Iconic writer, director, actor, comedian and musician Woody Allen allowed his life and creative process to be documented on-camera for the first time. With this unprecedented access, Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Robert B. Weide followed the notoriously private film legend over a year and a half to create the ultimate film biography. "Woody Allen: A Documentary" chronicles Allen's career - from teen writer to Sid Caesar's TV scribe, from stand-up comedian to award-winning writer-director averaging one film-per-year for more than 40 years. Exploring Allen's writing habits, casting, directing, and relationship with his actors first-hand, new interviews with A-listers, writing partners, family and friends provide insight and backstory to the usually inscrutable filmmaker. Written by
Woody Allen is one of the most prolific and important filmmakers working today. His movies mostly revolve around the grand subjects of Life, Love and Art. Even when he puts out a sub par film, he is still interesting to watch: "There's always something about them", like Martin Scorsese himself puts it.
The documentary opens with Woody Allen's trademark title names; written in the iconic Windsor font, with playful jazz music in the background accompanying images of Brooklyn shot à la Midnight in Paris. Next up are a series of interviews, alternated to scenes from Woody's films. The filmmakers managed to interview Woody's mother, his sister and manager and of course Woody himself, while also showing us opinions from actresses and actors that starred in his movies, mainly Diane Keaton (his first muse). His long time collaborators and producers also voice their opinion, mostly praise, and there's even a priest.
The documentary does a good job, in that it is about Woody as a person and as an artist. He also has most of the screen time and rightfully so. The first half of the film is Woody's origin story, from writing jokes for the news paper and doing stand-up, to him constantly being on national television, getting a writing gig, over which he had no artistic control and then finally getting a chance to write and direct his first feature film on his own terms. The second half of the documentary focuses on his hits and misfires throughout his career, while ending on the upbeat note of his 2011 box office hit.
Being a huge fan of his I couldn't help but love this documentary. It's fully of little trivia and tidbits you might not know about even if you're a loyal follower of his. I certainly learned a lot of new things about him. I didn't know much about his private life, I had only read a very confusing and mostly false expose on him (I believe it was in Time magazine), and so this was refreshing. It was great to hear the man himself discuss his work and learning that one of his favorite films (from his own catalogue) is Stardust Memories, inspired by Federico Fellini's masterpiece 8½, or how he really still uses a typewriter to write all of his scripts and many other fun little quirks. While it is interesting that they had a priest, he doesn't really get into any religious talk, which seems like a wasted opportunity, since most of Woody Allen's films ask big questions like "Is there a God?" and "Is there an afterlife?". The documentary is also very standard in its execution, which is not a fault per se, but it would be great to see a new vision for a change, especially in the visual department. All in all though the film succeeds in that it makes you want to re-visit Woody Allen's classics like Annie Hall, Manhattan and Husbands and Wives.
I would recommend this documentary especially if you're a Woody Allen fan, if you're not there's still the great story of a self-made man being told. At the end of the day it's about his life and his art. In his own words: "Issues of what life is about and why we're here and why it's so painful and relationships between the human being and his experience and human loneliness, that never gets resolved, and so it's of constant interest to me".
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