“Apropos of discussing” Review of Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing.
‘We are sentenced to solitary confinement in our own skins, for life”- -Tennessee Williams
Scott Dennis May 3, 2020
Wood Allen has been with me for my entire life, that is to say his work as a filmmaker, comedian and symbol of a certain New York attitude has always been there. His recent autobiography “Apropos of Nothing” has an advantage over books of this genre in that you instantly hear his voice as you read, like an extended subtitle from one of the funny and self-deprecating monologues that you identify him with. What does he promise you with his life story; certainly not the keys to the universe. If you are in on the existential joke of life then you are up for a treat because the book provides the reader and opportunity to take a trip through his time line without weighty statements of his collective wisdom. In fact you might argue that he is less sure of the world despite his many successes. If the reader arrives to this book, let’s say as a film student or someone that takes themselves and Allen’s supposed role as the intellectual filmmaker too seriously, they might fall out with him like many with misguided intentions already have. Allen takes the reader on a fairly chronological tour of his career, those who have followed him might also take stock of the stages of their own lives connected to when they first saw Manhattan or Annie Hall for instance. For me it was the early version “mocumentary” Take the Money and Run which I first enjoyed with my parents. Apropos of Nothing opens with a short treatment of his childhood in Brooklyn; he describes his father as having lived a charmed life but he may be projecting because his own success begins at a young age (making more money than his parents by nineteen). His springboard was writing humorous lines for promotional agencies to attribute to their socialite stars. In a way he spends the rest of his life with this formula, writing funny things for others to say. If you read between the lines of his memoir you see the real characters of his life stand out, the island of Manhattan is one, the ideal but unattainable woman and most importantly the typewriter as his ultimate method of expression and manifestation of identity.
Arguably there are few things more challenging then the tyranny of the empty page. Here we find the secret to his longevity and success, the willingness to spend the majority of his life alone, facing the empty page – writing his worlds into the fabric of our culture, on a daily basis for the last sixty years. Allen’s book is enjoyable because of his affable prose which demonstrates its best take away, how he leverages his one God given gift (which is to be funny) and applies enormous focus and energy, writing at least forty nine feature films and numerous other works over his career. There many quotes that describe how people love success but hate successful people, I think detractors of Woody Allen are jealous of his autonomy derived from his work ethic. In a few lines from the book he describes hearing about the Kennedy assassination, how he considered it for a few minutes and then went right back to work. The reader has to decide for themselves, does this make him disconnected, aloof, a fatalist or just highly focused writer?
Over the years going to see his movies were often more than entertainment, when he wasn’t focused on getting laughs, his work introduced Americans to experimental film making and provided the audience with a broadening view of cinema. In my teens I felt exposed to intellectual ideas, engaged in cosmopolitan relationships between men and women, betrayal and angst. Allen explains in Apropos of Nothing that his screenplays were sprinkled with issues of the human condition that were laid out by artist that he admired, Like Tennessee Williams and Ingmar Bergman. He is also adamant that he himself is not an intellectual at all but liked to explore intellectual ideas in order to impress women. Of course trouble with women is a large part of his story especially his relationship with Mia Farrow and her adopted children. Retelling this story is timely considering the problems that we face with media today. After reading his account of the legal battle he suffered because of Mia Farrow I thought back to my preconceptions of the whole mishegas. I had thought I remembered some facts this way:
- Woody Allen was married and lived with Mia Farrow
- He adopted a young Korea girl with Mia Farrow
- Woody Allen began to date Soon Yi when she was underage
- He was found to have sexually abused one of Mia Farrow’s adopted daughters.
I was surprised to find that none of these so-called “facts” were true at all and this wasn’t just Allen’s side of the story; I invite the reader to take ten minutes to confirm this. What is important about these false assumptions to today’s social landscape is the role media plays in perpetuating certain narratives. Our information diet is heavy with the sugar and sodium of sensationalism and political agendas, the twenty four hour news cycle has made us mentality indiscriminate driving us to believe only the top of the Google search.
I recently watched his 2019 film “Rainy day in New York” it was a light and enjoyable look at young people in New York and their vision of the future as well as the disillusionment of cultural icons. Sadly in order to view this film in America one has to pirate the copy because of the media ramifications of the #MeToo movement, even the young star of the film Timothée Chalamet was convinced to state that he regretted to work with Allen in the face of regurgitated allegations that had been long ago proven wrong.
Woody Allen is now in his eighties and still plays clarinet in Manhattan clubs and writes daily, living happily with his wife of twenty plus years and their two children. His freedom is in the fact that he doesn’t care what we think of him and I respect that.