Speaking of miserable, I was at one of my lowest ebbs in the early fall of ’78. Living in a Soho tenement and writing reviews for free, pitching freelance articles to people who thought I was marginally competent as a writer (if that), working at restaurants as a host for chump change, barely able to pay the rent at times, borrowing money from my father when it got really awful, occasionally taking a train to Connecticut to work as a tree surgeon on the weekends. Feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, futility and despair.

But one fairly warm day I was walking near West Broadway and Prince and noticed some people clustered in front of an art gallery with generator trucks and cables leading upstairs. So without asking questions or making eye contact with anyone I walked right in and bounded up the staircase. Upstairs was a large, high-ceilinged art gallery with many people milling about. A casual vibe. Nobody said “excuse me, can I help you?” I just walked over to craft services like I was part of the crew and helped myself to an apple and a cup of coffee. I figured I’d spot a recognizable someone — a director, an actor — and figure out what the “show” was from that.

And then I walked into the main gallery room and there, sitting in a canvas chair and reading something intently, was young Woody Allen. He was being left alone, nobody hovering. Glasses, dark brownish-red hair, flannel shirt…and sitting absolutely still, like a Duane Hanson sculpture. He might have had a bit of makeup on, or so I recall. But it was Woody, all right, and right away I said to myself, “I’m gonna get busted if I stand here and just stare at him.” So I walked around a bit more with a guarded expression and then went downstairs and asked somebody what the movie was called. “It’s a Woody Allen film….that’s all I know,” some guy said.

I’m not sure anyone knew the title at the time, but the following April, or about seven or eight months later, the movie opened with a title — Manhattan.

My emotional and financial states were so precarious and I was so close to depression at the time of the Allen sighting that just glimpsing him sitting there gave me a real lift. For a minute or two I was part of a very elite and highly charged environment, if only as a secret visitor, and I felt good about myself for momentarily slipping inside and smelling the air of that set. The experience lasted for maybe three minutes, tops, but I’ve never forgotten it.

From Manhattan: “He was given to fits of rage, Jewish liberal paranoia, male chauvinism, self-righteous misanthropy and nihilistic moods of despair. He had complaints about life but never any solutions. He longed to be an artist but balked at the necessary sacrifices. In his most private moments he spoke of his fear of death, which he elevated to tragic heights when in fact it was mere narcissism.”

A Manhattan Bluray is apparently slated for release in January 2012.