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Getting 'Sweet and Lowdown' with Woody Allen

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Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

Growing up, I was sort of aware of Woody Allen the comic, although my parents were somewhat conservative and weren't big fans of his stand-up. When I got to college, I was introduced to his early comedies and would see them whenever they played at one of the revival houses in Boston or Cambridge.

By the time of his breakthrough film, the Oscar-winning "Annie Hall", I was hooked. Like most fans, I've tried to be true to Woody, trekking out to see the clunkers such as "September" and "Celebrity" as well as the ineffably brilliant ones such as "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Bullets Over Broadway," always finding something in his work.

So I was quite surprised when he made the statement that he has "never been an artist." Well, based on the caveat he averred that "[w]hen you think of who are the artists in film, the real artists, they have a different attitude than I have. They are psychotically dedicated to film, they love it, they're perfectionists, they brook no trifles with anybody. They make a film every couple of years because they want all the money they need to make that film."

Well, by those standards, I guess you could agree. Still, there are many who would rank Allen as one of the most original and literate of contemporary American filmmakers, if not one of the most prolific, making at least one film per year.

"Remember the films I make, they're not very demanding in terms of physical filmmaking," said Allen. "They're not the kind of film that would take two years to shoot. ... They're basically urban films.

"You write a film, and if you're a writer, it takes three months to write something. And then I have eight weeks of pre-production and three months of shooting and you're finished. And you edit and now with the Avid, you can edit the whole film in two weeks' time easily. You edit it, I take my records, I put in the music. The film is over. I turn it over to the sound effects editor and he starts putting in the door slams. Now I'm off. ... Now two weeks goes by, three weeks goes by. I want to work on something. ... And the cycle begins. And just going that way without being a workaholic without finishing something and going in the next room and starting again, you do a film a year. This is not D-Day, waging a war. It's making a movie. It's not that big a thing."

He continued, "People in show business will tell you they're working so hard, [they] have no concept of what a cab driver works at or a guy that's working a jackhammer. You know, a guy with a real job, who comes in every day of his life and works eight hours on a job. In show business, the work is so easy, I mean, the hours are so good and the work is so comparatively easy and you're so pampered, I don't consider it a big accomplishment, it just isn't. No matter how much it seems you're working a lot, you're not."

For actors, there is a certain cache in appearing in an Allen film (not to mention great buzz and the possibility of an Oscar nomination). The hyphenate is cognizant of this but offers a very plausible explanation.

"I think it's only this. Only that there's so much junk around, and these wonderful actors and actresses get offered so many car chase and special effects things and horror movies that the scripts of normal people talking, grown-up people talking, with either a comedy or a romantic problem or a serious problem of some sort are so rare for them, that they want to do it. They want to do this for no money at all because the 10 scripts they have waiting for them at home are all, you know, infantile, adolescent. Not even adolescent. Infantile."

In fact, Allen has a cadre of regular actors with whom he works, although casting director Juliet Taylor always has an eye out for up-and-coming talent such as Samantha Morton, who plays the mute Hattie in "Sweet and Lowdown" starring Sean Penn and Uma Thurman.

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