Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Robert B Weide.
Everything you always wanted to know about Woody Allen but were afraid to ask?
The slightly neurotic, bespectacled and self-effacing Woody Allen is one of the few modern auteurs in the cinema, and this documentary is an exhaustive and comprehensive look at the man and his movies. Allen is normally a very private man, but Emmy-award winning and Oscar-nominated film maker Robert B Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc) has gained unprecedented access to the writer/director and comic for this fascinating and revealing documentary.
Weide followed Allen over the course of 18 months to compile this documentary. Allen talks candidly about his early years, his films and his working methods, and he even takes us for a stroll around the Brooklyn neighbourhood where he grew up. He even indicates where the cinema that he attended as a child, and which played a big role in forming his interest in movies, was situated. The building is now a medical centre and Allen expresses his regret that the neighbourhood cinema has disappeared.
Weide has incorporated lots of archival footage of Allen’s early career as a joke-writer for a newspaper, a stand up comic, as well as many of his early television appearances on talk shows with Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. And there are plenty of clips from his feature films, which will satisfy fans.
Allen has averaged one film a year for the past forty years, and it has been hard to pigeonhole him as many of his films have defied expectations. There have been many misfires along the way, and for a while Allen’s films seemed to have fallen into disfavour. His first screenplay was for the Peter Sellers and Peter O’Toole comedy What’s New Pussycat? But he was unhappy with the way in which the studio changed the script, and he swore that he would never make another movie unless he had total control. The film looks at his subsequent movies like Take The Money And Run, Play It Again Sam, Bananas, and Sleeper, and his success with the Oscar winning Annie Hall. Other notable films include Hannah And Her Sisters, Crimes And Misdemeanours, and the documentary even includes his most recent film Midnight In Paris, which has become the biggest box office hit of his career.
There are a few notable omissions from his filmography, including the star-studded misfire comic take on Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and The Front, Martin Ritt’s black comedy about the HUAC witch hunts of the 1950’s, Scoop, and Small Time Crooks.
The film gives us a wonderful overview of Allen’s career, and there are plenty of insightful interviews with a host of contemporaries and collaborators, including Martin Scorsese. Weide has interviewed former partners and co-stars Diane Keaton and Louise Lasser, as well as film critics of the calibre of Leonard Maltin, and his regular long time producers Letty Aronson, Charles Joffe and Robert Greenhut.
Weide focuses mainly on Allen’s film career, although it does delve briefly into his messy private life and his relationships, particularly his very public break up with Mia Farrow, which made tabloid headlines. Significantly Mia Farrow did not participate in the film although she appears through archival footage.
Woody Allen A Documentary was originally produced for the PBS American Masters television program and the original cut ran for three hours. This theatrical version runs for only two hours, so a fair bit has been cut out. Nonetheless, this is still a must for fans of the iconic filmmaker. But even those with a casual interest in his films will also find this a fascinating and revealing film.