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A 90-minute documentary by film critic, author and historian Richard Schickel that is highlighted by a rare and candid interview with the writer, director and actor Woody Allen. The interview, shot exclusively for this documentary in New York in October 2001, marks the first time Allen has participated in an American documentary about his career. The program examines Allen's work on such landmark films as "Take the Money and Run" (1969), "Bananas" (1971), "Sleeper" (1973), "Love and Death" (1975), "Annie Hall" (1977), "Manhattan" (1979), "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986) and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989). The interview and film clips, including scenes from his most recent film at the time the interview was filmed, "Hollywood Ending," are used to highlight his prolific career and examine Allen's childhood and explore what drew him to writing and directing. One of the foremost American filmmakers of the 20th century, Allen shares anecdotes about his extensive body of work from the past... Written by
Mia Farrow demanded that no footage of herself be included in the documentary, not wanting to be further associated with Woody Allen in any way, since their bitter separation. Other than a few shots, her wish was obliged by the filmmakers. See more »
Tim Goodman's review for the SF Chronicle pretty much says most of what can be said, in a limited space, about this film, except that we don't know where Goodman is coming from, what assumptions he's made, how he feels about Allen's films, against which this documentary must be judged. My own attitude towards Woody's work is that the results have been mixed. The "early comedies" are pretty funny, when you're in the mood to be amused. For every silly gag that doesn't work, there are two gags that do. Then he began to get serious with Annie Hall, his most interesting film in my view. Then he got REALLY serious with Interiors. I've skipped much of his work since then. The usual twittering and stuttering, the constant indecision over commitment, all seemed repetitive and ultimately boring. The jokes seemed bootlegged into scripts that seemed designed to be something other than "merely" funny. Eg., in Stardust Memories, a fan asks Woody to write an autograph for his girl friend -- "Make it out, To Phyllis Weinstein, you lying bitch." It's funny but where's the shoe horn? Others, Manhattan Melodrama, were unclassifiable, a little suspense, a little humor, not enough really of either. Others, like Crimes and Misdemeanors, got by me entirely. Still, you can't help forming an impression of Woody the film maker after watching enough of his work. (Leaving the gossipy garbage aside.) The picture I formed was of an educated man with a fine sense of the absurd who both loathed and adored himself. (His character in his films tends to be successful with girls and he never suffers from impotence.) This documentary was somewhat surprising because Woody seems -- "seems", that is, we are all actors, after all -- to be refreshingly honest about himself and his work. He comes across, in fact, as quite modest. Not putting himself down in any simple-minded "neurotic" way, but simply being objective. He's not an intellectual, but he plays one in the movies sometimes. Why? Because he looks the part -- short, wimply, horn-rimmed. In real life, he tells us, he was kicked out of college in his first year and only read heavy stuff over the years in order "to keep up with my dates." (There has to be more to it than that, of course.) He is also able to play one other kind of character, the fast-talking but self-doubting street guy, as he does in, say, Broadway Danny Rose, because that character is part of the subculture he grew up in. When the role doesn't suit one of these two characters, he gets someone else. And he makes a believable argument that a lot of lines that he threw into his films at the last moment were nothing more than superficial jokes that just happened to come to mind. In Stardust Memories a fan says, "I liked your earlier movies better, when they were funny." It was not meant as an autobiographical statement, just an offhand gag. (John Lennon used to have the same problem with fans who attributed more meaning to his lyrics than they were meant to contain. "I just put that line in there because it rhymed," he would explain.) Most surprising of all is that this documentary shows us interviews with a Woody who is neither of the characters he allows himself to play on screen. He's not depressed, he doesn't crack jokes, he's thoughtful and articulate and modest, a likable guy, but not one who would attract your attention if he sat at the next table in the coffee shop. He's surprisingly normal. And, on top of that, he gives us fresh insights into his work. No, the films don't always turn out the way he wanted them to, but at least we get to know how he wanted them to turn out. This is really worth seeing. If you're a big Woody fan, of course, it's required viewing.
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