Woody Allen expands his world past New York, all the way to Europe

He’ll always have New York.

Woody Allen is, after all, the quintessential New York filmmaker, having set and shot the majority of his nearly 50 movies as a writer, director and actor there. He’s the man whose 1979 comedy, “Manhattan,” opens with a loving montage of the city and the lines, “Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion.”

He’s made more movies in Gotham than many directors will make in their entire careers, including the wry romance “Annie Hall,” the novelistic drama “Hannah and Her Sisters,” the whimsical show-biz satire “Broadway Danny Rose” and the bleak Bergman homage “Interiors,” to name but a few.

And yet the 78-year-old Brooklyn native has also quipped that he always wanted to be “a foreign filmmaker” — and he’s largely realized that dream over the course of the past decade.

Allen has made eight of his last 10 films in picturesque European locales — including London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona — and enjoyed a late-career renaissance in the process.

His newest movie, the breezy 1920s-set comedy “Magic in the Moonlight,” found him traveling to the South of France to tell the tale of a famous magician (Colin Firth) called on to debunk a spiritual medium (Emma Stone).


Practical and financial imperatives have no doubt played a part in Allen’s grand tour of Europe, where he has been warmly received by audiences and investors.

But Eric Lax, the author of “Woody Allen: A Biography,” also offered a more philosophical take on Allen’s recent travels and still-prolific output. Allen, he said, thinks of his movies as amusements, or distractions from the unpleasantness of reality.

“He has devised an alternate reality,” Lax said, “or by now close to 50 alternate realities, in the stories he writes and is able to live in for the better part of the year it takes to make a film — by which point he is on the hunt for the next escape.”

Whether he’s shooting in New York, Europe or elsewhere, Allen is sure to give the setting a few glamorous close-ups as well. The prototypical Allen city is an older, more romantic, more beautiful one than actually exists, and as such there’s no shortage of postcard moments his films: the Queensboro Bridge in “Manhattan,” La Sagrada Familia in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” the Nice Observatory in “Magic in the Moonlight.”

Letty Aronson, Allen’s longtime producer and sister, said that in Allen’s movies “everything has to be just so: The look has to be, the clothing has to be, the location has to be, the music has to be.”

With each new movie, Allen creates his own world to work in and to reside in. As Aronson put it, “He goes someplace that he likes and that he feels is very livable and nice, and he writes something or figures out after he writes where it would be best to do, and his family gets a vacation.”

For his next film, which is underway, Allen has returned to U.S. soil. He’s shooting the yet-untitled movie with Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in Newport and Providence, R.I.

“Newport is very beautiful,” Aronson said, “so that was a big factor. And the story works there very well.”

Twitter: @ogettell