Originally created for PBS Television, director Robert B. Weide has condensed the program down to a theatrical cut of just under two hours. Dripping with the spirit of Allen’s peculiar sense of humour, and featuring interviews from friends, family and colleagues, we are guided through his early days as an up-and-coming comedian, his transition into film directing, his classics of the 70’s and his resurrection over the past decade. Holding it together is Allen himself, candid and honest, and always with the dry self-deprecating wit we have come to expect from him.
Weide keeps the film moving at a cracking pace, covering vast amounts of material without sacrificing any detail. Rather than presenting a bias image of Allen, the film doesn’t shy away from his more controversial actions, particularly in his relationships with the women in his life. Talking head interviews are mixed with archival footage of Allen from interviews and stand-up, as well as clips from his films. Woody Allen has never been the most accessible of directors, and often his films can leave you wondering what you were supposed to get out of them. ‘A Documentary’ offers the chance to see his films as part of a larger whole, an artist in a constant state of discovery and play, and provides his films with a sense of context, especially his least successful. It becomes clear that Allen is an artist on his own, taking ideas for a walk to see where they go, with no preoccupation with financial or critical success.
Perhaps the most successful element of ‘A Documentary’ though, is its protagonist. While we are offered assessment and criticism of the man and the artist from many angles, but it is where Allen speaks for himself that the film shines. A magnificent and hysterical pessimist, he crackles with character. Placed beside his work, and given the chance to explain himself, so much of him begins to make sense. In a glorious piece of editing, his controversial relationship with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter is debated and discussed by friends and critics, but it is Allen who has the last word, and his frankness, while not excusing his actions, at least gives us an insight into his notoriously private manner. Towards the end, the critical eye begins to dim, and there is a bit too much praise of his later films, such as ‘Match Point’ (2005) and ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’ (2008). It comes across as a bit too complementary, but luckily, Woody is there with his eternal ennui to tear his own films apart.
A magnificent and hysterical pessimist, Woody Allen crackles with character.
Great documentaries on film are few and far between, and there is so much to recommend ‘Woody Allen: A Documentary’ to film buffs, whether you’re a Woody Allen fan or not. As much a history of American comedy as it is a personal history, it rarely drops the ball. Woody Allen may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this documentary makes a damn good case for him being one of the most important directors in the business.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL SCREENINGS:
Wednesday 6th June 2012 @ 6:00pm
Monday 11th June 2012 @ 9:30am