Woody Allen: A Rainy Day Eventually Finds Its Way

August 4, 2020
We spoke exclusively with the legendary New Yorker on the eve of the Rainy Day in New York release in Australia.

Woody Allen’s films have encompassed topics like murder, suicide, ephebophilia, depression and the Holocaust, so it comes as a surprise that his most controversial movie in recent years is a lighter-than-lightweight soufflé about young people having adventures on a Rainy Day in New York.

Of course, it’s not the movie that’s proving divisive so much as Allen himself – specifically the allegations that he abused his seven-year-old daughter Dylan in 1992. Public interest in the matter was re-energised in the wake of the #MeToo movement and Dylan Farrow’s public comments on her father, which had a direct impact on the fate of Rainy Day in New York: filmed in 2017, its US release was cancelled by Amazon Studios, who financed the $25 million production.

After much negotiation, the movie has gradually found its way on to screens around the world, where it has been particularly embraced by post-COVID audiences starved for new entertainment – in May 2020 it became (reportedly) the highest-earning film at the global box office.

Rainy Day in New York is being released in Australia on August 5 via Home Entertainment. That’s almost three years since the last Woody Allen picture, Wonder Wheel, an unusually long gap for the writer-director. Allen, who is nothing if not a survivor, is clearly keen to help his new distributors get his film out there – presumably why he’s tub-thumping on the PR circuit more than usual, including doing an interview with FilmInk.

Yep, that’s right, one of the greatest (and most polarising) filmmakers of the last hundred years spoke to our humble mag over the phone from New York, where, like much of the world, he has been sticking close to home.

What did we talk about? The weather, of course. We weren’t going to ask him about Dylan.

“It’s hard to do rain in movies,” Allen said to us. “It’s hard to light. If you have it coming down softly, it’s very difficult to do that. So, when you see rain in movies it’s almost always torrential because you can’t light it any other way. We had to make the rain stronger because you wouldn’t see it. It’s very hard to do a scene where it starts to rain – that’s tough to do in cinema.”

A Rainy Day in New York tells the story of a college couple, Gatsby (Timothée Chalamet) and Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), who plan a romantic weekend together when Ashleigh gets an assignment from the school paper to interview a celebrated film director (Liev Schreiber). Both wind up having a series of comical adventures with a variety of characters, including a screenwriter (Jude Law), his ex (Rebecca Hall), a movie star (Diego Luna), the younger sister of Gatsby’s ex-girlfriend (Selena Gomez), and a prostitute (Kelly Rohrbach). It all takes place over – you guessed it – a rainy day (well, 24-hour-period), in New York.

The film is an ultra-light entertainment set amongst the upper rich, where the settings are plush, relationships are fluid, pop culture references lean to the 1930s and no one works too hard – a little in the vein of Allen’s earlier A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Alice or Magic in the Moonlight.

Rain has been a recurring motif in Allen’s work over the years – Owen Wilson extols its romantic virtues in Midnight in Paris, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansson have hot sex during a torrential downpour in Match Point; Juliette Lewis even played a character called Rain in Husbands and Wives.

“Rain is something that has been in my movies,” Allen told us. “But it’s not a symbol of romance for many people. Many people find rain not romantic – they don’t look at it like I do. I think they’re annoyed by it. I think most people, if you ask them for what makes a romantic atmosphere, they think about getting up in the morning on a beautiful spring day, or going to the beach, or being out with the birds and the trees, rather than being in the rain. I take a more cosmopolitan point of view. Walking the streets of New York in the rain, it’s very beautiful, very pretty. Maybe not so much if you’re standing in it and don’t have an umbrella,” he added. “I don’t mind getting wet. Most people don’t.”

This love of precipitation was formed at a young age. “Rain was great when you were a kid,” said Allen. “Rain meant you could go to the movies. You were frequently sent to the movies because there was nothing else to do in the afternoon.”

We asked Mr Allen if he had a rainy sequence in films that made an impact on him, and put on the spot, he volunteered up Battle Circus (the 1954 Humphrey Bogart movie) and Kurosawa’s Rashomon, both dramas. “Most of the movies I like are not romantic,” he admitted. “They’re mostly European art movies – The Grand Illusion, Amacord, The Seventh Seal.” He did have a fondness for the rain-less Roman Holiday (“that was very romantic”.)

