Tennessee Williams on Woody Allen: Shared Memory

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
Via Telephone 
November 1982

Tradition is also memory, and within religion, it is holy. Holy tradition will be held before us like the greatest jewel, and perhaps it is, because it is memory: the shared memory of those who have gone before you, have turned toward you, and are telling you where they walked, what they felt or saw, and are throwing a favor toward you now. A favor of memory. Art makes me comfortable as often as it makes me feel tested or challenged, and with his [Woody Allen] work, I am able to recognize where I am, even as I have no idea where he may now take me. I recognize the vehicle, but the driver is mercurial, so I don’t know what will pass by in the windows. I always feel as if all the radio programs of my childhood were somehow placed within the memories of Allen, residing there with sweetness and resentment and the desire to transform that dingy cloth we call reality with some embroidery. Back they come to me—the songs and the banter and the drama and the urgency to feel connected. 

Woody Allen and Diane Keatin in Annie Hall (1977)

There is very much the comedian within me, because humor, more than anything, protected the delicate queer I was, and I could throw some glitter in a corner with a joke, often at my own expense, and survived another day. Memory for me involves humor, and humor, like breathing and swallowing and walking, gets me going, keeps me alive.  I am old enough to be Allen’s father, but I feel he walked with me, perhaps behind me, finding humor in my awkwardness, but benign for the most part, because he tends to admire the same qualities in women that I do: humor, vulnerability, the handling of words as if they were Zasu Pitts’ coins. I told you that long before I had read any Chekhov—my supposed master—I had learned a great deal of narrative, of structure, from George Stevens and John Ford and Howard Hawks and George Cukor and William Wyler. The cameras of Gregg Toland told me where a character should look with greater alacrity than all the textbooks of writing and the noble short stories ever could. I am a movie man, and so is Allen. Our DNAs are oddly similar, because we have walked the same paths, spread the same glitter, came to the same memories, then turned to share them. In a crowded world, I know that I can find him—his work—and he will understand me, accept me, teach me something. We will break bread together.

Diane Keaton and Richard Jordan in Interiors (1978)

No one is a comedian or a classicist or a tragedian: One is either an artist or one isn’t. One either shares or one doesn’t. One either connects or one doesn’t. One moves solidly within your memory or he doesn’t. Allen is an artist. He walks beside or along or behind me in chronological terms only: When he presents his work, his art, he is right there with me, sharing a holy tradition of memory, and there is no confusion for me as to what he is or what he’s trying to do. We tell our stories. We connect. We throw the memories forward. We are related.

© 2017  James Grissom


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