What Woody reads

Looking for inspiration? Read what Woody Allen reads.

Or watch the pendulums. Your choice.

But if you’re aiming for both, do the reading first. You may never snap out of the catatonic state induced by the film clip.

It’s not much. Just five books. Below the film.

If you watched that film (from ColtMonday), you are now hypnotised and under my power. Send me money. Just indicate in the comments that you’re sufficiently under.

When Annie Hall moved out of Alvy’s apartment, they fought over who owned The Catcher in the Rye.

Otherwise, back to Woody and his five seminal reads.

I took this from Five Books, which has a longer version of the interview by Eve Gerber.

1.The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger.

The Catcher in the Rye has always had special meaning for me because I read it when I was young – 18 or so. It resonated with my fantasies about Manhattan, the Upper East Side and New York City in general.

It was such a relief from the other books I was reading at the time, which all had a quality of homework to them. For me, reading Middlemarch or Sentimental Education was work, whereas reading The Catcher in the Rye was pure pleasure. The burden of entertainment is on the author. Salinger fulfils that obligation from the first sentence on.

Reading…  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. I reread it on a few occasions and I always get a kick out of it.

Salinger’s protagonist is driven mad by the ugliness in life. What drives you nuts? The human predicament: the fact that we’re living in a nightmare that everyone is making excuses for and having to find ways to sugarcoat. And the fact that life, at its best, is a pretty horrible proposition. But people’s behavior makes it much, much worse than it has to be.

2. Really The Blues by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe

I learned over the years – by meeting legitimate jazz musicians who knew Mezzrow and the people he wrote about in the book – that it was filled with apocryphal stories. But it had a great impact on me because I was learning to be a jazz clarinet player, like Mezzrow, and learning to play the idiom of music that he and Bernard Wolfe wrote about.The story, while probably just a lot of junk, was compelling for me because it was about many musicians whose work I knew and admired and the ins and outs of jazz joints that I knew about and the legendary songs that were played in the legendary nightclubs. So I had a great time reading it when my own jazz passion was forming. But I know it’s not a very good or even a very honest book.
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3. The World of SJ Perelman by SJ Perelman

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 prefer his middle to later stuff. The early stuff was a little wild, not nearly as subtle or as good. As he developed over the years, he became relentlessly sensational.

Those of us who grew up with Perelman found it impossible to avoid his influence. In music, if you grow up listening to Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk or Louis Armstrong and you listen to their recordings over and over, then you start to play their kind of riffs and rhythms naturally. 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.

4. Epitaph of a Small Winner (also known as The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas) by Machado de Assis

I just got it in the mail one day. Some stranger in Brazil sent it and wrote, “You’ll like this.” Because it’s a thin book, I read it. If it had been a thick book, I would have discarded it. I was shocked by how charming and amusing it was. I couldn’t believe he lived as long ago as he did. You would’ve thought he wrote it yesterday [as opposed to 1880]. It’s so modern and so amusing. It’s a very, very original piece of work.

The memorable last line of the novel reads: “I had no progeny, I transmitted to no one the legacy of our misery.” You shrug off the notion that your work leaves an artistic legacy. Can you at least acknowledge a cultural one? What I have in mind is that more men today follow the model of romance established by Alvy Singer than those established by Romeo, Darcy, or Casanova.  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. I describe them in a certain way and entertained with them in my movies. Other people did it, in their day, using their own icons and idioms.

I may have different cosmetics, but in the end we’re all writing about the same thing. 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.

It’s the best show business book that I’ve read. It’s brilliantly written and it’s about a brilliant director who was very meaningful to me when I was growing up and becoming a filmmaker. Schickel understands Kazan; he understands Tennessee Williams; he understands Marlon Brando; he understands A Streetcar Named Desire. He writes with great historical knowledge, insight and liveliness. Show business books are usually not worth reading. They’re just silly and shallow. But this is a fabulous book.

The biography is framed by the question of whether Kazan’s work, which included On the Waterfront, would be eclipsed in Hollywood by his decision to name Communist associates before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  How do you think the public should judge Kazan? I’m a great compartmentaliser. I always feel one has nothing to do with the other.  You can watch Triumph of the Willit’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.

** So that’s Woody. Lots on romance, politics and the ugliness of the world.

Out of five, I score one. The obvious one. Anyone else read more widely?

Oh, and don’t forget… You are feeling sleepy… sleepy… send me cash…

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “What Woody reads

  1. [In zombie state -- fully hypnotized]…

    I’m surprised at part of Woody Allen’s response to the interview question, “What drives you nuts?” The statement that surprises me is, “And the fact that life, at its best, is a pretty horrible proposition.” That seems pretty harsh and downbeat.

    [Arms stiff down at my sides, zombie-style, I realize I can't reach into my pocket to give you money, money, money]…

  2. I don’t read anything Hollywoodish because their values are very antithetical to core Middle American Christian values although I did appreciate their activism in anti Vietnam, AIDS and environmental issues. Perhaps that is closed minded but I already have a book case of unread stuff anyway.

  3. I may be feeling sleepy but … you still ain’t gettin’ my money.

  4. Only the obvious for me too, but I’ll probably check some of these out. I have loads to read, but most of it is the third book from the 3 for 2, so variety is always welcome.

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