Woody Allen sticks to writing, directing routine 

Perhaps old dogs can't be taught new tricks, but many veteran directors are learning to adapt in a Hollywood where sequels, remakes and treatments of popular comics are very much in season.

This fall, Stephen Frears, 69, will unveil his first take on a graphic novel, the romantic comedy "Tamara Drewe," before tentatively laying the groundwork for a remake of his 1984 thriller "The Hit."

Oliver Stone, 64, has returned to "Wall Street." And, at 67, Martin Scorsese is busy directing his first 3-D fantasy — next winter's "Hugo Cabret" — and planning a sequel to "Taxi Driver."

Yet Scorsese's fellow New Yorker Woody Allen, who works outside the Hollywood system by necessity and has produced a movie each year since 1982, is comfortably married to the same routine that has served him well since his 1966 debut, "What's Up, Tiger Lily?"

"I started out as a television writer, for a show that was on live every week," says Allen, whose new drama, the wryly comical "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," opens today. "You didn't have the luxury of coming in and waiting to be inspired. You came in and you wrote, because you had to. So I can do that. It's not always good, but I can get something on the page pretty frequently.

"I always write with a yellow pad and a ballpoint pen, on my bed. I go into my room, I take a walk, I take a shower, and eventually I write. Some things come out well, some don't. When it works, I type it up afterward."

Allen rarely minces words. He describes his experience with the screenwriting process as "wracked with anxiety" — the exception was 2005's "Match Point," which, he says, fell into place magically — and that "Tall Dark Stranger," in which two discontented married couples retreat from reality into increasingly dysfunctional fantasy lives was typically grueling.

"You always start off thinking you're going to make 'Citizen Kane' or 'The Bicycle Thief,' the greatest movie ever made, and by the end you're just praying that people will sit through it," he says. "You end up compromising all your lofty ideas — you're in a battle for survival."

In this battle, Allen, like Shakespeare, contemplates characters whose personal dramas make them seem trivial. "They're all running around, hurting each other, making mistakes — it's chaos. But in the end, after a hundred years, everybody on earth along with them will be gone. And after all the ambitions, aspirations, the plagiarism and adultery, what was once so meaningful won't mean a thing. It's all sound and fury, and it means nothing."

 

IF YOU GO

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

  • Starring Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Gemma Jones, Anthony Hopkins
  • Written and directed by Woody Allen
  • Rated R
  • Running time 1 hour 38 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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