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Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011)
**** (out of 4)
Remarkable documentary taking a look at the life and career of Woody Allen who just this year scored the biggest hit of his career. This documentary is pretty much the perfect timing as there's never been a time where Allen has been so popular in terms of a general audience so hopefully this film will have fans of MIDNIGHT IN Paris checking out some of his other work. Clocking in at 191-minutes, this mammoth documentary starts off covering Allen as a child and then moving to his first few writing jobs and then it's off to the TV, the stage and finally the movies. With such a large running time it's easy to say that this thing pretty much covers everything with only a few acting-only films like SCENES FROM A MALL not getting mentioned. I think this is an incredibly important film because as Allen fans know he's not a fan of "extras" so his films pretty much get released without the fan getting to know much but this documentary allows Allen to comment on most of the movies but we also get some nice behind the scenes footage, promotional interviews and all new interviews with the man himself. I think another major thing is that we get to hear from the majority of his actors with the one exception being Mia Farrow. Just about everyone else that you'd want to hear from are on hand including Diane Keaton who shares some great stories. The controversy about the Farrow situation and HUSBANDS AND WIVES is looked at in an open manor and this includes Allen talking about it. Some of his lesser quality films are mentioned as well but if you've seen the documentary WOODY ALLEN: A LIFE IN FILM then you already know that the director hates most of his movies so it's funny hearing him constantly put himself and his talent down. The documentary also gives us some insight with an interview from his sister and mother. One of the most interesting aspects of the film has Allen taking us to his hometown where he walks around pointing out his first home, his movie theater and various other places that eventually inspired bits and pieces of his movies. Fans of Allen are certainly going to enjoy every second of this documentary and if you're unfamiliar with him I think it's going to perfectly explain why the man is so special.
I admire Woody Allen as a man of many talents, a writer, comedian,
musician and filmmaker. His best films have everything I look for in a
comedy (or dramedy, he is especially good in making them) - brilliance,
wit, clever writing, hilarious and sinister twist in the plot, amazing
performances, authentic feel of the era and great musical score. I
admire his respect for the audience: "I never write down to them. I
always assume that they're all as smart as I am... if not smarter." For
someone who has been a fan of Allen's works for many years and seen
every movie he was a part of, whether as a writer/ director, star or
all of the above, Woody Allen: A Documentary is the next best thing to
watching Allen's films. I was entertained, learned something new about
my favorite film-maker, and once again was fascinated with his
productive and unique career that has spanned over six decades. The
DVDs with Allen's films don't usually include a lot of bonus materials,
such as making of behind the scenes; so, watching the documentary
filled with the clips from many Allen's films and listening to the
interviews with the stars have added to better understanding of the man
behind 40 + films many of which belong to the best ever made.
Allen is known as a multi-talented artist - the stand-up comedian, musician, actor and, of course, a film director. But the documentary confirmed what I've assumed already - that he considers himself primarily a writer who has been writing for a living since he was 15 and started composing the jokes and one-liners for a local paper making $75 a week - not bad for a teenager back in the 1950s. At the age of 19, he started writing scripts for the most popular television shows of the time. Allen has authored the Broadway plays, the books of prose and non-fiction, and the scripts to every movie he ever made for which he has been awarded 14 Oscar nominations in the category Best Original Screenplay, more than any film-maker ever. I was genially moved when Woody confessed that all these years he's been using the old typewriter Olympia and he is not going to change it for one of latest and fastest computers with the useful word processing programs. He proudly announced that he is a very fast typist.
For two evenings, in two parts of the documentary, each 1,5 hours long, Allen himself, his younger sister-producer Letty Aronson, his friends, business associates, and the famous, respectable and talented members of the prestigious "I've acted in Allen's film(s)" actors, gave the grateful audiences the insight into the phenomenon called Woody Allen, his persona, his works, his unique place in the cultural life of America, his origins, influences, his Muses, and his work ethics. Allen came out in the interviews which are more valuable because they are rare as a moving, deprecated, very clever, funny and charming person. I know many would not share my opinion but I am a loyal fan, and the documentary was made for people like me. If you have problems with the certain facts from Allen's biography you should spend three hours with something else.
