Screened at the 65th Cannes Film Festival this year, Robert B. Weide’s examination of Woody Allen’s career is a must for any fan of the writer and anyone who is curious about Allen’s staying power as a writer, an actor, a comedian and a director.
Woody Allen: A Documentary is an edited version of a TV documentary and it follows the life and times of the famous comic from his days on stage and the small screen, to his most recent film; Midnight in Paris.
Fans of Woody Allen will be delighted at the retrospective of his career; the film contains clips from his most famous works as well as archive footage of some of his TV appearances. All of this footage is held together with interviews with Allen’s collaborators and admirers, including Martin Scorsese, John Cusack, Scarlett Johansson and Owen Wilson. Those curious about the director that seems to have captured the malady of living in this modern world so well will find themselves intrigued by this portrait of Allen.
Throughout the movie, film scholars and fans analyse what it is about Allen’s work that makes him so accessible to audiences, and how he turns away from auteur theory in favour of creating a great story. The film mainly focuses on Allen’s professional life, but it is hard not to address the issues in his personal life that informed his work, including the many muses throughout his life. Weide touches on the scandal that surrounded Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, and Allen himself even talks about the controversy, but this is not a film that demonises Allen’s choices in his work or his personal life so the issue is touched on, but not explored very far.
In fact, this could be a complaint about the entire film; it does not go into enough detail, a rare complaint for a documentary. However, with a career spanning over forty years, it is easy to see why the famous years and the famous films are almost ignored in favour of the younger, forgotten Woody Allen.
The film offers an insight into Allen’s world; we get to see the typewriter he has used since his teenage years and the stacks of notes he uses, but as well as this, we get to see the evolution from stand up comic into a mature and considerate film maker who can work through characters, mood and relationships in a remarkably honest and frank manner.
In all, Woody Allen: A Documentary is a sweet and gentle portrait of the film maker that will remind fans of why they enjoy his work so much, and perhaps spark curiosity in the sceptics. The film is an examination of one of the most influential directors still working today and, while we may not get to see very far beneath the surface, it is an engaging, warm and must-see film.