Woody Allen on why he keeps making movies, the agony and terror of human existence, and why a sense of humor is important.
Excerpted from Robert E. Lauder’s interview.
RL: Why do you continue to make films?
WA: Well, you know, you want some kind of relief from the agony and terror of human existence. Human existence is a brutal experience to me…it’s a brutal, meaningless experience—an agonizing, meaningless experience with some oases, delight, some charm and peace, but these are just small oases. Overall, it is a brutal, brutal, terrible experience, and so it’s what can you do to alleviate the agony of the human condition, the human predicament? That is what interests me the most. I continue to make the films because the problem obsesses me all the time and it’s consistently on my mind and I’m consistently trying to alleviate the problem, and I think by making films as frequently as I do I get a chance to vent the problems. There is some relief. I have said this before in a facetious way, but it is not so facetious: I am a whiner. I do get a certain amount of solace from whining.
RL: In Everyone Says I Love You, the character you play gets divorced, and as he and his former wife review their relationship near the end of the film, she says, “You could always make me laugh,” and your character asks very sincerely, “Why is that important?” Do you think what you do is important?
WA: No, not so much. Whenever they ask women what they find appealing in men, a sense of humor is always one of the things they mention. Some women feel power is important, some women feel that looks are important, tenderness, intelligence…but sense of humor seems to permeate all of them. So I’m saying to that character played by Goldie Hawn, “Why is that so important?” But it is important apparently because women have said to us that that is very, very important to them. I also feel that humor, just like Fred Astaire dance numbers or these lightweight musicals, gives you a little oasis. You are in this horrible world and for an hour and a half you duck into a dark room and it’s air-conditioned and the sun is not blinding you and you leave the terror of the universe behind and you are completely transported into an escapist situation. The women are beautiful, the men are witty and heroic, nobody has terrible problems and this is a delightful escapist thing, and you leave the theatre refreshed. It’s like drinking a cool lemonade and then after a while you get worn down again and you need it again. It seems to me that making escapist films might be a better service to people than making intellectual ones and making films that deal with issues. It might be better to just make escapist comedies that don’t touch on any issues. The people just get a cool lemonade, and then they go out refreshed, they enjoy themselves, they forget how awful things are and it helps them—it strengthens them to get through the day. So I feel humor is important for those two reasons: that it is a little bit of refreshment like music, and that women have told me over the years that it is very, very important to them.
RL: At one point in Hannah and Her Sisters, your character, Mickey, is very disillusioned. He is thinking about becoming a Catholic and he sees Duck Soup. He seems to think, “Maybe in a world where there are the Marx Brothers and humor, maybe there is a God. Who knows.” And maybe Mickey can live with that. Am I interpreting this correctly?
WA: No. I think it should be interpreted to mean that there are these oases, and life is horrible, but it is not relentlessly black from wire to wire. You can sit down and hear a Mozart symphony, or you can watch the Marx Brothers, and this will give you a pleasant escape for a while. And that is about the best that you can do…. I feel that one can come up with all these rationalizations and seemingly astute observations, but I think I said it well at the end of Deconstructing Harry: we all know the same truth; our lives consist of how we choose to distort it, and that’s it. Everybody knows how awful the world is and what a terrible situation it is and each person distorts it in a certain way that enables him to get through. Some people distort it with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art, and they all have their own nonsense about what makes it meaningful, and all but nothing makes it meaningful. These things definitely serve a certain function, but in the end they all fail to give life meaning and everyone goes to his grave in a meaningless way.