NEW YORK — It’s a torrid summer day in New York, but the lobby of a well-appointed Park Avenue building has an immediate cooling effect, its hushed marble corridors keeping the heat at bay through the sheer force of good taste.
Down a side hall, a sign on a nondescript door reads “Manhattan Film Center,” and behind that door lies a room crowded with FedEx boxes, bursting file cabinets and the banal detritus of creativity’s business end. The only clues pointing to the identity of the occupant are a “Mighty Aphrodite” poster, a book about Fellini and a khaki bucket hat that sits on a bookshelf, waiting to be joined with a pair of equally iconic black eyeglasses.
Penelope Cruz and Woody Allen open the Los Angeles Film Festival with the premiere of their latest movie, 'To Rome with Love,' and talk about Cruz's sexy role.
And then, there they are — the glasses and the quiet, soft-spoken man behind them. Woody Allen beckons a visitor to join him in a big, sparsely furnished room painted chocolate brown. “I was looking for a screening room to screen movies for pleasure,” he explains, settling into one of the room’s green velvet club chairs. “I didn’t want it at my house because I figured people would never leave. So I put it here. And then I found that I could actually edit [in] a room next door. So it’s great — we edit the film in there, put it on screen, look at it, hate it, and bring it back in there and re-cut it. That’s the procedure.” The word “procedure” comes out as “pro-cee-djuh,” drawn out at the end in Allen’s familiar Brooklynese.
There’s something about Allen’s office — its jumble of clutter and luxury, set in an elegant but understated building just blocks from where Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese live — that embodies some of the very contradictions that animate his life and work. His movies are sophisticated but unpretentious, populated by big stars but produced on modest scales and budgets. Allen himself enjoys all the privileges his wealth and celebrity status accord but hews to a relatively unprofligate lifestyle, preferring sports events and his weekly clarinet gigs at the Carlyle hotel to the more soignee rituals of boldfaced New York.
Even the most notorious episode of Allen’s private life — the revelation in 1992 of his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the then-20-year-old daughter of his former romantic partner Mia Farrow — has taken on the contours of a stubbornly unresolved paradox: a scandalous violation of societal and familial norms, but one that has resulted in a lasting marriage, two children and a comfortably stable, sedate home life.
At 76, Allen is relaxed and in good shape, dressed in uniform-like khakis and matching beige button-down shirt. A few hours from now, he will join stars Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin and Greta Gerwig for the New York premiere of “To Rome With Love.” The film — an omnibus of four intercut stories that take place at the same time in the title city — co-stars Jesse Eisenberg as a young architecture student, Roberto Benigni as a man who becomes an overnight reality TV star and, for the first time in six years, Allen himself. He plays a retired opera producer who, when he arrives in Rome to meet the fiance of his daughter (Alison Pill), discovers a gifted tenor who can sing only in the shower.