FilmInk admits at this point in the interview (to be honest, the whole interview) we badly wanted to ask whether Woody Allen had seen Hard Rain with Christian Slater (seriously, that question throbbed in our heads the whole time for some reason). But we resisted the temptation and inquired if he had a particular routine for himself when it was a rainy day in New York. “Very often I always look out the window for a while,” he said. “If I’m home it’s great to walk the streets with my wife or by myself. I like to walk in Central Park in the rain. Normally it’s full of people, running around. When you go in the rain it’s a very beautiful thing – nobody is there.”

Allen has particular memories of going to Central Park Zoo when it snowed. “You’d be around all these zebras and monkeys with snow coming down in New York. It was very surreal and beautiful.”

We’re not likely to see A Snowy Day in New York any time though – Allen says he dislikes filming in snow as “it’s a pain in the neck because it quickly turns to slush and people have to truck their way through it in boots.”

Keeping on the weather theme, talk turned to wind and the seasons. “The windy days in New York are great if you’re indoors,” he said. “Nothing is cosier than being indoors and hearing the wind blow. It is a nightmare to go out in – some of the worst weather are the very windy days. It’s only fun if you’re safely in the house.

“The great time for New Yorkers is the fall,” said Allen. “The weather is clean and crisp and cool. You can walk places and don’t drop dead from the heat – and the humidity is low and the leaves are turning beautiful colours. It’s a very lovely time of year. People relish New York for September, October, November, then it starts to get a little on the cold side.”

(An aside: That’s how Woody Allen talks in interviews, by the way – in a steady, constant stream. He’s clearly an 84-year-old man (he has a hearing aid) but there’s also a tenacity and strength underneath the way he speaks. The best way FilmInk can think of to explain it is that we once bought a work suit off an eighty-year-old Italian man in Brisbane, who kept constantly moving and talking throughout the whole process (“the two button is the best”, “you want to think six years from now not six months”, etc), as if he were afraid once he stopped talking and moving, he would die; he always listened, answered my questions, did a good sales pitch, and was very confident in his world view – a very old, but lively man. Talking to Woody Allen was similar to that – you sense that no matter what happens in his life, whether it’s what his family thinks of him or the fact that some actors who’ve appeared in his movies now publicly condemn him, he’s just going to keep on going no matter what. That’s how he’s managed to survive. End of aside.

Rainy Day in New York features a stellar cast, with scenes often stolen, as they tend to be in Allen movies, by the supporting cast. FilmInk particularly enjoyed the performance of Ben Warheit, who plays an annoying friend of Gatsby, and in real life is a key writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “I didn’t know him,” said Allen. “I didn’t know his name. He came in to audition and he was just wonderful.”

With its bright young cast, quippy script and rainy Manhattan, Rainy Day in New York reminded FilmInk a little of the Norman Krasna play Sunday in New York, which Allen saw “as a Broadway comedy many years ago.” The 1964 film version starred Australian Rod Taylor which brought conversation around to the various Antipodeans who Allen worked with over the years including Cate Blanchett (“wonderful”), Judy Davis (“one of the best actresses in the world”), Radha Mitchell, Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts.

“I was surprised by the amount of enormously efficient actors and actresses that came out of Australia,” said Allen. “A surprising amount of really high level people.” Allen admits that Australian cinema only really came on his radar in the early 1980s, when films from the revival started penetrating the New York art house cinemas. “I remember Breaker Morant,” he said. “There were a couple of movies that came out for a while, movies Judy Davis did like High Tide and My Brilliant Career. Here in New York they were all considered real art movies and we were all taken with them. They were impacting American movie making. They were quite wonderful – there was a cluster. Now there’s nothing from anywhere,” he said, referring to Covid.

“I’d love to visit Australia,” he said after inevitable nationalistic prompting from FilmInk. “I dread the lengthy plane ride. I had a friend Frank Buxton, now deceased, he was in the original stage production of Bye Bye Birdie in Australia – he loved it over there. (Buxton toured Australia with the musical in 1961, a time when Americans were routinely imported to star in big stage musicals; he later co-wrote and did redubbing work on Woody Allen’s directorial debut, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)).

“I’ve worked with these Australian actors and actresses – they have a vibrant community that I’d love to visit,” said Allen. “I’d need an occasion to do it, though, like making a movie or having a play done in one of the Australian cities. I might have an idea in Australia.”

Woody Allen down under? Stranger things have happened. We don’t get much rain, though.

A Rainy Day in New York is available on DVD and Digital on August 5, 2020.

Picture Credit: Woody Allen pictured with DOP Vittorio Storaro on the set of A Rainy Day in New York

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