Watching the documentary, I was happy to learn that Allen has good genes :) - his father lived to be 100 and his mother died when she was 96 - big chance that Woody would keep writing/directing for many years to come and never lose his wit, sense of humor and incredible talent and lust for life. What is 76 for him? Just a small number. He makes me a happy viewer, always has and I wish him long years of happy and productive life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A lot of interesting stuff I didn't know about a legendary director (of
whom I've only seen about seven or so films so far, including the key
works 'Manhattan', 'Annie Hall' and 'Match Point'), over which the
awkward history concerning the relationship Allen began as a 59 year
old with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter of 19 years old casts a few dark
shadows. I shall say, for that he has been well-loathed. Moving onto
Learning about the way actors are cast, how a script is delivered to the main star of the film, or how Allen prefers a bag of money without any questions so he can do his work; it's all quite intriguing and funny. Still, in these 3 1/2 hours, I find that Allen himself talks too little, and what he does say is often evasive (through jokes, mostly), or simply untrue. For example: he says that actors ask him how they did (in a particular scene) and that he will always respond nicely, without criticism (and actors state that he emphasizes that they can change things in their lines if they'd like), but (for instance) when in fact we see him on set with Scarlett Johansson, he says (I paraphrase): 'Yes, that's good, but...' (then follows his criticism). Not that there's anything wrong with that, but why doesn't he just admit to this? And why don't the other actors say this? Or is this exactly Robert B. Weide's point when he just a little later shows actor Larry David, saying (I paraphrase again): 'Make no mistake. Woody gets what he wants.' ...? I'll assume the latter.
Then, there is the historical line, starting with Allen's background (birth, school, family), his early career (writing jokes after school for money, choosing a 'stage name', adopting glasses to create an image, getting on stage as a comedian, eventually being practically prostituted to make him a household name) and finally his career in filmmaking and how he from the get-go understands he needs total control of his cinematic babies if he's ever going to be happy with this newfound craft. And so on - all a lot of fun to learn about.
The chapter that returns throughout the documentary about his musical career is also intriguing, especially when one sees him blowing frantically on his clarinet, or how so many things around it (his musical performances) must make way for it. I simply like that.
All in all, I had a good time watching it, but I personally could have done with less chatter from the people around him (except for probably his sister-producer) and more from the man himself. So, I'm looking forward to seeing 'Woody Allen: A Life in Films', but only after I've seen the movies he talks about in there first.
7 out of 10.
I enjoyed this very much more than I expected to. Although I've seen
many of his movies, and although I share his great love of New York
City, I've never been an Allen fan (I'm not a whole lot younger than he
is, so I've known of him in his various careers almost from the
beginning), and I've actively despised him since he did what he did to
Mia Farrow and her children.
I still don't think he's the movie-making genius his fans see and this production promotes, and it really does make out like his abominable conduct 20 years ago was just media hysteria, which is appalling. But this is a fascinating and almost always entertaining production, and the 3+ hours flew by.
The few parts that were nearly unbearable did not involve Allen himself but two of the other talking heads who sing his praises (Allen himself comes across as relatively humble, which may or may not be genuine): One is the famous movie critic Richard Schickel, who appears periodically throughout both episodes; his worship of Allen is so creepy that it seriously undermines not only his credibility as a critic but any pretense of objectivity this production has. The second is an extremely smug and obnoxious woman named Annette Insdorf, who is identified as a Film Professor at Columbia University; but (Thank God) she makes only one appearance in each episode, and only for a few minutes at the beginning. She's more obnoxious than Schickel but less creepy.
Allen fans don't have to be encouraged to watch this paean to and whitewashing of their hero; but even some, like me, who are not fans at all may be entertained.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unfortunately, not until after watching and then looking the doc up
here on IMDb, did I realize that the 90 minutes I saw was only Part 2.
Good job, PBS, by not specifying this was Part 2... and who knows when
Part 1 aired.
So, my review of Part 2 may not be completely fair. Nonetheless, this doc is not that great. It just isn't. I really expected to delve into who Woody Allen is, and while we do get some of that, it seems like there's too much footage/time taken up by filler. Here's an example: The doc is now covering Woody's break-up with Mia Farrow, which is occurring 3 days before they finish filming on his latest movie. (Ms. Farrow discovers the pics of her adopted daughter at Woody's apartment, a firestorm erupts, we all learn Woody has been having an affair with his daughter, etc.) And someone in the doc is asking how can Woody stay focused to finish the film; we then see not one person saying that Woody can "compartmentalize," but -- I kid you not -- we have 5-6 different people all saying (in extreme short clips) "he can compartmentalize..." What?? What kind of B.S. filmmaking is this? Seriously? This is hack filmmaking. We get it. One person explaining this "personality trait" is enough, we don't have to have one piece of information pounded into us repeatedly by 6 other people.
Way too much filler in this Program. If Part 1 is like this, they should have just cut the program in half. Furthermore, the editing is atrocious. When we're on a talking head, instead of a very quick dissolve to cut out something the interviewee said, they do jump cuts -- on the talking heads!! So you're watching someone speak, they simply cut footage out and bam, there we are on the "b side," which doesn't match because the person's head isn't in the same place. Because of the straight cuts, it's VERY jarring, and calls attention to itself. This is amateur hour, folks. For a feature film, or TV show, this can utilized, if it's being used for a particular effect. But for a doc about a person? You don't want to call attention to the editing. You don't want to jar people out of the doc. Un-frickin-believable.
This could have been a really good documentary, with depth and insightfulness. Instead, it's a bunch of people saying how great Woody Allen is. I didn't realize I was going to be viewing an "Entertainment Tonight" puff piece about the director.
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