Synopsis: Iconic writer, director, actor, comedian, and musician Woody Allen allows his life and creative process to be documented on-camera for the first time. With this unprecedented access, Emmy®-winning, Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Robert Weide follows the notoriously private film legend over a year and a half to create the ultimate film biography.
Beginning with Allen’s childhood, Woody Allen: A Documentary chronicles the trajectory and longevity of Allen’s career, from his work as a TV scribe, standup comedian and frequent TV talk show guest, to a writer-director averaging one film-per-year for more than 40 years. Director Weide covers Allen’s earliest film work in Take The Money And Run, Bananas, Sleeper, and Love And Death; frequent Oscar® favorites such as Annie Hall, Manhattan, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, Purple Rose Of Cairo, Crimes And Misdemeanors, Husbands & Wives, Bullets Over Broadway, and Mighty Aphrodite; and his recent globetrotting phase with Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the recent success Midnight In Paris.
Features interviews with: Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Mariel Hemingway, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Martin Landau, Louise Lasser, Sean Penn, Tony Roberts, Chris Rock, Mira Sorvino, Naomi Watts, Dianne Wiest and Owen Wilson, Dick Cavett and Martin Scorsese.
eyelights: the scope of the piece. the amount of film and TV clips.
eyesores: the second part breezes over too many films.
“When you’re a joke maker, it’s hard not to make jokes. It’s like my normal conversation. It just comes out that way.”
Well, this one was a no-brainer: as a huge fan of Woody Allen’s, given that he doesn’t care to do interviews much, and since his DVDs have zero special features (sometimes not even the trailer!), I was very eager to see this two-part, 3-hour documentary on the life of the legend. In fact, I will also buy it someday. Again: no-brainer.
It wasn’t extraordinary or life-changing, but it provided a perfectly good perspective on the man and his career. And it’s quite the career: by the time that this was recorded, he had at least 40 films under his belt – and this doesn’t even account for his written work, his stand-up years, his acting gigs, …etc. To say that Woody Allen is prolific would be like saying that Babe Ruth could hit a ball.
Personally, I found that it breezed by and at no point was it an effort to watch. The first part consisted of his earlier years, from his childhood all the way to the late ’70s, after he broke through to the masses. The second part, which is slightly shorter, covers his output from the ’80s to the present (or at least, until ‘Midnight in Paris’, his most recent success).
I was a bit disappointed with the second part because it glossed over so many films. It’s understandable because Allen made some 25-30 films in that time and it would be impossible to touch on all of them. However, I really wished that it had. I wished that it was a three-part documentary, not two. I guess it doesn’t help that the first part covers only a handful of films, so they are talked about in more detail.
What’s great is that it’s mostly chronological, which permits us to get an overall sense of his life. Thankfully, director Robert B. Weide started both segments in more interesting ways, to get things rolling, with interviews and insights from those who know him best, and then returning to the starting point to continue his exploration of Allen’s life.
Woody himself participated in the project, so he discusses his work and his life on screen throughout; he’s a fascinating and very funny man. Of course, I’m quite biased. But there are also plenty of other interviews from friends, family, cast, crew, colleagues and industry insiders. To me, the standouts were Dick Cavett, Diane Keaton and Mariel Hemingway, who (thankfully) all got a lot of screen time.
Unsurprisingly, even though they are discussed at length, Mia Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn are not interviewed for this film. Obviously, the scandal is featured more in-depth than other moments of his life are, but we don’t get their insight on the matter. We also don’t know how Farrow felt about Allen during the ’80s, although there are plenty of tributes to her acting skill during her time as Allen’s muse.
All in all, despite the brevity of the film and the glaring omissions, ‘Woody Allen: A Documentary’ is a frank -and extremely rare- portrayal of the comic genius and pop culture icon. It may not cover his whole life, but it gives a pretty good idea of what he’s about and what he’s offered during his incredibly long, fruitful, and noteworthy career.
Anyone interested in knowing something about Woody Allen would be well-served by watching this documentary (along with a few of his classics, of course!). For fans, this is a must-see: along with ‘Wild Man Blues‘, it provides a look at what goes on behind the camera, inside the mind of one of the 20th century’s finest writers and filmmakers.
Date of viewing: December 22-23, 2012