Woody’s Hollywood Echoes Real Life

Woody Allen | Debra Messing | Billy Campbell  

Woody's Hollywood Ending Echoes Real Life

Say this for Woody Allen: his movies have always reflected something going on in his real life.

Annie Hall was about his relationship with Diane Keaton. Husbands and Wives mimicked his messy domestic life with Mia Farrow. Now, Hollywood Ending has its own parallel story.

In the movie, which premiered in New York last night, Woody plays a director who can’t get along with his cinematographer. The man is fired, which is a problem because the movie they're shooting is in deep trouble.

In real life, Woody fired famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler after less than a week of filming Hollywood Ending. The weird thing is, he couldn’t possibly have known that life would imitate his film when he was writing it.

"There was just a meeting with Woody and Haskell where [Allen] was saying, 'Let’s shoot something this way,' and Haskell would say, 'Let’s not,'" said a source on the film.

In Hollywood Ending, Allen — as a down at the heels director — fires a Chinese cameraman who leaves with his translator. In real life, Allen worked with Zhao Fei, who he’d admired from Raise the Red Lantern, for three films: Sweet and Lowdown, Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Small Time Crooks. The German cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff replaced Wexler, and gives Hollywood Ending a yellowish tint quite different from Woody’s other recent movies.

But Allen pokes a lot of fun at himself in Hollywood Ending, much as he did in Stardust Memories. I won’t spoil the punch line of the film, but you’ll get a kick out of it when you hear it.

At the after-party I asked Woody whether he would consider any anniversary re-releases of his films, a la recent reissuings of E.T., Apocalypse Now and Amadeus.

"First of all, it's up to the distributor. I don't know who owns them all, so I can't say," Allen said.

But when pressed for an answer, he seemed to get a mischievous glint in his eye.

"Shadows and Fog," he said — one of his least popular, most difficult-to-understand films, which features an amazing performance by Kenneth Mars as a magician. It's a lost classic.

DreamWorks will release Hollywood Ending on May 3, and Woody will start filming his spring project with Glenn Close, Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs a month later. In between, Hollywood will open the Cannes Film Festival.

Last month, Woody made a breathtaking first-ever appearance at the Academy Awards, during which he performed a little stand-up and showed the country what he and New York are made of. It was a great moment.

For years, Woody made his films with the now-defunct Orion Pictures. He had interludes with Miramax, Tri Star and other distributors, but now he's settled with DreamWorks. Studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg came to the premiere last night, and I have to give him credit. Woody is uniquely gifted, and it’s great that he has a home where he feels comfortable enough to experiment and create.

TV's Gracious Grace

Many of the stars of Hollywood Ending turned out last night as well, including Will & Grace actress Debra Messing, George Hamilton, Tea Leoni and Treat Williams.

Messing is a doll, and gorgeous in person. She's in a huge hit sitcom, but its success hasn't affected her. "I have no assistants, no help, nothing. It's just me," she said. 

Well, it's just her and her husband, who she's been with for 11 years. Next month, after Cannes, the couple will take a month off.

"No phones, no faxes, nothing. I turned down the chance to play Viola in Twelfth Night at Shakespeare in the Park this summer,” she told me. “It broke my heart, but it would have ended on August 18, and I would have had to go right back to Will & Grace the next day.”

Why do I like Debra Messing so much? She actually volunteered to write this column if I take a few days off this summer. Will she come through? It was just nice of her to volunteer.

Once and for All for Once and Again

Once and Again star Billy Campbell told me last night that his ABC drama is "dead."

"That's it, it's finally over," he said. There had been reports last week that ABC told the producers to keep the sets up after the last show was filmed. There was a flurry of activity, and fans thought they had a chance to save the show. But it is over, Campbell says.

So what's next for Campbell (who, by the way, is a lot taller than you might think)?

"I'm thinking of doing a play on Cape Cod this summer," he told me while holding a copy of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man. "Why not? It's not a bad place to go."

Campbell also told me he's thrilled for the success of Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly. The two co-starred many eons ago in a failed Disney film called The Rocketeer.

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