Review Of Woody Allen’s Memoir: Apropos To Nothing
Recently I went through a bit of a Woody Allen movie kick. Then I got interested in seeing if he ever wrote anything so I read Apropos to Nothing. Apropos to nothing, indeed; I was thoroughly disappointed. Unfortunately I can’t make authors write what I want them to write about, but I can try to explain why I didn’t like this book. After watching about half a dozen of Allen’s movies, available on Amazon Prime, I thought I would enjoy a longform written piece by Woody. I enjoyed his movies more than I thought I would and a major reason is because I thought they featured a lot of emotionally mature characters. Since that is rare and led me to believe he had some kind of education or insight into the human condition, I wanted to know more of how he got there.
I was hoping to discover a little bit about how he was able to make his movies but sadly, he mentions absolutely nothing about how he came to write this or that about a movie. He seems to be the type who finishes something and then is done with it forever (a failing of G.K. Chesterton as well). That’s practical, but for someone like me who likes explanations of things and deeper analysis, I was let down by Woody’s own disregard for his creations. I wanted to know how he made a character so mature about dealing with a cheating girlfriend in “The Irrational Man” (and dozens of other examples of emotional maturity I’ve seen in his movies). I want to know how and why people come to learn about life and how they are able to extrapolate their observations into understandable things the rest of us can learn from.
But as Woody often mentioned in his memoir, he is no intellectual. I wish he were! I wanted his memoir to be an intellectual history of the man, not a “here’s what I did when I was this age, or, here’s someone I met and spent time with, and then I went to this city, and then I did this, then that, then this again.” I wanted to know what he was doing that made him think of writing “The Irrational Man” or “A Rainy Day in New York.” He was not willing or capable of telling us how he does what he does, and that’s the biggest loss for me from his memoir.
I also didn’t care one iota about his stuff with Mia Farrow, but he devotes a lot of space in his book to what went on and how he is innocent. Yeah, yeah, he’s innocent, I’m not reading this because I care about scandals or cancel culture, I am reading this because there is something to his movies that I haven’t seen anywhere else and I want to dig at why this is. Anyone reading this book in a hundred years wouldn’t know about the scandal but they may know his movies and wish for insider information since it wouldn’t be possible to have a conversation with him. But Woody is an atheist and doesn’t care about his legacy or anything that goes on once he’s gone.
I don’t want to be too harsh on this book, after all, I am an admirer of his films, but I cannot in good conscience recommend anyone to read this book. I simply don’t know what you would gain from it except for what he doesn’t say. I also don’t recall him talking about or addressing how weird it would seem to people that he is married to a woman much younger than him, that would seem to devote more space than the Mia Farrow incident. Then again, I guess a lot of Hollywood types do this and never offer an explanation. It’s an unusual thing and I think unusual things demand explanation, especially if you are going to write a memoir about yourself. Memoirs and autobiographies that don’t bare all seem to me a waste of time and space. This is your one chance to lay things down and spill out your soul, to examine your life and the events in it. Woody spent some time describing his youth (I yawned, a lot) but insisted nothing special happened, and certainly nothing did that we will ever know of because he was unable to examine what could have been moments of change that produced an interesting film career.
Mark Twain wrote an interesting essay on the turning points in his life that led him into the career he had. Although it’s been a decade since I read it, I remember the essence of the thing and how interesting he had made such reflections on one’s own life be. Another few examples of the kind of memoirs I like are Memoirs of a Superfluous Man by Albert J. Nock and Clio and Me: An Intellectual Biography by Martin van Creveld. In both memoirs the authors explain with great thoughtfulness their intellectual development. To me this is one of the most interesting things about human life, our development in thought. It is certainly something most readers would be interested in and I’m surprised there isn’t more talk from authors how they learned certain truths about life. It has been one of the great disappointments in my reading career to learn so little from the biographies and memoirs of authors how they were able to develop their minds to produce the works they did. The book is one of the few mediums available to us to be as longwinded as necessary to get our point across, to deep dive into the recesses or our minds and figure our personal reality out.
If you have ever read any stellar or outstanding memoirs I’d be interested in learning about them in the comments section.