White credits (Windsor font) dissolve in and out over a black screen.
Abrupt medium close-up of Alvy Singer doing a comedy monologue. He’s wearing a crumbled sports jacket and tieless shirt, the background is stark.
There’s an old joke. Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of ‘em says: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know, and such…small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life.
And that’s how I fell in love with Woody Allen. He had me at Windsor font.
This scene comes from the opening of “Annie Hall,” which I saw for the first time in high school. He turned 75 this week, so I thought I’d put together a list of the top five things he’s taught me since my first “Annie Hall” viewing:
1. Therapy is cool.
2. Self-deprecation is funny.
3. Love letters to New York look best in the form of a movie.
4. Sometimes life, and the people in it, suck.
5. Leaving your longtime lover for her daughter is made OK with the simple line, “The heart wants what it wants.” (He actually said this when leaving his longtime lover for her daughter.)
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to meet Woody, and it’s this list I think I’d share with him. I’d probably also tell him I like his glasses, to which he’d reply, “I like yours, too. They look like mine.” I’d probably chuckle like a little schoolgirl and then be too nervous to say anything more. After all, what do you say to Woody Allen? What do you say to the man who’s written over sixty movies and left an indelible mark on the worlds of comedy, filmmaking, and writing? What do you say, more important, to the man who’s already been showered in admiration by fans and celebrities for decades? How could I ever make him remember me?
What follows is a journal entry I wrote on December 14, 2009, which is forever stored in my long-term memory as the night I almost met Woody Allen.
Tonight I saw my hero. I sat in a small restaurant at the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side and listened to him play clarinet for nearly two hours. He walked in, head down, and silently took his seat. He took out his clarinet, put it together gently, nodded at the band, and began to play. And I sat just a few rows from him, tapping my feet and bobbing my head the whole way through.
It’s funny because I know he was right in front of me, but it didn’t feel like he was actually with us. He seemed tired and timid but silently happy (or sad), and I expected this. He was in his own little world, and I wish I could’ve been there with him. He shut his eyes most of the time, and even when he blew and nothing came out while playing “When You Wish Upon A Star,” I know he still heard the music inside.
I feel like I have so much more to say, but sometimes, extraordinary events are hard to immortalize on paper. In any case, I hope I remember this day as one of the most memorable in my life. You always learn best through reflection, so maybe I’ll write more about this in the near future.
It’s almost one year later, and I still think about that night often. It always makes me smile. (Please watch the video. It’ll make you smile, too. I recorded it on my mediocre digital camera, but my battery died so I unfortunately didn’t get to film the whole song.) I left one part out in my journal, most likely because it didn’t make me happy to put down on paper at the time. After Woody left the stage, my friend and I rushed around back to meet him. Fans often do this after he plays at the lounge, so I knew we might have had a chance to actually talk to him. When we made it to the hallway, though, he was nowhere to be found.
“You just missed him by thirty seconds,” a hotel employee said.
The line started playing over and over in my head. “You just missed him by thirty seconds. You just missed him by thirty seconds.” Thirty seconds. Thirty seconds! I wrote him a letter a few years ago and have carried it around with me in the case I ever had an opportunity to meet him, and this was my chance. But I missed him by half a minute.
I think I was more upset than my friend was, so she tried to cheer me up by taking me to eat pizza and pretending we had met him. She said things like, “Oh my god I can’t believe we just met Woody Allen! Wasn’t it great? And remember how he was coming down the steps and he tripped but you were there to catch him?” But I really wasn’t in the mood to play along.
Nevertheless I’m no longer upset, as 1) there are more important things in the world to worry about and 2) I’ve had time to think about it and have decided that maybe it’s for the best. Now the image I’ve had of him in my head ever since I first saw “Annie Hall”—a talented, mysterious, troubled man—will stay intact. In truth, I think I prefer it this way.
But just in case, I’ll have my letter waiting.