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Woody Allen did a 'Magic in the Moonlight' presser and mostly talked about the meaningless of life

Woody Allen made a rare press appearance for his new film "Magic in the Moonlight," and it mostly involved him talking about the meaninglessness of life.

Woody Allen actually did press for his latest film, "Magic in the Moonlight." Credit: Getty Images Woody Allen actually did press for his latest film, "Magic in the Moonlight."
Credit: Getty Images

Woody Allen doesn’t do press very often, and it would seem obvious — given the last several months — that he would keep that up for his latest, “Magic in the Moonlight.” And yet on Friday there he was, participating with stars Colin Firth and Jacki Weaver in a press conference. Of course, only one journalist has the nerve to even hint — and only hint — at the Dylan Farrow controversy. Allen, of course, avoids it, by talking about avoiding things in general.

“I’ve been escaping my whole life,” Allen responds. “Since I was a child I escaped by sitting at the movies all day long. Then when I got older I escaped into world of unreality by making movies. I’ve spent the last 50 years — something like that — escaping into movies, but on the other side. When I get up in the morning, I go in and I work with beautiful women and charming men and funny comedians and dramatic artists. I’m presented with costumes and great music to choose from and sets. My whole year for my whole life I’ve been living in a bubble. And I like it. I prefer magic to reality and have since I was five years old.”

He doesn’t avoid everything. Any chance to sound off on his grim view of a godless universe is one he takes. What follows are the most hilariously downer bits from the subject that eventually came to dominate the presser. Take it away, Woody:


* “I firmly believe — and I don’t say this as a criticism — that life is meaningless. I’m not alone in thinking this. There are many great minds — far, far superior to mine — who have come to this conclusion. Someone may come up with proof or some example of how it’s not, but I think it is. I think it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. That’s just the way I feel about it. I’m not saying one should opt to kill one’s self.”

* “Every 100 years there’s a big flush, and everybody in the world [that was once there] is gone. And it’s a new group of people, and then they get flushed. This goes on and on interminably, to no particular end and for no rhyme or reason.”

* “The universe, as you know from the best physicists, is coming apart, and eventually there will be nothing, absolutely nothing. All the great works of Shakespeare and Beethoven and Da Vinci — all that will be gone. It won’t be for a long time, but it will be shorter than you think, because the sun is going to burn out much sooner than the universe does.”

Woody Allen directs Emma Stone and Colin Firth on the set of "Magic in the Moonlight." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics Woody Allen directs Emma Stone and Colin Firth on the set of "Magic in the Moonlight."
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

* “Over the years I’ve never written or made movies about political things, because while they have current critical importance, in the large, large scheme of things only the big questions matter. And the answers to those big questions are very depressing.” [Ed. A rare case of Allen engaging with politics is 1972's "Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story," his never-aired PBS short film that mocked the Nixon Administration. Itrecently wound up on YouTube.]

* “I was once on a television panel with Billy Graham and I said, ‘What if when you die you find out that I was right and there is nothing out there.’ And he said to me, quite correctly, ‘I will have still have had a better life than you.’ He was right. I would have had a life riddled with anxiety, doubt, questions. He would have had a life of complete confidence that he’s protected and there’s an after life and it’s great, and he went through life happy and secure.”

* “I feel the grimmest facts are the real facts. You’re born, you die, you suffer, there’s no purpose and then you’re gone forever and ever and ever, and that’s it. Facing that massive, overwhelming, bleak reality, to find a reason to cope with that, I think, is the artist’s job.”

* “I think of two filmmakers: One makes films that are deep and intellectual and profound and confrontational; and the other makes purely vacuous, escapist films. I’m not sure if the one who makes the escapist films isn’t making a bigger contribution than the one who makes the deeper films. You go into a dark room and you’re there for an hour and a half, and Fred Astaire is dancing. It’s like drinking a cold drink, like lemonade on a hot day. You’re refreshed, and then you walk back out into the terrible heat. You’ve been contented for another few hours. The artist can’t give you an answer that’s satisfying about the dreadful reality of human existence. The best you can do is maybe entertain people and refresh them for an hour-and-a-half. And then they go on with the onslaught.”

* "I'm all for illusion. I've done this before in my films. In 'Purple of Cairo," the film is all about the difference between reality and illusion and how much better illusion is. The problem is in that movie Mia Farrow has to choose between reality and illusion. She chooses reality because if you choose illusion, it's crazy, you go mad. So she chose reality and it hurt her in the end. The same thing in this movie. The reality is a marked contrast to the illusion."

* “What I would recommend — this is the solution I’ve come up with — is distraction. That’s all you can do. You get up, you get distracted by your love life, by a baseball game, by movies, by worrying about whether my kid can into private school, if this girl will go out with me Saturday night, can I think of an ending for the third act of my play, will I get the promotion in my office? But in the end the universe burns out. My characters portray this feeling. Have a good weekend.”

Woody Allen's directorial debut was 1969's "Take the Money and Run," which feature gags like him playing cello in a marching band. Credit: Provided Woody Allen's directorial debut was 1969's "Take the Money and Run," which feature gags like him playing cello in a marching band.
Credit: Provided

Bonus: Woody on why he started directing at all

Woody Allen says he never wanted to be a director. “When I started directing films, I was only directing to protect my own jokes. ‘Take the Money and Run’ and ‘Bananas,’ they were just jokes, one after another,” he explains. “I had made a film called ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ which I was just the writer of, and I had them given a lot of good jokes, and they ruined one after the other. I vowed I would never do a film unless I directed it, just to protect the jokes. I had no interest in being a director.”

But he inevitably matured and broadened his scope. “Gradually when you do that for a little while, hopefully you start to develop and try something more ambitious. When I did ‘Annie Hall,’ people said, ‘Why are you doing this? You shouldn’t be doing a movie where you sacrifice laughs for plot.’ But I did it and then I got more ambitious and I was willing to strike out. I was willing to do ‘Interiors’ or fall on my face. It didn’t matter to me. I wanted to grow.”

“Over the years I’ve become pretentious and grandiose, and I see myself wearing a different suit now,” Allen says. “I make a fool of myself more frequently.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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