On the other side of the computer screen, Woody Allen appears. But this time it's not one of his movies, but (come on!) He greets us and speaks to us, as if he were the protagonist of The Purple Rose of Cairo about to jump into our world. In the background, the (huge) library of his house in New York. When asked about it, he excuses himself, worried, as if he were one of his neurotic characters, stringing together explanations to justify the pile of books he stores: “I don't put them in alphabetical order, so there are hundreds of them and I don't know where they are. I don't know how to locate them, a disaster. So if you ask me to show you a particular book, I have to try to remember where it is.” But here we have come to talk about his book, the comic stories of Gravity Zero (Alliance), which will go on sale on September 27.
Several of his stories take place in the world of cinema, on filming, are carried out by actors, producers or screenwriters... What is autobiographical?
Any. That is grace: to disappear.
There is a story in which a film crew invades a private house, leaving it almost like a bombed-out city.
That's what we do: we go into people's houses to shoot and turn them upside down. I would never allow them to do it in mine, of course. No one in their right mind should authorize a film crew to enter their home, no matter how high the financial compensation. They don't realize what it is, they see it as something glamorous but, ahem, what we do is fill their home with carpenters, workers, electricians, we move everything from place to place, we destroy it, we bring in furniture that they didn't have, we take out the theirs to the garden... By the time they realize how uncomfortable it is, it's already too late.
What is the difference between writing a book and writing a movie script?
What you write for a movie is weaker, honestly, it's a lot of dialogue and the mere stage directions of the scenes, it changes all the time and you don't work on it as much. The actor changes it for you, because he improvises, because he adds his ideas and you change it yourself, in the same shooting, according to the impulse of the moment. So what you write is not very exact. On the other hand, in literature you have to be very demanding and precise. You spend long periods of time thinking about a single word or phrase, for several hours, trying to figure out how to make that sentence work. The really good writers I know spend a day or two polishing up a sentence. It is obsessive work. In the movies, I can just write 'hello! Can I come in?’ and then, through the makeup, the costumes and the conversation with the actors, guiding them in the intonation, in the movement, we will fill that greeting with meaning and connotations. But, in the book, I have to do it only with what I write. Cinema is so much easier!
Where does this idea of chickens as artistic creators come from?
Of things that I sometimes cut out of a newspaper or magazine, news that catches my attention, or that of my wife, and I think that they can give rise to doing something fun with it.
But have you worked with animals in the movies, like in that story?
No, no, I don't like animals! I don't have dogs, cats, birds or fish or anything.
Here, the mice are terrifying. Do they scare you?
They don't scare me, but I don't like them. Understand me, I don't wish you any harm and I would never hurt you, but I don't feel comfortable around animals. I have chosen to live my life without them, it seems easier to me. That way I'll never fall off the horse.
Is humor more difficult in a book than in the movies?
No, it is more difficult in the cinema for a reason: there you have an audience, a group that has paid their ticket, they are sitting and waiting for you to make them laugh. If they don't laugh, they feel bored and cheated and, when they leave, they make you green. While the reader of a book is alone, in his house, relaxed in the armchair, not in a social act. He reads and sometimes he finds something funny but he doesn't have the need to laugh out loud, like the cinema audience, the reader can simply smile or appreciate some detail that stirs him up. Every time the public's response to a premiere drives me crazy, I hide and tremble until I hear them laugh. I feel that it is my obligation, that they have hired me to break the box.
A character from another story is a serial seducer, a handsome actor who breaks all the records of women who pass by his bed and who even has a team of assistants who do the preliminaries with the girls, so he doesn't waste time. How did he come up with it?
Reading Warren Beatty's biography...
It's a fascinating book, an amazing life. Read it and you will realize that some of the details I mention come directly from reality. It's something impressive and enviable, so I wrote a story about that kind of character, exaggerating it to the extreme, of course.
In another story, the swindler Bernie Madoff appears, attacked by, ahem, some lobsters in the restaurant...
Madoff's story impressed me, I followed it avidly through the press, how someone is capable of deceiving so many people in that way and the catastrophic consequences it has, all the lives it breaks. I'm sure there will be readers who will identify with lobsters.
The farthest location in these very New York stories is the Himalayas.
I have never been to the Himalayas and I don't feel like going at all. I don't really like to travel, well, I do like to visit a few European countries, like Spain, France, Italy and England... quite close places. But I am not a great traveler, I have no interest in seeing great landscapes or climbing mountains or having adventures under the sea.
A soldier gives a name to a dish, in another of the stories, and that annoys him. Is it because he has seen some sandwich or stew called Woody Allen?
No. It's just that I go to Chinese restaurants in Manhattan a lot and I'm surprised by how exotic their menus are, all the descriptions and denominations with which they adorn their dishes, as if they were verbal sauces. Some of these letters seem to have been written by a screenwriter. It seemed to me that a short story could come out on this subject.
There is even a car as a narrator, in one story.
It's a car with a brain, one of those that drives itself. What would happen if some criminals put him in the middle of a police chase?
Would the Duke and Duchess of Windsor be good characters for a movie of theirs? Here they appear in a story...
I love the conventions of the Windsors, their enormous elegance, their dignity, their lifestyle and their wardrobe. Knows? I don't know anyone who looks like that, so there I saw something good to tell.
But what do you think of monarchies?
They are fun. They can be a burden to people because they are expensive. But the world without sauce is a rather colorless and monotonous place, the human experience is boring and needs the extraordinary. Monarchies, it is true, are superfluous, and yet they provide us with a series of rituals and very colorful things that greatly amuse the people, the kings and queens, the royalty, the pomp and circumstance. And I don't agree with all that, but I know that there are many people who feel that, thanks to it, they get out of the monotony a little.
Does the Manhattan of your movies exist?
I come from a very culturally shaped generation, our understanding of life was totally shaped by movies. Movies today don't have that impact, but I was a kid in the late 1930s and early 1940s when people went to the movies and that's all they did for entertainment. The screens were huge, the rooms beautiful. There we saw characters larger than life, incredibly brave and really powerful men. To beautiful women who lived stories in a very realistic way, much more realistic than in the theater. The cinema was not real but it created reality. You made your own life into a movie because you wanted to live in a movie. Millions of people around the world have been formatted by cinema in this sense, and their image of cities also comes from there. As a human being, I admit that this, very often, leads to great disappointments in life, which does not always live up to a good script. But it also provided a great escape from the humdrum of everyday life.
The last story could be made into a movie, right?
Yeah, that's a movie, sure. But the film business has changed, human stories are no longer so interesting. In the US, many cinemas have closed and taste is becoming massive.
One of his characters has memory problems and he solves it by taking some miraculous pills...
I thought it would be funny, with the rise of herbal alternative medicines, if someone acquired a prodigious memory, coupled with a hyperactive state, thanks to them.
And yours? Is she going to write more memoirs?
I don't know if I will write more memoirs, I don't think so. My next film will be number 50, I think it's a good time to stop. My idea, in principle, is not to make more movies and focus on writing, these stories and, well, now I'm thinking more of a novel, which would be my first novel.
I imagine it will have a lot of humor because that's what comes naturally to me. But, if I had a very serious idea, I wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing I did in some of my films, the serious calls.
Your 50th film will be in Paris, right?
Yes. It will be similar to Matchpoint, exciting, dramatic and also sinister.