Robert B. Weide takes us on a pretty pedestrian journey through the works of Woody Allen in this enjoyable but at times unnecessary documentary.
Starting pretty much from the year dot, the film covers extensively how Allen got his break writing jokes for different newspaper columns, got picked up to write jokes for TV and eventually landed himself in the world of cinema. With all the usual interviews from renowned directors, family and friends, the film ambles along at a steady enough pace with few new or illuminating facts about Allen.
I’m definitely a fan of the man and therefore knew most of what is contained within the film – he hated stand up, wrote for the New Yorker, wanted complete control over his films, made the movies he wanted and manages to make about a picture a year. Robert B. Weide did admit in an interview I heard that he was only concerned with Woody Allen the film-maker, but it would still have been nice to maybe hear some discussion on things like his clarinet playing.
Woody Allen: A Documentary thankfully does tackle the adopted elephant in the room – Soon-Yi Previn. She was adopted by actress Mia Farrow and her partner musician André Previn in 1978 but effectively became Allen’s adopted daughter when he entered a relationship with Farrow in 1980. Allen then went on to have a relationship with, marry and adopt two children with Soon-Yi which all caused quite the stir when it came to light back in 1992. What’s amazing is that Allen and Farrow were in the middle of shooting Husbands and Wives when she discovered the affair. Somehow she was able to finish shooting the picture and when we see clips from the film it’s astounding to think what is really going through the actor’s mind. Allen still remains steadfast in his attitude that they were in love and while he totally excepts that everyone was entitled to their opinion he doesn’t give a damn.
This segment is the only critical part of the film and only concerns his personal life as opposed to his film career. We hear about his various falls from grace; notably with Stardust Memories a sort of early memoir where he examines his work to date and hits back at the critics who have fallen out of love with him since Annie Hall and Manhattan. The one thing that is clear is Allen’s lack of concern about how a film will be received, he’s making the film he wants with the actors he wants and couldn’t really care about anything else. Since his first writing role on What’s New Pussycat he saw what a studio can do to your words and vowed never to work without complete artistic control. Somehow he got it and even admits himself that he has no idea how, but since those early days he has always called the shots.
If you are aware of Woody Allen you’ll know almost all of the information contained within this documentary. It throws some light on how Allen never really took the safe option, always changing, wanting some new and exciting challenge, never happy with the labels assigned to him by people. I was making a mental note of some of his mid-career work that I need to catch up on but apart from this it had no real merits, it keeps you interested but I am not sure it’ll do anything to make skeptics aware of the genius of Allen.
USA / Directed By: Robert B. Weide / 113min / Documentary / Release: 8 June 2012 (UK/Irl) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cgIY-_57mk