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WOODY ALLEN UNLOCKS THE DOOR TO HIS ‘INTERIORS'

Like most Manhattan moviegoers in the seventies, I was a sucker for the cerebral, wacky, horny humor of Woody Allen. So naturally I expected to be doubled over with laughter during this 1978 interview with Allen for The Los Angeles Times. Imagine my surprise to find that the Woodman was more Bergmanesque than Ingmar. I may not have laughed, but I did have a fine time. --GUY FLATLEY

 

"I would love to be invisible and stand outside the Baronet Theater,” said the frail figure in faded jeans and scruffy shoes, sitting sad-eyed and boyishly tense amid the splendor of his Fifth Avenue apartment, with its sweeping, storybook vista of Central Park. The reason Woody Allen longs to linger anonymously outside the chic East Side cinema is so that he might eavesdrop on the record-breaking crowds as they stumble forth in a daze from the psychodramatic jolt of “Interiors.” It’s the comic’s mirthlessly naked dissection of familial warfare, artistic impotence and sexual torment.

A far laugh from “Sleeper” or even the muted, bittersweet fun of “Annie Hall, “Interiors” is likely to sever the public into opposing camps—those who find it one of the most courageous and illuminating American films of recent years and those who judge it a pitifully juvenile echo of Bergmanesque angst.

“It would give me emotional security if I knew that people were saying, ‘Here is one picture from a filmmaker who is not interested in mindless car-chasing, pie-throwing exploitation,’” said Allen earnestly.

“Even if they impale me on their logic, even if they reject everything I believe to be true, I want my peers to feel that I have made a movie that is at least about something. In six months, I’ll know if people are saying to their friends, ‘The movie has flaws, but go see it’ or ‘Pass it up, it’ll put you to sleep.’

“It’s too soon to know if ‘Interiors’ will be a commercial success—my pictures never do much business, you know. I’m told that 'Annie Hall’ was the lowest-earning Academy Award movie in history. The last thing I expected to do with ‘Interiors’ was business.”

Allen permitted himself a sliver of a smile. “But people are coming to see it at the Baronet. Maybe it’s because the story is simple, because it has a primitive quality—husband, wife, daughters, a down-to-earth family story. There’s nothing cold or bizarre about it; I believe a guy in a small town can go see it and understand the emotional part of the story. And that may be a very good piece of luck for me, in terms of how well ‘Interiors’ does at the box office.”

A better piece of luck by far than Eric Pleskow, Robert Benjamin and Arthur Krim, Allen’s bosses at United Artists, anticipated when their beloved comedian broke the news that he wished to direct—but not appear in—a strictly-for-tears project.

“When they asked what kind of drama I wanted to make, I said, ‘I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, but the people I admire are Bergman, O’Neill, Chekhov and Strindberg, and I’d like to do something in their ball park.’ ‘You just named all the wrong people,’ they told me. ‘O’Neill never made a dime and Bergman made five pictures for us, not one of which showed a profit. But go ahead.’”

Go ahead Allen did. “I was fully prepared to be ridiculed,” said Allen. “I knew there was a good chance I would make a terrific fool of myself. I was very nervous on that first day of rehearsal, very apprehensive about my bad writing. It’s one thing to send a script to actors and imagine how they sound reading your wonderful lines for the first time, but when you actually hear those lines being read aloud, it’s like taking a cold shower.”

Now that Allen has been showered with warm praise for daring to risk the currents of deep drama, he’s eager to venture into more challenging depths. Before that, however, he plans to frolic in a “knock-down, high-laugh comedy,” just as soon as he wraps up the still untitled movie he’s shooting in Manhattan, a “slightly serious comedy” in which he stars with Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep and Anne Hoffman.

Meanwhile, maybe he can be coaxed into discussing the intentions of “Interiors.” What was he saying about the erudite, emotionally remote father, the fastidious, manipulative mother and their three razor-nerved daughters?

“A major theme in ‘Interiors’ is my feeling about the over-valuing of the artistic personality, my belief that there is too high a premium put on talent in our society. There’s a psychotic drive for perfection, at the expense of human warmth. I do identify with people who have this drive, certainly with Diane Keaton, the poet in the movie, and with Geraldine Page, her mother. Like Geraldine, I have a tendency to do things for aesthetic value, rather than for comfort, for livability. Sometimes I try to be tasteful and disciplined to the point where I’m not much fun. In a more complimentary way, I identify with Maureen Stapleton, who plays Pearl. She is superior to the other characters, despite her manifest vulgarity, because she is a giving, loving person. I must say, I’ve been sort of upset when people say to me that Pearl is the one nice person in the movie and then ask why I made her into such a jerk.”

Allen was visibly upset when told of a conscientious Catholic girl who recently complained about the comic’s conversion to a creed of dark despair. According to her, an artist of Allen’s wealth and stature is committing a mortal sin when he spreads gloom instead of joy.

“Her position is not a truly Christian one,” argues Allen with priestly zeal. “She’s equating fulfillment in this world with prestige, notoriety and finances. My position is the religious one. I’m the one who finds the trappings of success unfulfilling, because there is a deeper need people have to cope with. If this girl had understood ‘Interiors,’ she would know that this is one of the things the movie is saying.

“I’m frequently accused of pessimism,” Allen continued, “and a lot of people thought that ‘Interiors’ had a negative ending. When Diane and Marybeth Hurt embrace at their mother’s funeral, these people say that it is a meaningless gesture, a momentary thing, that a lifetime wall has been built between these girls. But I saw the ending in a more positive way; I felt there was hope for the sisters, that they had arrived finally at a point where they could communicate. You see, I’m the optimist. I’m the one who is against this attitude that says, ‘There are a lot of things wrong with our planet, but darn it, it’s the only planet we have.’ I think we must confront the horrifying aspects of life. We must challenge them, not sweep them under the rug.”