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Like most New Yorkers, especially those who have lived here since Woody Allen’s heyday, I have strong and conflicting opinions about our fallen darling. 

 When I arrived in Manhattan as a Barnard freshman in the fall of 1978, it soon become clear that I had entered Woody territory – or that my classmates and I, at least, aspired to be part of that New York. We scoured thrift shops for Annie Hall vests and porkpie hats, and strolled along the East River, eyes roving for recognizable movie locations. Woody’s off-hand references to our new acquaintance with Nietzsche or Tolstoy allowed us to elbow each other at movies – ‘look, we get it, we’re insiders now.’

 The Columbia guys were even more brazen in their ownership of Woody. Walking through the quad with a would-be suitor on the way to “Everything You always Wanted to Know about Sex”, the Woody wannabe attempted the “so we’ll kiss now and then we’ll get it over with ” scene from Annie Hall. Unimpressed, I ignored it with teenage indifference.

 With my first real boyfriend who was a faux-mellow Southern California surfer, I transformed from aspiring to be a character in a Woody movie to serving, in a transgendered way, as a surrogate for the Nebbish King himself.  The surfer provoked my newly minted urban identity. He claimed that I was “at two with nature”. I started to say things like “I don't respond well to mellow, I have a tendency to ripen and then rot.” I even adopted a snobby attitude toward California though I hadn’t been west of New Jersey.

 When the surfer unsurprisingly dropped me for fellow Angelena, I fell into a depression of Allenesque proportions.  I attempted to divert myself by checking off the list of things that make life worth living from the end of ‘Manhattan’ (…Groucho Marx, the apples in Cezanne, Louis Armstrong…) Shuffling around in a ratty sweater, I drank gallons of coffee at the Hungarian Pastry shop while dividing the world into the Allen philosophy of the horrible and the miserable. (Life can be divided between the miserable and the horrible. The horrible being, terminal cases, blind people, crippled. And the miserable being everyone else.)

In other words, my whole coming of age was suffused with Woody Allen.  Not only because he was so incredibly smart and prolific and funny. But to a Jew from Queens, he was one of us.  He snuck in obscure yiddishisms, (my miskite – ‘my ugly one’ in Love and Death). He made absurd references to mainstream culture – the loaf of white bread that he pulls from his shopping bag when he is undergoing his religious crisis in ‘Hannah and her Sisters”,  (Wonder bread being what Goyim eat – Jews are more rye and pumpernickel types), his persistent references to Nazis as the measure of all that is evil and depraved. Woody took what was essentially a minority stance, a particularly nebbishy one to boot, and popularized it to the point that mainstream culture worshipped him. Ah the sweet, vicarious success of someone who wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have him penetrating to the heights of cultural desirability. What naches!

 So okay some of his work kind gave us pause – so waspy in ‘Interiors’ but he came back with all kinds of delights – ‘Purple Rose of Cairo’, ‘Zelig’ and so on. He was still my hero to the point during the ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ era, when he and Mia Farrow sauntered, hand and hand, into the biennial at the Whitney, I felt the blood drain from my face, my legs wobble, my breathe grow shallow. I could barely grab a furtive glance in their direction and before fleeing to another gallery.

 And then the creepy now all too familiar scandals broke with Sun Yi, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, the child molestation trial (He really can’t be a child molester, can he?) In the meantime, I married a self-described German Woody Allen who moved to New York to become a Jewish intellectual, made a few short films of my own, tried futilely to launch a not very funny feature and landed up as a producer for German Public TV of all places.

 As Woody’s star faded, I gradually stopped looking forward to the next release.  In the last few years, I barely scanned the reviews and then when I did it was to confirm my own sense that like my youth, the best of Woody is behind us.

 That is, of course, until one Monday in early December when I answered my cell phone on line for check out at the Upper West Side Fairway.  A producer colleague in Germany was on the line, “Can you interview Woody Allen Wednesday?”, she asked, her own plans to come having unraveled.

 “Yeah I think I can make some time to interview Woody Allen,” I said with faked nonchalance. My adult cynicism rapidly receded as the inner teenage Woody fan made her comeback.

 Life in New York was once again viewed through the lens of Woody’s New York. I noticed the matron standing behind me on line making exaggerated eye contact with her husband while nodding my way. Clearly I was another New York ‘character’ aka nut – I was back in Woody’s world.

 The next two days were a blur of preparation – darting off to screen the new film, ‘Match Point’ at the distributors, hiring a crew, despairing at what to wear. The movie itself was almost besides the point. An engaging diversion drained of any New Yorky Woody-ness. Jonathan Rhys Meyer and Scarlet Johannsen tear into juicy if somewhat stock roles as social climbing lovers but knowing that I’d get to discuss it with Mr. Allen, I, of course, ‘loved it’!

