On my way to SW19 to catch a few tennis stars practicing for the Wimbledon Championships on Sunday, I detoured to South Kensington to visit the Royal Albert Hall, where one of the biggest names on the planet, Woody Allen, was appearing with his jazz band that evening. My intention was to try and catch him in person or failing that, leave a drawing for him to sign. I gave myself a window of an hour. I had a letter written and a stamped-addressed envelope already to go. What I didn’t have was the sketch. I had plenty of tennis players but I had left Woody on the drawing board. Bugger.
So, not for the first time, I quickly looked up an image on my phone and did this literal two-minute scribble. The concert notes said there would be no set list and the band would go with the Woody flow, described as ‘an energetic collection of improvisation’ …a bit like my drawing.
Woody was labelled “a treasure of cinema” by Roger Ebert, but jazz has been his lifelong passion, playing clarinet from an early age. Apparently his stage name is based on the American clarinetist and Big Band legend Woody Herman. A regular on Monday nights for the past 40 years at the upmarket Cafe Carlyle on Manhattan’s Upper East side, Woody and the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band have been part of the fabric of New York since the 1970’s. When he won his first two Academy Awards in 1978 for writing and directing ANNIE HALL, Woody was not present at the ceremony. It was Monday, 3 April and he was playing jazz. His priority may also have something to do with his dislike of awards and he’s on record saying ANNIE HALL was not his favourite film, which also picked up Best Picture.
Anyway my hasty and rough rendering made it to Woody, as the kind gentleman at the stage door desk promised, because it came back signed and dedicated in two days.
Allan Stewart Konigsberg is the infamous jazz clarinetist playing small venues in Manhattan, in particular a regular Monday night slot at the Caryle Hotel. He is also known as Woody Allen, often cited as one of cinema’s ‘treasures’. He describes himself as a “militant Freudian atheist” after 37 years of psychoanalysis. In August 2009, Woody was shooting his fourth London based film.
At that stage untitled, but released in 2010 as You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger at the Cannes Film festival. Even though is his a serial Oscar nominee (23 nominations and 4 wins) he has constantly refused to attend the ceremonies or acknowledge his Academy success. His one and only appearance was unannounced, when in 2002 he turned up and made a plea to producers to continue to make their films in New York after the 9-11 attacks. It was followed by a short montage of New York clips and a standing ovation.
One of my favourite DPs of all time is Vilmos Zsigmond – the Hungarian-American cinematographer.
The International Cinematographer’s Guild placed him as one of the ten most influential cinematographers in history. An exponent of the technique of ‘flashing’ or ‘pre-fogging’ which exposes the negative using small amounts of controlled light to create a muted colour palette. Nominated on four occasions, he won the Academy Award in 1977 for Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I found out that they were using a number of exterior locations around the Paddington area. On the fourth of August, 2009 I followed a Panovision truck heading into a quiet residential area called Cumberland Square. Bingo.
I did a very quick sketch of Woody and Vilmos and spoke to one of the techs about the Panovision Panaflex Millennium XC cameras with the primo lenses (not that I have an obsession)…
Oh yes, and would it be possible to meet Vilmos? He said he would see what he could do. A break for lunch and a lucky break for me. I got to meet one of my idols, he signed my sketch and I asked him if he could get Woody to do the same. I left it with him, and about an hour later a production assistant brought it back, signed.