Knock on Woody
The Big Apple may have gone sour for Woody Allen in his private life, but the city continues to inspire his ﬁlm-making. He talked to Nigel Floyd about Manhattan Murder Mystery.
One of the oddly reassuring things about interviewing Woody Allen is that, when he walks into the room. he seems so familiar. Wearing khaki trousers and a blue jacket over an open-necked white shirt. he’s instantly recognisable as the slight. nervous guy you’ve seen in all his movies. from the early Take The Money And Run and Sleeper. through the great mid-period New York movies Annie Hall and Manhattan. to the more recent serious ﬁlms such as Crimes And Misdemeanors and Husbands And Wives. For other, more personal reasons, his face was especially fresh in everyone’s mind when I met him in London back in August. having been plastered all over the media during the acrimonious custody case precipitated by his affair with wife Mia Farrow‘s 20- year-old adopted daughter Soon-Yi.
Surprisingly. given the troubled emotional context in which it was conceived and shot. Allen's latest ﬁlm. Man/rattan Murder Mystery. abandons the angst-ridden complexities of his last few movies. returning instead to the farcical. lightweight comedy of his most popular work. In fact. it is the closest he has come for some time to making what the fan in Stardust Memories might have called ‘one of the early. funny ones’. Also contributing to this feeling of deja vu are actress Diane Keaton and co- screenwriter Marshall Brickman. with whom Allen has not collaborated since Annie Hall and Manhattan. Indeed. he explains, his new ﬁlm has its creative roots in the early drafts of the Oscar-winning Annie Hall.
‘Marshall was always involved in this particular story because Manhattan Murder Mystery started out as Annie Hall.‘ he laughs. ‘In the original version. Diane Keaton and I went into the movie after an argument. and after we got out. we bought a newspaper. some bagels and things. and then we went home. When we got into the elevator, there was another couple there. and it turned into a murder mystery. But at the time I thought. “Do I really wanna do a murder mystery? Is it substantial enough to spend a year of my life on?“ But we liked the characters a lot. so we used them and wrote Annie Hall instead. Every three years or so. the urge to do this ﬁlm would emerge. and I‘d say I'd rather do something more challenging. and put it away again. Friends would say, “The Maltese Falcon is a murder mystery and it's a great movie, and Double Indemnity; it's crazy to think that way." And ﬁnally
it bubbled to the surface so many times that I felt I wanted to do it.‘
In the ﬁlm. literary agent Larry Lipton (Allen) and his wife Carol (Keaton) share an apartment block with chatty, elderly neighbours Paul and Lillian House (Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen). When Lillian dies of a heart attack. Carol is puzzled by how cheerful her bereaved husband seems, and convinces herself that he committed the murder. Larry dismisses this as a fantasy brought on by watching Double Indemnity on television. but having persisted , with her one-woman investigation. she uncovers evidence that persuades their mutual friend. bachelor writer Ted (Alan Alda) to help her with some more amateur sleuthing.
‘l have definite, annoying claustrophobia, but I also have agoraphobia because, if I find myself in a vast place, I get a feeling of panic. I need a certain middle perspective.’
Keaton‘s ditzy. neurotic portrayal of Carol is well
. suited to the frenetic comic style, as is Allen's use of the busy. hand-held camera technique he employed to : advantage in his last ﬁlm. ‘When I made Husbands
And Wives.‘ says the innovative director. ‘I thought. 1 wouldn't it be interesting to make a movie where you i don’t have any respect at all for conventional i compositions or cutting. where only the story and the 5 characters count. So I just gave the cameraman the f camera and I told the actors to play the scene and go I where they wanted to go, do what they wanted to do. I I told the cameraman to try and ﬁnd who‘s talking at i the time. and if someone else is talking. go ﬁnd them. l It‘s a very liberating way of shooting. and it also ! gives it a vitality and a nervous quality which worked i very well in that ﬁlm. So when I did Man/rattan
Manhattan Minder Mystery: ‘a neat plot and plenty of snappy one-liners’
2 Murder Mystery. I thought I would do some of that again.‘ l One wonders whether the reception of this, Allen's l most accessible ﬁlm for years, will be helped or f hindered by the scandal surrounding his break-up ? with Mia Farrow and his love affair with her adopted daughter. It would be sad if it slipped away as the 3 result of an adverse reaction to Allen’s private life. because it is exactly what his fans have been asking 9 for - a straight comedy with a neat plot and plenty of i snappy one-liners. It also contains the usual jokey references to Allen’s many phobias: trapped in a lift i with Carol. Larry has a panic attack, a reference to Allen's own claustrophobia. Yet a few moments ago. Allen was saying he loves New York because he has a problem with open spaces. Was that not . agoraphobia? ‘l have both.‘ he says. smiling. ‘lt's the funniest thing. I have deﬁnite. annoying claustrophobia, but I also have agoraphobia because. . ifl ﬁnd myselfin a vast place. I get a feeling of panic. l heed a certain middle perspective.‘ Allen says he coped with the stress of the court case by upping his physical ﬁtness regime. trying not to J get obsessive about the attendant media attention. 5 practising his clarinet and continuing with his regular i Monday nightjazz sessions at Michael‘s Bar in
Manhattan. But did he think the fall-out from the f custody hearing had affected the public‘s perception
of him and his ﬁlms? ‘I don't really know what people‘s perception of me
5 is. I would hear, for instance. in years gone by. . people saying, “We loved your ﬁlm, it was so great.
it was so wonderful". but when I looked at how
. many people came to see it. it wasn‘t many. People
3 have said to me at times. after I’ve gone two or three pictures in a row getting really sensational reviews in 5 America. “Jeez. you get those kind of reviews and do
that kind of business" — meaning small — “what‘s gonna happen ifyou get anything less than teniﬁc reviews? Nobody will come at all." '
Man/rattan Murder Mystery opens at the Glasgow Odeon and Cameo, Edinburgh on Friday 2/.
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18 The List l4—27 January I994