 Wednesday arrived together with a list of no less than 40 questions for the 20 minute interview.  How to translate “discuss please the sex scandal that wrecked your relationship with Mia Farrow ” into something that I could actually formulate in my own mouth? I also had to cope with the “how does it feel to be a dinosaur in the age of the blockbuster” question, and perhaps, the most trying of all “Given your popularity in Europe, you must surely feel like a European filmmaker now?” I’m to ask the ultimate New Yorker this question? It took me all morning to make the questions remotely presentable.

 By now I’m in that weird underwater state where everything feels weightless and at the same time slowed down and laborious.  My German crew - cameraman, Peter and sound guy, Wolfgang, and I arrive an hour early to set up the lighting and count the minutes until the big moment. I regal the Germans with my insider knowledge (see above) as we case Woody’s well worn screening room trying to figure out where to set up.  Since we don’t imagine that we’ll get any b-roll (those shots of people doing things like talking on the phone or walking down the street), we opt to have Woody cross the room, to make the most of Woody’s non-talking time.

 At precisely 1pm, I see the familiar figure, a small, wirey man, his head hanging down, his gaze to the floor lurking by the doorway. I jump to attention, waiting besides the camera to introduce myself and stay out of the picture for as long as possible. Woody, his expression, tired,shy but not unfriendly slips into his seat. He looks much younger than 70.

 “Do you want me to sit here?” It’s the famous, unmistakable voice, the Brooklyn no-nonsense accent, the same unpretentious manner as my 3rd grade Hebrew school teacher.

 I nod. I realize that the interview will start without a handshake and a quick introduction. I’m unnerved but dive right in.  We start by discussing “Match Point”. His answers are long and serious, punctuated by expansive stretches and loud yawns. When I am able to follow up with questions of my own formulation, I notice that he, in turn, becomes more animated.  He actually makes eye contact with me when we get around to Jonathon Rhys Meyer.

 “Did you intend to make him a morally ambivalent character?” I sneak in my own question.

 “Oh, no,” Allen replies, “Jonathan brought such passion to the role that he inserted that ambivalence himself. I thought the character’s behavior was terrible but I went with what he brought to the screen, He is such a charismatic actor.” 

 In the midst of our first real exchange, Allen’s cell phone rings. Remarkably to me, he answers. 

 “I’m on tv now, I’ll call you back,” Allen hangs up and says, “My wife. She likes to check up on me all the time.”

 I gulp. I will now have to ask the Mia Farrow sex scandal question which I have edited down merely to “scandal that ended your relationship”.  I sputter out the question to which Woody says without malice, “I don’t answer personal questions.” I bravely blame it on the German producer and we go on to discuss death.  Because interviews with people like Woody Allen are so hard to come by in the German TV world – and in most places really - I also need to get some sound bites for his obituary reel. This is something that newsrooms do when things are quiet. Not exactly something that I want to advertise to Allen who has made his fear of death the punchline of so many of his greatest lines --

 I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happen

 I don't believe in the after life, although I am bringing a change of underwear.

 I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying

 His assistant stands in the back waving at me like an umpire, indictating in the broadest gestures that our 20 minutes are up. So I get off one final question – if you were to script your own death what would it be – I’m waiting for an incredible one liner –

 And he says simply that he wants to die in his sleep then he got up.

 I am tapped with the task of getting an autograph for the German producer and decided that it was time to get one for myself. So I told him how much I loved ‘Match Point’, when what I really wanted to say was that his movies from the 70s and 80s have been an enormous  presence and influence through out my life. But I do get to tell him my name and ask him to autograph the book to me and my German Woody Allen mate. He does it with great politeness. And then he walked out of my life.

 The highlight of my15 year producing career, a tiresome but necessary nuisance in the life of the famous filmmaker.

 And that was it. For the first time in my career, I actually went to the post-production video house and made copies of the entire interview. My German producer colleague thought he wasn’t funny enough but my family loves it. There is one 3 to 4 second moment when I cross frame and pop into the picture like big bird according to my 8 year old. My brother has photographed the frame – so there you have it, Woody and Me.

 I realize now that Woody is so much a part of my life as a New Yorker that I had to end with my favorite Woody Allen line which so truly summarizes my own take on life that I almost assume that I made it up. It’s the joke that Woody tells at the beginning of ‘Annie Hall’ –

 “Two old ladies in the Catskills are complaining about the food – one says, the food here is so bad, and the other agrees, adding, “yeah and the portions are so small.”

 Ever since my interview with Woody, I’ve been feeling like the portion just got a little bit bigger.