Since the #MeToo movement, his once celebrated film “Manhattan” has emerged as the archetypal work of male-chauvinist art, a byword, for some, for everything that’s wrong with Hollywood and the patriarchy. “The grown women in ‘Manhattan’ are brittle and all too aware of death,” Ms. Dederer wrote in her essay. The piece was titled: “What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?”
.. “Manhattan” practically seems pre-engineered to provoke debate in the post-Weinstein world.
Most glaring is its portrayal of a sexual relationship between a divorced 42-year-old TV writer named Isaac (Mr. Allen) and a 17-year-old high school student named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). No characters in the movie seem very troubled by the ethics of the affair, nor did many critics at the time.
.. Ms. Hemingway: In her 2015 memoir, she wrote that Mr. Allen developed a real-life crush on her after filming and wanted to take her to Paris. She told him she wouldn’t go after she realized they wouldn’t have separate bedrooms
.. “‘Manhattan’ was always about a middle-aged man with a high school girlfriend. Back then, ‘Manhattan’ was made by Woody the Lovable Neurotic Nebbish, and now it has been made by Allen the Monster. And it’s the same movie.”
.. For years, quoting lines from “Manhattan” or another film by Mr. Allen on a date could be a romantic litmus test, a way to find out if a potential partner also loved E. E. Cummings, Paris, 1930s jazz and the sophisticated, cultured world the films often came to represent.
You’ve been interviewing people for more than 40 years. What do you think that’s taught you about yourself?
That’s hard. I’m not exactly sure I can enumerate what I’ve learned. It’s like you’re slowly being changed every day by doing this job. I have learned, though, that everybody is insecure and everybody is troubled. Even incredibly talented people have deep insecurities. Maybe this is perverse, but I find that idea comforting. It helps me cope with my own stuff.
.. I’m probably just revealing my own neuroses here, but it sure seems that when people are presented with two pieces of information — one negative and one positive — the negative one almost always gets a lot more attention.
That’s exactly my problem.
So if somebody said to you, “Fresh Air is my favorite thing to listen to,” and then said, “Well, yesterday’s show wasn’t the best.”
Stop right there. I would totally dismiss the “favorite thing to listen to” part. I’d think that was just their way of cushioning the blow that yesterday’s show was terrible. They’d just come up with a false opening to be nice about how bad yesterday’s show was.
.. Do you have to be weird to be the kind of interviewer you are?
You don’t have to be weird. I think what you have to do is really believe, as I do, that the interview serves a function.
.. What’s the function?
.. John Updike on this. In his memoir, Self-Consciousness, which I really love, he said he wanted to use his life as “a specimen life, representative in its odd uniqueness of all the oddly unique lives in this world.” That’s kind of how I see interviews. When you’re talking to an artist, you can get insight into the sensibility that created his or her art and into the life that shaped that sensibility. I love making those connections. I think we all feel very alone. I don’t mean that we don’t have friends or lovers but that deep at our core we all have loneliness.
.. And want connection.
Yeah, we want connection and sometimes when you’re talking to an interviewer who you trust, you can speak in a way that’s different than the way you talk to friends. You can reveal more. Not always, but sometimes.
.. But if I am aware of allegations, I can’t not ask about them. And in that circumstance, the guest is unlikely to tell me the truth and we’re all likely to be very uncomfortable and feel as if something is going unsaid. So rather than create that situation, I’d prefer to just not do the interview.
.. Along those lines, did you have any qualms about interviewing Woody Allen?
That interview was before the allegations that he’d abused his daughter. But I did ask him about Soon-Yi. .. I didn’t want to just say, “So, you married your daughter?” I kind of asked around it. I knew that he doesn’t talk about it or at least he didn’t at the time, so I just did this question about if he thinks it’s fair to judge somebody’s work based on their life. Needless to say, he didn’t think it was.
.. People think when you interview that you talk a lot. Actually, I listen a lot. I talk very little. Listening sounds like it should be easy, but it’s not, because while I’m listening, I’m also thinking ahead. I’m thinking, Is this an interesting answer? If I was editing this answer what would I be editing out and what would I be keeping in? Because if I’m going to ask a follow-up question, I need to know if the listeners have heard what I’m following up on. So I’m thinking all that, and I’m also thinking, Is this interesting enough to follow up? If so, what is the follow-up? Or is this something I should just say, “Time to move onto another subject.” I’m also thinking, What’s that word on the tip of my tongue? And then I’m thinking, Oh, my producer laughed. That’s good. Or, My producer looks bored, that’s not good.
