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I've just seen the DVD version of the documentary, which originally
aired on PBS, on American Masters. The DVD is 2 parts in total of about
three and a half hours.
This wonderful documentary, directed by Robert B. Weide, traces the life and career of the movie master Woody Allen. The early footage of Allen's stand-up comic days is extremely funny, as are the archival clips of Allen as he began to appear on national shows such as Steve Allen, Johhny Carson, and Dick Cavett. As he progressed into movies, the film tracks the stages of his early comic movies such as "Take the Money and Run"(when I first noticed Allen) and "Bananas", into more serious fare such as "Hannah and Her Three Sisters" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors", as well as his more recent movies made in Europe such as "Match Point", "Wimbledon" and "Midnight in Paris"
What I found particularly interesting was Allen explaining why he did certain movies, the great as well as the clunkers. He explains what his thought processes were, how he writes them, and what goes into directing them. The film is also chocked with interviews of fellow writers and collaborators, actors and actresses he has worked with, and certain film critics. Also, there is a good amount of time devoted to hearing from his sister, as to what Woody was like as boy and their relationship today.
I've followed Allen's career for decades, the good and the bad,and I felt this film gave me a real insight into what makes Woody Allen tick. Plus it is so packed with vintage footage of TV and film that I was engrossed despite the length of the movie.
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".
When the history of cinema is written a hundred years from now, Woody
Allen's name will pop up quite a few times. Actor. Writer. Director.
Comedian. The quintessential Jewish-American man. From Seinfeld
characters to Family Guy to The Simpsons, so much of American pop
culture is littered with characters based off the persona that Allen
But in Woody Allen: A Documentary, documentarian Robert B. Weide seeks to get inside the mind of this endlessly parodied, forcibly stereotyped individual. Allen is his usual self-deprecating Jewish-American self, but it's the supporting cast Diane Keaton, Naomi Watts, Scarlett Johansson, et al. who really paint the best picture. We learn about Allen's directing techniques; what made him such a magnetic 'leading man'; and how his personal life affected (or didn't, really) his professional life.
As all movie fans will know, Allen is responsible for some of the greatest movies of the modern era. Annie Hall is constantly cited as a great Hollywood classic, as are other accomplishments like Hannah And Her Sisters and Manhattan. The documentary moves chronologically through his back catalogue, discussing his intentions about each movie, the filmmaking process, and the critical reception. You listen to the cast, his family, and Allen himself discuss just how much of himself was present in his movies. What I loved most about the film is that it doesn't pander to Allen. Yes, this is a documentary about the man, so it does celebrate his brilliance as an artist. But Weide doesn't hold back in exploring the mistakes he made, both in his personal and professional life. In particular, his relationship with cinematic muse Mia Farrow is chronicled, painting Woody as a very conflicted and somewhat selfish man.
What you take away from this documentary is appreciation for what Allen has achieved, and what he has brought to modern cinema. To continue to beat to his own drum at a time when studios have pigeonholed directors so much is admirable, especially when he's making one film a year. It's so easy (and so romantic) to see cinema as an artform. Woody Allen shows that it is a skill, a technique constantly being honed. Good stuff.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just as people either love or hate Woody Allen, they would, I imagine,
either love or hate this documentary about Woody Allen. But let's get
the logics straight. I'm not talking about people who hate Woody Allen;
they simply won't watch this film, period. As to people who love him, I
am just giving it the benefit of the doubt that, maybe, 0.00001% of
those who have watched this film would hate it. But certainly not more.
This is a simple, endearing documentary that follows Allen's life from childhood to the present, rich with anecdotes from a rich assembly of people who know him (from intimately to not-so-intimately). As expected, there are lots of clips from his forty directed movies to-date, funny and poignant, but mostly funny. No surprises; just two hours of delightful time with the auteur who never even tried to be one.
The background music is also beautiful, with languid Moonlight Serenade (from his "Stardust memories") with a reprise later, cheerful Begin the Beguine, and the most romantically rousing passage from Rhapsody in Blue (as heard in the poignant conclusion of "Manhattan").
