I’ve read a little less than half of Woody Allen‘s “Apropos of Nothing.” I’ve gotten as far as the launch of Play It Again, Sam, his 1969 stage comedy that costarred himself, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts and Jerry Lacy. This was also when his romantic relationship with Keaton began.
I’m loving the book completely, but I have to say that the portions dealing with Allen’s fascinating if occasionally bewildering childhood and early adolescence in Brooklyn (roughly his first 15 or 16 years) make for richer reading than the portions that cover how his career began — first as a kid who submitted jokes to Manhattan newspaper columnists, then an in-house joke writer, then as a comedy contributor to The Colgate Hour and Caesar’s Hour, then his beginnings as a stand-up comic in the early ’60s, etc.
The “starting to make it happen” stories are fine, but the childhood stuff is full of wide-eyed wonder, fevered impressions, impossible dreams.
Allen’s description of his first look at 1942 Times Square, when he was seven years old and his father had taken him along on some errand, is truly thrilling. Ditto how he loved the way women looked and smelled and felt during brief hugs when he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Plus the absolute joy of watching old-school movies every Saturday afternoon with a five-years-older female cousin at his neighborhood theatre. A lot of this material was covered in Radio Days, of course, but the writing is tart and wise and a joy to sink into.
The childhood portion, in short, is like the first 35 or 40 minutes of Stanley Kubrick‘s Spartacus (i.e., the first 25%) inside the gladiator school in Capua — the story tension and the personal suspense element about when and how Kirk Douglas and his bros might break out. Apropos of Nothing is similarly about young Woody’s confinement inside his family’s small apartment and the middle-class neighborhood he explored as a kid, and always the hovering question of when and how he’s going to break free.