.. I started doing interviews because I had initially wanted to be a writer and by the time I was in college, I gave up on that. Then there was this kind of creative void that I had no idea how to fill.
.. But as somebody who’s shy, radio gave me an opportunity to engage with people in a forthright way without it being about me. Once I had a microphone, “Why would you talk to me?” became “Now I have a reason to talk to you and you have a reason to talk to me. So let’s talk.”
.. maybe people who knew me could trust me to keep a confidence. And I do think people thought of me as somebody who played fair. The other thing that prepared me to be an interviewer was being an English major. When you’re reading fiction, you’re becoming the narrator of the story.
.. It’s an act of empathy.
Yeah, you’re imagining living that person’s life and that’s part of what you do when you interview somebody. Part of the preparation is thinking, What’s it like to be this person? And then when you’re talking to the person it’s like, Wow, that person lived through that? Let me make some calculations about what that could be like, and ask them questions based off of how I’d feel if that happened to me.
.. I think what changed their minds about my job — and made them realize it was an actual thing — was when I was still in Buffalo at WBFOIn the early ’70s, after a mercifully short stint as a public school teacher in Buffalo, Gross was able to land a job at the city’s WBFO station, where she produced programs on public and women’s affairs, as well as the arts. Chief among them was a three-hour daily magazine program, This Is Radio, and the feminist-focused Womanpower.. [NPR’s] All Things Considered .. was a new show back then, and it went on the road to develop stories that had a local angle — I did one of those stories when it came to Buffalo. Having a story that aired on a national show and that my parents could hear — that made them think, Oh, her work exists!
.. Once they realized I hosted a show and earned a genuine salary, they were thrilled but in terms of answering your question — I committed, you know? I wanted it so badly that I just devoted myself to it.
.. And you were determined to hold on to it.
You could criticize me, you could insult me, you could mock me — it was all right, just let me keep doing the job. Because I was an English major, I loved to read and dissect what was being said and why it was being said and think about the language being used. Interviewing fit so many of my needs.
.. when you interviewed Quentin Tarantino around the time of Django Unchained.
I really wanted to know his position on cinematic violence! When that movie came out, the Sandy Hook shooting had just happened, and Django Unchained was this incredibly violent movie — Quentin Tarantino’s stylized kind of violence .. It’s kind of glorying in the violence. And I wanted to know if that violence read differently after all those children were killed by a gun. [Tarantino] interpreted that, I think, as meaning, “It’s your fault, Quentin Tarantino.” Which I didn’t mean at all. It disappointed me that he got testy about it and took it as moral judgment of his movie, as opposed to an opportunity to reflect on an issue that was staring us in the face.
.. People are always projecting things. They’re hearing things that weren’t said or projecting meaning that was not intended and, perhaps, not even implied. I’ve gotten both insults and compliments for interviews I’ve never done. What can you do? There’s no way of controlling what people think. I do have a bullshit detector and it’s something I’ll use, but I do think I try and be empathetic to everyone I interview regardless of their politics.
.. Can empathy be learned?
I’m not so sure. I think you can learn to be a better listener and to focus better, but some people are just naturally not attuned to others. Even if they’re listening, they’re not picking up on the emotional meanings. I don’t know that you can teach emotional understanding.
.. I wish I could’ve asked my parents more about how they felt about dying. It’s the kind of question I ask guests, but my parents would wave me away if I tried to talk about that subject with them. I think they were trying to spare me, but also that maybe they didn’t have the language to talk about death. I don’t know. They were children of Eastern European immigrants who grew up without the language of psychology and philosophy. My father, I’m not sure he ever read a novel. There’s a certain kind of introspective language he might not have had access to.
.. How do you feel about dying?
I’m not afraid of it. What I’m afraid of is pain. I’m really afraid of suffering. I’m afraid of being trapped in a hospital incapacitated.
.. But the prospect of not existing isn’t scary to you.
No, it’s not. I also don’t believe in a literal heaven and hell. I don’t think that there’s going be an accounting and I’m going to be sent to a place where I’m burning in flames.
.. Unless it hurts.
Then I’d be very afraid.