There are of course quotes from Allen aplenty: witty, insightful to outright silly. The one that I like best, profound in the simplest way, is his honest view about film awards, which he suggests are more about "the most favorite" than "the best". With track and field, he cites as example, you can easily identify the best because results are quantifiable. No so with a piece of work of art.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found this on Netflix streaming movies, I have always had a sort of
love/hate relationship with his movies, I really love some of them
(e.g. 'Purple Rose of Cairo' and 'Midnight in Paris') but really,
really hate most of the extended slapstick films (e.g.'Bananas' and
'Sleeper'). Part of my dislike was because of Woody's persona, most of
his films I like don't have him in them, and I viewed characters he
played as just an extension of himself.
But this documentary cleared a lot of that up. The Woody we see in character is Woody the actor, in reality quite different from the relaxed Woody we see in interviews. In real life he appears to be a lot less neurotic, and actually quite friendly and charming.
The film has a number of contributors, including many actors who have been in his movies over the years. But the two main contributors are Woody Allen himself and his sister, producer Letty Aronson . It is clear they have a good relationship.
If I were to summarize Woody Allen very briefly, he grew up as a naturally funny person who loved the stage and the movies, grew up wishing he could do that himself, then when he got a break went out and did it himself. He enjoys the process, conceiving an idea, writing the story, and making a film. He doesn't read reviews, in fact the movie being in theaters seems to be of little interest to him, as well as whether it makes any money or not. He just enjoys the process.
As he speaks of his own movies, he has no illusions of grandeur. Of his New York movies he says the future lasting value they will have is providing interesting scenes around the city. He doesn't mind making a failure, in fact he expects most people will not like most of his movies. 'Manhattan' was his first big hit, 'Midnight in Paris' his most recent hit, yet he didn't have any particular expectations of either.
One of the most telling scenes in the entire documentary was of Woody playing clarinet with the band in his usual Monday night gig at the restaurant. He played jazz with typical reckless abandon and, when the music stopped and the audience applauded, all Woody did was hold his instrument and sort of look downward at the floor. He wasn't acting, he was not playing for any anticipation of audience reaction, he just plays because he enjoys the process. It is the same way with his movies.
Here is a film portrait of a man who has pretty well lived his life doing exactly what he wanted to do and is content in his old age. However, since his parents both lived to very old ages, and Woody takes care of himself, we may be treated with his one-movie-a-year habit for another 20 or 30 years.
This documentary may not go too far below the surface of Woody Allen's
persona but for fans of his films it offers a lot to enjoy. It looks at
his career from his earliest days as a joke writer via stand-up
comedian on to his film career up until his biggest commercial success
Midnight in Paris. It was interesting to see the young Allen, who
looked surprisingly ungeeky it has to be said. And it was good to see
the path that led to his talents ending up in cinema. But the real
pleasure of this documentary is in simply revisiting so many of his
films. Virtually all of his movies from the period that covers Take the
Money and Run to Shadows and Fog are represented with clips. While,
several other key movies after this are featured too, although perhaps
though it would have been better if more of his unsuccessful films were
shown as a point of comparison. But time restraints do limit things I
guess I saw the shorter theatrical cut and it was really just fun
revisiting the good ones to be honest.
For the reasons mentioned above, it would probably be fair to say that this is a documentary primarily aimed at people who are Allen fans to begin with. The wealth of well-chosen clips really is very good, while the selection of talking heads add good value. It's basically a pure celebration of Allen's work and it does well to show the sheer volume of quality he has produced over the years. Very enjoyable.
It is one of the few documentaries that I watch for the second time. I
did that because a) Woody is really funny and I cannot get enough b) He
speaks so fast that I have to go again and munch on what he really
says. And I am glad I did!
It is such a pleasure to see how Woody evolved from a timid teenager to a prolific screen writer/director/actor who never seems to run out of ideas and energy. Woody was positioned like a friend taking you to where he grew up and where he was bullied and how he came up with all his gags. Then we are shown him performing the saxophone. What a versatile artist!
