Voices in Conversation
Thanks to the generous access he’s had and considerable time spent talking with Woody Allen across four decades, author Eric Lax has produced three insightful books about the prolific writer/director, with a fourth – Start to Finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking, covering 2015’s Irrational Man – coming this October. One period of juncture between the profiler and his subject, covered in Lax’s 2007 Conversations with Woody Allen, captures the filming of Allen’s serious-minded, poetically pitched Another Woman (1988), starring Gena Rowlands as a mature academic who must grapple with the realization that although she has perceived her life as smartly accomplished, well-managed and efficiently benign, that’s not how others see her, and what’s more, her long-repressed pain and sadness over avoided paths and loosed bonds is uncontrollably rising within her. Lax writes: “By the end of the script, [Rowlands’ character] Marion can no longer escape her past and her feelings, as she has for all her life. ‘I was past 50 now,’ she says, ‘and it was time to leave certain notions behind.’ Woody was 52 when he wrote the script. As I read it, I can’t help notice what to me are parallels between Marion’s feelings and his own that he has described to me over the years. Although he almost always denies that there is a directly personal aspect to the characters he creates, when I ask him about Marion he answers, ‘I put all I felt about turning 50 into Marion. It took me at least a year to get over it.’” The film uses the motif of voices, inner voices utilized in character narration and the yearning voices of psychiatric patients unburdening themselves in the office next door to the unit Marion rents to do her scholarly work; despite her efforts to shut them out, they invade Marion’s psyche and compel her to focus in on the troubling plight of an anguished pregnant woman (Mia Farrow, then actually expecting her and Allen’s son Satchel), awakening the regrets over the person she might have been. Allen told Lax: “The metaphor for me at the time seemed that she was a cold woman who didn’t want to face up to anything bad in her life, or didn’t want to hear anything bad and avoided everything and finally she came to a point where she couldn’t avoid it anymore and she was starting to hear it coming through the wall. It was the kind of drama that interested me, that kind of odd, poetic, metaphoric drama. It was hand to handle. I did the best I could with it. I had such a great actress in Gena Rowlands, and Ian Holm [as Marion’s disaffected husband] was tremendous in it.” A rich company of actors surrounds Rowlands: Philip Bosco as Marion’s first husband; Gene Hackman as a passionate ex-flame pressing for a renewed commitment; Harris Yulin as her downbeat brother and Frances Conroy as his fragile wife; Martha Plimpton as her empathetic stepdaughter; John Houseman (in his last film) as her overcritical father; and Sandy Dennis as an actress friend who unearths shocking long-time resentments. Behind the camera for the first of four Allen assignments is long-time Ingmar Bergman collaborator, the great two-time Academy Award®-winning cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who, Lax notes, coached Allen on the precise balance between shooting actors vs. shooting the total frame. At the center of it all is the remarkable Rowlands, to whom the Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert paid tribute in his laudatory review: “Allen is introspective, considerate, apologetic, formidably intelligent, and controls people through thought and words rather than through physicality and temper. Rowlands now mirrors that personality, revealing in the process how the Cassavetes performances were indeed ‘acting’ and not some kind of ersatz documentary reality. To see Another Woman is to get an insight into how good an actress Rowlands has been all along.” With Allen’s latest film Wonder Wheel in post-production for unveiling later this year, the illuminating conversations between the 81-year-old moviemaker and his audiences continues while Another Woman arrives April 18 on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. Preorders open April 5.