture, but I suspect he suffers too for forgetting that the imagination is merely a mean to create a work of art, not to bring about upheavals in life.

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Farzana Versey