I’m not political. My interest in politics only developed during the 2016 presidential campaign. The only reason that happened was because of the moral crisis our country was facing and has yet to rebound from. I’m not an activist. Although I admire those who are and do what I can to support them. I often wish I was doing more. But I’m not a joiner—maybe in my next life. Nor do I freely offer my opinions on Women’s Rights or Capital Punishment, even though my heart is clear on both topics.
So, imagine my surprise, when the notion occurred to me after reading Woody Allen’s autobiography, Apropos of Nothing that I needed to do more than write a review— I needed to take a stand.
When the end grew near, I cried. Not because the story is sad— although, a sad tale unfolds in the middle. Humor percolates throughout, in the magical way that can only be achieved by Mr. Allen. I cried out of gratitude that this book managed to make it into the world— it was touch and go for a long time. I’m grateful the material can be read and evaluated personally and privately. And if the reader comes away with a different outlook, or with the same deeper view, well, so be it. Because as the author says…
People believe what is important for them to believe, and each person has his or her own reason, sometimes not even known to him.
I love that. It’s a beautiful reminder to always be open to others and never judge. Observe. Take them and their behavior into your heart; then either embrace them or let them run free. Either way, allow the natural openness of your heart to remain.
Did I go into reading Apropos of Nothing determined to love it? I don’t think so. I want to love every book I read, in the same way “they” say literary agents want to love your book, or theatrical and film directors want to love an actor’s audition. But the end result is never certain. A lot can change in the course of reading. So, I came to Woody Allen’s autobiography with a desire, but no commitment. My desire was to be as open as possible, and to pave that road I steered clear of all reviews or comments pertaining to the material.
My eagerness to read this particular biography had nothing to do with “getting the dirt” on the scandal, which has inundated the news for too many years. Truth is, I didn’t expect Mr. Allen to address the issue. I thought the book would cover only his work as a writer and filmmaker. What I did imagine, however, was a clearer inside track on how this particular writer-director takes nothing more than a glimmer of an idea and transforms it into a compelling tale that reveals a delightful topsy-turvy view of the world. Do I really believe learning about his thought process will help me write like him? No. But I’m always itching to expand the toolbox.
On the toolbox score, I was disappointed. He does manage to touch on all his films and offers bits of fascinating trivia about the making of them. And sometimes he does get specific on what was or wasn’t working with the script, which is where he says all problems with a film arise. But the specifics I ached for were not present. I don’t believe he was holding back. My feeling is the specifics were missing because he does what he does intuitively. Many artists are like this: they create beauty, but are unable to explain how it happens. Throughout much of the book he, himself, marvels at how he ended up moving from one lucky break to the next. It is a magnificent journey to witness. A true inspiration for anyone who wishes to pursue life as an artist.
By the time he was sixteen he was getting paid to write jokes for columnists in the Daily Mirror, New York World-Telegram, the Herald Tribune and Post. By eighteen, he earned triple what his parents earned together. By the time he was twenty, he took Neil Simon’s place as his brother Danny Simon’s new writing partner.
Danny Simon knew more than him. And because he knew the best way to learn was to shut up and listen that’s exactly what he did. What Woody Allen learned under the care of one of his first mentors became an integral part of his toolbox and writing life.
Great straight lines make great punch lines.
Throw out even my finest jokes if they in any way halted or slowed the narrative.
Never to be competitive. Always root for your contemporaries, as there’s room for everyone.
Practical advice like the above is interspersed throughout the book. Much of the nuggets are versions of things I’ve heard before. But when they were highlighted in relation to a particular project he was working on, the advice made a bigger impact.
The one element of Woody Allen’s extraordinary life as a writer and director that resonated with me most is his dedication and faith in the work itself. Since Annie Hall, he’s written and directed a film every year. The word prolific comes to mind, but somehow it feels lacking. (Especially since, I’ve been working on one particular novel for eighteen years— the word mortified comes to mind.) And yet, the more I read, the more my admiration grew for the humble way he has been able to keep his proboscis on the grindstone.
Don’t look up. Work. Enjoy the work…Don’t be outer directed. You know…what goals you are striving for…You have a vision, try to execute it.
Most important, [Danny Simon] taught me to trust my own judgment.
That last one, dear friends, readers and voyeurs is where he hooked me without reservation. Because ever since I began the memoir— the tale of how I came to write my first novel, which is once again in revision— I realize my biggest problem has been my willingness to let outside forces lead me astray. This was never the case for Woody Allen. He has been true to himself from the stories he writes to his love for his family. I fear too many people miss the significance of that, in the same way Jack Nicolson’s character fears people miss the goodness of Helen Hunt’s character in As Good As It Gets.
I might be the only person on the face of the earth that knows you’re the greatest woman on earth. I might be the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing that you do, and how you are with Spencer, “Spence,” and in every single thought that you have, and how you say what you mean, and how you almost always mean something that’s all about being straight and good. I think most people miss that about you, and I watch them, wondering how they can watch you bring their food and clear their tables and never get that they just met the greatest woman alive.
Of course, if Mr. Allen were to read this, he’d not only be embarrassed, he’d probably think I meant to write these bits of praise about one of the many writers he admires like O’Neill, Odets, Miller or Tennessee Williams. I admire them too. But today, I’m with Woody Allen.
If I died right now, I couldn’t complain— and neither would a lot of other people.
When I read the above, I cried and am crying as these words come across the page. The empathy I feel for this man who has been targeted by the media is so huge, there are no words— and oh, how I hate that phrase. I believe him. And I believe he presented the story as objectively as a person involved in such a situation can. I admire his willingness to offer his point of view. And what I admire most is how he was able to move through this horrible moment in his life with more grace and kindness than I’ve ever witnessed from someone under such duress. He never allowed the torment he felt inside to rage outward, either in daily life as people mounted attacks against him, or in this autobiography. His grace, and the kindness and compassion he expresses for everyone he knows, personally and professionally, is an example for all of us to follow.
I’ve often said, if I could rewind my life, one of the things I would do is put myself in the path of Nora Ephron. To witness the small courageous steps she took, one at a time, to transform her life from what could’ve been a heap-of-victimhood into Heroine. Another writer, I would’ve thrown myself in front of a car to meet is Neil Simon. To learn first-hand how to free-fall in the revision process and keep my eyes on the immediateness of the story, and perhaps, to uncover the funny bone that was removed from my body on the assembly line.
But today, I’d sacrifice meeting both Ephron and Simon to spend a day with Woody Allen. To pick his brain on the tapestry of storytelling that is uniquely his own, and to observe the kindness of his enormous heart.