Famed Filmmaker Woody Allen Bares His Comedic Soul at Weill Cornell
Woody Allen doesn't find his own movies to as funny as the rest of us do.
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That's what he humbly told an audience of nearly 200 Weill Cornell Medical College students, faculty and staff during the famed filmmaker, actor and writer's appearance at Weill Cornell last month.
"I've always had a dim view of all my movies," he said. "I could really nail them all to the wall. I can only see where I screwed up or where there's weakness or where I failed. I'm thankful there's an audience for them because otherwise I'd be running an elevator somewhere."
|Woody Allen speaks at Weill Cornell Medical College
All photos: Amelia Panico
Wearing a pale blue shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, dark corduroys and his iconic black-rimmed glasses, Allen showered his audience with comedy and humility during his hour-long talk in Griffis Faculty Club as the fifth speaker of the Readers and Writers series. For as much as he's famous for his films and stand-up comedy, he's also an acclaimed playwright and author.
He started off by reading, "A Prestige Address," a short story that he wrote for fun and never submitted for publication, about a posh co-op in Manhattan that was haunted by Hollywood's greatest legends. He then opened the floor to questions on any subject, from what he considers the funniest movies — those from Charlie Chapman, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers among them — to the experience of delivering stand-up.
"Stand-up comedy is a harrowing thing to do. I was always terrified," he said. "I would wake up in the morning at 9 o'clock knowing I was going on at The Blue Angel at 9 at night and I was terrified from the minute I got up all day because you are alone on stage. There's something in that particular dynamic where you are alone and you're facing the audience and you're communicating with them and, I don't know what it is but it's a terrifying thing."
He revealed that he usually has specific actors in mind when he writes his screenplays, and adapts the character if those actors are unavailable. He originally pegged a New York kind of actor, like David Krumholtz, to play Gil Pender in the 2011 film "Midnight in Paris," but when Krumoltz was unable to take the part, Allen rewrote the character to fit Owen Wilson. The movie went on to win an Oscar for best original screenplay and be nominated for best picture and best director at the Academy Awards.
Allen confessed that writing comedies come easily to him, but he's always wanted to write dramas like Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams.
"I can be funny but I want to be the other," he said. "I want to do 'Death of a Salesman,' or 'A Streetcar Named Desire.' I don't want to do what I'm doing. I can just write funny stuff, but I can't do the other thing as well. It doesn't come as easy for me. I don't have the confidence or the rhythm, and since I want to do it so much, it has such value to me, I try and I try and it's much tougher sledding." Allen's upcoming movie is a drama, "Blue Jasmine," set for release July 26.
The Readers and Writers series, established by Dr. Anna Fels, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell, seeks to broaden medical students' access to the humanities. Now in its second year, the series has brought famed authors Jonathan Franzen, Jamaica Kincaid, E. L. Doctorow, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee and now Allen to Weill Cornell.
"These famous writers' works expose the medical students to a wide, vivid array of human stories which, I hope, serves to balance the intense focus on narratives of illness during their training," Dr. Fels said.
Matthew Goodwin, a fourth-year medical student who will head to the University of Utah's academic health care system for a residency in orthopedic surgery this summer, can attest to the importance of humanities in medicine. He finds that doctors-in-training who are in tune with the arts are the same people who can look at a problem creatively, finding new therapies or solutions.
"I actually think that keeping the arts in medicine is critical to keeping creative people in medicine, which is nearly impossible," he said.
As per the sit-down with Allen:
"I thought he was awesome," Goodwin said. "I thought the Q & A was priceless."
May 1, 2013