.. one of the things I’ve learned how to do on the air is make people stop talking. Some people can go on for seven minutes without a breath. At some point, you have to interrupt them and explain, “This is radio. We need to take breaks. We have to have, say, two-minute answers, or else we’re only going to be able to ask about three questions.”
.. Are there any similar ways in which your job bleeds into your daily interactions?
Well, it’s made talking to people easier. I used to be really shy and now I feel like I can talk to anybody. I know I can ask questions that will help me find common ground. I can navigate to the place where me and another person can have a real conversation.
.. Sometimes I feel like people want the experience of being interviewed. But off the air, I like to be not the interviewer. I want to engage with the person I’m talking to on an equal level.
.. What I like is to have a genuine back-and-forth: Here’s how you feel, here’s how I feel. Here’s my reaction to you, here’s your reaction to me. That’s as opposed to just “tell me more about you.” In an interview, I like to hang back. It’s not about me. If I made the interviews about me, we’d be talking about the book I read that day, because that’s how I spend all my time — preparing for the show.
.. So I had to buy a car — this was the ’70s and or maybe the early ’80s — and I wanted to hear the car’s radio and make sure the speakers were good. So I was trying out a car and I tuned into WHYY, where Fresh Air was then a local show that I hosted, and the guy who’s selling me the car says, “Oh, I know that station. You know that lady in the afternoon? That really annoying lady?” And I said, “Oh, uh, that’s me.” And he smacked his head and went, “I’m never gonna be able to sell you the car now.”
.. I used to think of myself as nondescript. Outside of being short, I’m not the kind of person who is visually memorable. I don’t mean to disparage myself, but some people are striking because they’re so beautiful or they’re so tall and I’m short — it’s easy to not notice me. To be noticed when you don’t think of yourself as being noticeable is a little spooky.
.. You’ve said before, in various places, that all the prep time your job requires means you’re not the best at cultivating friendships. But I wonder if talking with people every day for Fresh Air satisfies some of the needs you might otherwise have for emotional connection.
.. Have you learned any reliable tricks over the years for how to salvage an interview that’s tanking?
Sometimes if somebody’s like a little too low-key, I find myself maybe talking faster to compensate, Like, Match me up here! Match me louder and faster!
.. Does that actually work?
[Laughs] No, I don’t think so. What I’m really trying to do is find the person’s comfort zone. Some people are great on craft — the process of writing, the process of making the film. Some people are great on anecdote. Some people are great on biography, their personal story. So I’ll just keep looking for that spot.
.. I can’t argue that every interview I do is interesting. Sometimes we don’t run interviews because they’re boring or confusing. You don’t want to hurt the interviewee’s feelings but your first responsibility is to offer something interesting to your audience.
.. my job has had a bad effect on me physically. I’m either reading, screening something, listening to something, or talking to someone. It’s a sedentary life. I’m proof that you can hurt yourself by sitting and reading. I have back issues. Sitting’s also probably not good for your heart. I don’t have heart problems but when people talk about, like, aerobic exercise, I just stare at them blankly: “I’m sorry, what?”
.. I don’t have children. I can’t say that was a sacrifice. I didn’t feel called to have children. I know I’ve missed out on something special but I couldn’t possibly have done my job and be a parent. The show is premised on me preparing at night for the next day’s interview. Doing that with children would’ve made me a terrible mother. When I was growing up it was unheard of to not have children and if you didn’t have children, it meant that there was something physically wrong with you. The women in my neighborhood were full-time mothers and that’s not the life I wanted. So I went completely in the opposite direction and I’m not sorry. I made a choice about what I wanted and I’m glad I did.
Woody Allen is making a new movie. Just kidding: He doesn’t make new movies. What he’s editing now, “A Rainy Day in New York,” about a college-age love triangle, could, like any of his movies, instead be titled “A Woman Gets Objectified by a Man.” This, in his view, is the pinnacle of art, its truest calling and highest purpose.
.. I’m the first person to read Allen’s collection — the Woody Papers — from cover to cover, and from the very beginning to the very end, Allen, quite simply, drips with repetitious misogyny.
.. never needed ideas besides the lecherous man and his beautiful conquest — a concept around which he has made films about
.. His screenplays are often Freudian, and they generally feature him (or some avatar for him) sticking almost religiously to a formula: A relationship on the brink of failure is thrown into chaos by the introduction of a compelling outsider, almost always a young woman.