It was fascinating seeing how he has been using the same manual typewriter since he was 17. Excellent editing in showing us how he stores and retrieves his ideas and how he manually cut and paste his writing.
Other than letting the director speak about himself and showing us around, we also see how other actresses/actors and his family talk about him. We also have a little glimpse of how they interact on the set, not to mention various clips of his signature movies. Woody seems to have this talent of letting actresses relax and blossom under his direction, which he encourages a lot of empowerment thus ownership. It must be rewarding and satisfying working with him.
The only shortcoming of this production, if I may say, is the absence of Mia Farrow who obviously plays an important role in his life and his movies. Otherwise, it was such a pleasure getting a closer and personal look at this important icon of our era.
A long - the three-hour version must surely be better than the shortened edited-for-cinema version - but engaging and well-made documentary about Woody Allen, one of my favourite directors. It makes chronological little jumps, but all good, delving from his growing up in New York to where he is today, from being a joke-writer for US columns to doing his own stand-up comedy (for which he is still grossly underestimated), to script-writing, acting and directing. The bit about him being an "actor's director" is really inspirational. He's had ups and downs, his marriages and scandals are a bit on display; him being married to his "former" daughter is toned down. His writing process is envisaged, actors and producers interviewed and it's all personal, never showy. Allen found out that "Manhattan" had won the Oscar for best film by reading about it in the paper the day after. So, all in all, very nice and recommendable.
So Woody Allen finally consented to cooperate in a biographical film of
his life and work. Unfortunately like many "authorised" biographies
this life-story seems adulatory, shallow and in the end uninvolving.
Peopled with many of his past collaborators all saying wonderful things
about him, this in fact is very much the kind of film representation of
his life I could all too easily imagine the older, blander, safer Woody
making rather than the younger, edgier Woody we see glimpses of here
only in decades old footage.
You see I'm not a fan of his later work. His stand-up material and early movies were genuinely quirky, energetic and funny, but then he found Bergman and Fellini and turned serious. I've tried some of his later movies, I really have, for instance "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Melinda Melinda" and frankly hated them. For me they lack insight, incisiveness and involvement and of course what used to be his calling-card, humour. Same here with this film. Allen politely cooperates with his friendly off-camera interviewer, like a cuddly old uncle, telling us little that is new about his movies or methods, far less his rather out-of-the-ordinary private life.
Talking of which, just how close do you think he's pressed on his shall I say, unusual tryst with his at-the-time teenage stepdaughter? Correct, about the length of the Hudson River. Not that I'm prurient, but surely someone has to make the connection between Allen's real-life peccadilloes with those of some of his invented characters, like the leads in "Manhattan" for one and his continual casting of say Scarlett Johannsen in his most recent work. Not surprisingly Mia Farrow is nowhere in sight.
In summary, I don't think he's a great director by any stretch of the imagination and don't care how many lovey-actor types they line up in this film to tell me that he is. Prolific rather than profound, his is a triumph of quantity over quality. This film really is for Woody lovers only. Obviously I'm not but I saw nothing in this purple-rose tinted production to make me think he was either a good guy far less a great film-maker.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm a huge WA fan and will watch every film he puts out, sometimes up to 3 or 4 times. I found this a very fascinating look into his life and stylistic methods. Told through clips, interviews with actors, and WA himself, you get a very up close look into his person. Even the Mia Farrow-Sun Yi scandal are covered and while it doesn't try to absolve him, you do get some of his side of the story. I believe he adopted two daughters (one Asian) when they were at a young age. This still doesn't make it any less suspicious and creepy. Why would they let him adopt when he's a well known rapist? I find it interesting that he manage to have a child with Mia Farrow, but did not with Soon-Yi. He may have just planned ahead by adopting two daughters. There is no cure for pedophilia. I'd bitch slap his old ass! hand lookin like the man's off of scary movie 2 ....
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