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Design By Humans
Published On: Tue, Aug 5th, 2014

Woody Allen discusses his new film Magic in the Moonlight

MAGIC-IN-THE-MOONLIGHT-posterMagic in the Moonlight, written and directed by Woody Allen is set in the 1920’s on the opulent Riviera in the South of France. It’s a delightful romantic comedy about a master magician played by the delicious Colin Firth trying to expose a psychic medium played by the feisty and whip smart Emma Stone as the fake. Firth’s character plays the magician Chinese Conjuror Wei Ling Soo but very few people know his actual persona. He’s a rather grouchy and arrogant Englishman with a very high opinion of himself and an aversion to phony spiritualists’ claims that they can perform real magic. The film also stars the amazing Marcia Gay Harden.

So you keep cranking these movies out. How did you come up with this idea?

I always did magic as a kid. I started when I was 5. Then I was an amateur magician. I used to practice it and read up on it. I love magic. I am well aware of the history of magic. I started performing tricks as a teenager, and since then magic and magicians show up in my work. Spiritual mediums were all the rage in the 20’s. There were all kinds of seances, people wondering about spirit photographs. The greatest magician of that era, Harry Houdini, attended many seances, debunking every clairvoyant he encountered. Interestingly, Houdini wasn’t motivated by a desire to expose con artists, but by his sincere longing to discover that communication with the dead was possible. Finding so much fraud was a disappointment to him, but at the time of his death, he still held out hope for an afterlife.

Why did you want Colin for the part of playing a Chinese magician and Emma for the clairvoyant?

Colin was the first person I thought of and I was determined to have him. Colin’s character of course required a certain savoir faire. I needed an elegant persona with wit and his character is an illusionist. He’s an illusionist, a type of magician. He’s not a slight of hand artist or a telepathic but an illusionist. He creates illusions.

You set this in the 20’s. Why?

So with the 20’s, your mind for example creates this illusion when you cast something in the past. With the 20’s, you think of flappers, beautiful cars, jazz music and bootleggers. For us now, if you lived that way it would not be so great. But when you reflect back it seems romantic. Your mind creates an illusion when you cast or make something in the past. But now after years, one can soften that time period and make it work, so I do that all the time and that is why I set quite a lot my films in the past.

Why do you think some of your films did better than others?

Well you’re always hoping you’re going to make Citizen Kane or the Bicycle thief. You make the film and for one reason or another it clicks or it doesn’t. But it’s out of your control completely, sometimes the critics like the film and the public doesn’t come. Sometimes the critics won’t like the film and the audiences do but that’s rare. It’s completely spontaneous, one works, one doesn’t, you just enjoy making the one you are making while you are making it. So you are happy when the audience enjoys it and then there is the group that didn’t. If they didn’t I guess I guessed wrong. It’s just luck. All I can offer is a distraction from the grim realities of life.

So back to magic. What did it mean to you as a kid?

It was my escape. I have been escaping my whole life. I would sit in the movie theater all day long. I would slip into this unreality. The other side of this was I then as an adult escaped into making movies. Think of it, it’s a very hot day and you go into the theater with a cool lemonade to watch Fred Astaire dance for two hours, then you go out into the world into reality.

Your early movies like Bananas and Take the Money were so funny, and then you started making some series movies like Interiors?

Well those first movies were just long strings of jokes, just jokes strung together in a movie. I have been making movies now for 45 years and my work represents illusion and reality and represents pain. Like Purple Rose of Cairo and the reality and illusion of Mia Farrows character. Mia had to choose reality. If you have to choose illusion you lose. Over the years I feel I’ve grown in some areas. I feel with making some movies, I’ve made a fool of myself. When I did Annie Hall people said why are you choosing that? If you are doing that you will have to sacrifice laughs for plot. I kept getting more and more ambitious with movies like Interiors. I was willing to fall on my face. I never wanted to give my jokes away like I did with What’s New Pussycat. I was hired as a writer. I gave them so much material and they threw it all away. So I want to always protect my jokes. I vowed after that never to do a film unless I was directing it. But of course over the years I have become pretentious and grandiose.

So you have a sort of futile view of the world?

Given that the grimmest facts are the truest facts- you are born you suffer for no purpose and then are gone forever. Facing that bleak reality, it’s the artist’s job to find a solution. The best idea is a distraction. Life is a grind. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. However, when I get up in the morning I get to work with beautiful women, charming men, funny people, dramatic artists. I am presented with amazing costumes, great music to choose from, I travel to a certain amount of places. I prefer magic to reality. Hopefully I can keep making films and constantly escape into them. My whole life I have been living in a bubble and I like it. I prefer magic to reality and I have been like this since I was 5 years old. It’s the only thing that can save us, an act of magic. Illusion is the only thing that can save us from the plight of the world. We need some kind of act of magic now and unless that happens soon, well we are in a grave situation, so I am obsessed with that subject.

So reality is….

For me reality is a painful grind. It is for everybody and it does not matter if you are rich or poor. I do not say this as a criticism, but life is meaningless. I am not the first person to say this. Lots of brilliant minds have said this also. I felt this early in life and then over the years. It’s just how I feel. I am not saying one should opt to kill one’s self but our future as a planet is grim.

So what is planned for man’s future?

Let’s face it, every 100 years there is a big flush and everybody in the world is gone. Then there is a new group of people, then that gets flushed and then there’s a new group of people. In fact, life’s really one long dreadful existence and then you die. We will no doubt lose track of all the great masters like Shakespeare.

Magic in the Moonlight, directed by Woody Allen and starring Emma Stone and Colin Firth is in theaters nationwide now.

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Woody Allen discusses his new film Magic in the Moonlight