.. Allen did lodge a complaint about the Weinstein moment, warning the BBC about “a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer.” He seems to believe that coworkers wink at each other all the time.
.. And here is a riff he wrote to caption an imagined photo of the Spanish socialite Nati Abascal, who worked with Allen in “Bananas”: “Could she act? Yes, I learned and especially in her defense. She blocked my [hand] as I reached for her thigh and brought her knee up sharply into my groin as we discussed show business. . . . I pulled a contract out of my pocket and we both signed, but not until I told her about the sexual obligation that was a part of the job of any actress who worked with me.”
.. goes on: “I came to appreciate her body for what it was as time went by, namely, a girl’s body. . . . Soon she got used to my ways. Aware of my position as father figure on the set (a director is just that) I allowed her to come to me with her problems. When she never showed up, I came to her with mine.”
.. Allen seems to see the function of women in his life as their begging to be a part of it — even outside the sexual realm.
.. But wait: Allen creates wonderful roles for women! Well, sort of. The fact that his work has earned so many women Academy Award nominations and prizes for acting — Penélope Cruz, Rebecca Hall, Mariel Hemingway, Diane Keaton, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Dianne Wiest — is a nesting-doll joke: His trophies have trophies. Allen used Keaton and the others the way Harvey Weinstein used Meryl Streep: an Oscar lure shiny enough to blind aspiring acolytes to his darkness, though some of them recognized that darkness and decided to participate anyway.
.. In many ways, Allen frustrates people because he seems to relish dancing on the edge of the outrage
.. More than that, he seems not to care about bettering or changing himself in any way. He lives and thinks and creates as he did in the 1970s, nearly a half-century ago.
.. the tragic inception of his current marriage, which began when he started a sexual relationship with his then-girlfriend’s teenage daughter (now his wife of two decades). As he later described the affair: “I was paternal. She responded to someone paternal. I liked her youth and energy. She deferred to me.”
The film, which centers on the sexual machinations of powerful men, reeks of impunity. Like so many of Louis’s standup jokes that purport to skewer the grossness of men, it could only have been made by a person confident that he would never have to answer for the repulsive things he’s long been rumored to have done, let alone be caught
.. Before China can take his advice, she is noticed by Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a famous director in his late sixties whose taste for very young women is as legendary as his movies.
.. The only generous way to read “I Love You, Daddy” is as a portrait of male cowardice. What kind of man would be so shamefully pathetic as to avoid confronting the famous geezer who may or may not be screwing his underage daughter because that geezer has offered to read his latest script?
.. Louis .. likes to play losers who are at the mercy of others. Often, those others are women. It’s hard not to wonder, in the wake of Thursday’s revelations, to what extent Louis has used this persona to shield his reputation.
.. “Doesn’t society have to protect her?” .. . “Society?” she responds. “You mean you?”
.. Leslie is a stand-in of sorts for Woody Allen, and the movie, which was shot (shoddily, it must be said) on black-and-white 35-mm. film, is a pastiche of Allen’s “Manhattan” style
.. Must we believe the terrible things we hear about artists we admire? Louis is asking. And, if we do believe them, must we do something about it?
.. young women are more likely than not to be careless and foolish, and to bring trouble and disgrace on themselves—China has to be an empty vessel, an absolute airhead with no sense of self and no mind of her own. Her attraction to Leslie wouldn’t be remotely plausible otherwise; she would see him for what he is—ridiculous—and laugh him out of the room. In the end, it is China who makes herself absurd. She is the one who throws herself at Leslie, not the other way around, and so it is she who ends up rejected and humiliated. Leslie glides away in his Moroccan slippers with his integrity intact.
.. the film’s final point where women are concerned: stop flirting and mooching and get to work, because, if you don’t have to depend on men for money, they can’t control you, or harm you, or fuck you over.
.. The women in Louis’s film come in three flavors: the
- Shrew (Helen Hunt, her mouth pursed into a furious line, as Glen’s bitter ex-wife); the
- Seductress (Grace, with China in training); and, saddest of all, the
- Supporter (Edie Falco, as Glen’s long-suffering producer, and Pamela Adlon, as Glen’s tough-talking ex, a supporter in denial).
.. He wants them to work for a living, just like he has. Like so many Fathers of Daughters, I guess, he’s counting on them not running into dudes like him on the job.
.. the antidote to “I Love You, Daddy” is Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” a movie about teen-age girls that is actually interested in them as people.