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
Engaging for fans even if it has the flaws you expect from such an authorized documentary
Running to over 3 hours I confess that this documentary sat on my watch list for the last 3 or so years, with it always putting me off due to the time commitment and the tough sell to say to a partner "how about tonight we watch a 3+ hour documentary on Woody Allen" – if nothing else you could watch two of his films in the same time pretty much. However I finally got to watch it (albeit spread over about 3-4 days of watching it when I had free time to grab 30 minutes or more here and there.
What I found was a perfectly enjoyable walk through Woody Allen's career, with the added benefit of having the man himself available for discussion and interviews, as well as a host of those he has worked with. In terms of what it sets out to do, this makes the film work very well. More of less each movie and career step is touched on, clips are well chosen, and the contributions do have interesting elements (even if the majority are of the 'he is a genius' variety). The running time is justified by this approach (he does have a very long career), and it held my attention throughout with well-chosen clips and plenty to remind us why he is so well considered. It helps that the audience for this will certainly be fans of his work – I cannot imagine many casual viewers taking this on without any pre- existing interest.
The downside of the film is what it doesn't deliver. I was a little surprised how little Woody Allen was in discussion; we did get lots of good stuff from him, and it is well used, but I had hoped for more than this. The other element was that the film decides to focus across the spread of the career, so there is no area that gets real deep focus. So, why I disagree with claims that it "whitewashes" some of his life, I can also understand why it feels that way – but it gives these elements of his personal life about the same amount of time as the rest – plus, this is not the focus of the film.
Overall, it is one for the choir, and it doesn't provide huge depth, but it is a well-paced and consistently enjoyable look across his body of work, even if some of it has flaws inherent in all these types of films.
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