Review: Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012)

Director: Robert B. Weide | biography, documentary | Featuring: Woody Allen, Letty Aronson, Diane Keaton, Martin Scorsese, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Sean Penn, Mira Sorvino, Chris Rock, Martin Landau

Woody Allen, a name inseparable from film. Even if you’ve never seen a movie of him, you probably know what he looks like. Small, thin, large glasses and a somewhat dry, serious look. Allen is known for being modest about his work and almost never allows camera crews to shoot his films. Seeing him, you wouldn’t expect little Allen Koningsberg (his real name) to write beautiful dialogues and have a tremendous sense of humor. Yet the filmmaker has built up an enormous body of work over nearly fifty years with classics such as “Manhattan”, “Annie Hall”, and recent successes such as “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and “Midnight in Paris”.

In “Woody Allen: A Documentary,” Robert B Weide makes an effort to get to know the man both privately and professionally. Allen’s career is discussed in chronological order. From nervous comedian in the 1950s to his most successful film “Midnight In Paris” from 2011. In between acts, people like Diane Keaton, Scarlett Johansson and Martin Scorsese give their views on the filmmaker. But the best moments in the documentary are when Woody Allen himself talks about his childhood, working methods and how he views his own films. It clearly shows how special Allen is and you get a better picture of his life. That great filmmakers do not always have their professional lives in order is evident from a brilliant scene in which Allen shows how he writes film scripts. The filmmaker has written all of his films on the same dusty typewriter and has a pile of loose papers with random ideas for films in his room. If he has an idea, he takes the notes there to see if there are any useful ideas.

It is also fascinating to see how Allen usurped himself a grand position by becoming a popular comedian in New York. With his witty jokes, he was soon asked to write a film script. While filming that particular film (“What’s New Pussycat”), Woody saw how the director was subordinate to the studio bosses and that his script was being messed around a lot. Woody decided on his next film that in addition to writing the script, he also wanted directing and no interference from the studios. Because Allen was so well known, he got that opportunity and from that moment on Allen had complete control over his films forever.

In the 1990s, a major scandal arose around the little man after it became known that he was dating 20-year-old Soon Yi. This young woman was the adopted daughter of his partner the actress Mia Farrow. Allen was, as it were, Soon Yi’s stepfather, and the press loved this bizarre story. In the documentary there is only a very brief reference to this moment in Allen’s life and the emphasis is on the fact that the two have now been together for more than fifteen years and have two children. Director Robert B. Weide could have elaborated on this a bit deeper, especially because one of Everything’s most famous films, “Manhattan” is also about All who falls for a (too) young girl. Meadow stays on the surface a bit and it seems he doesn’t want to offend Allen. Something that can be felt throughout the documentary. The speakers are short of superlatives and Allen is placed on a large pedestal. The only criticism comes from Woody Allen himself when he talks about poorly received films or moments in his that he now sees differently. The lack of criticism sometimes gives “Woody Allen: A Documentary” a cowardly taste. If the director had been a bit more daring by asking Allen critical questions, the documentary would most likely have been a lot more controversial.

The greatest asset of “Woody Allen: A Documentary” is the many images of Allen’s wide range of films. The scenes that are shown show Allen’s variety and humor and make you curious about his films. With almost two hours, the documentary is on the long side, although that will not be a problem for the real fans. Despite the slightly too friendly tone, “Woody Allen: A Documentary” is a nice document about the career and working method of one of Hollywood’s most special filmmakers of the past fifty years.

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