Woody Allen: A Documentary Review

Woody Allen: A Documentary film still


Director Robert B Weide offers a light, amusing canter through Woody World.

A leisurely jazz café duet of piano and bassoon accompanies a dusky establishing shot of the 59th Street Bridge that’s followed by a quick-fire montage of pedestrians, pigeons and yellow cabs. "Writing is the great life,' chimes a familiar voice. Why, it’s our old pal Woody Allen, laid out across a bed scribbling his thoughts on a yellow jotter. Let’s listen on... "In the room, everything you write is great, but when you go out and do it, all your schemes about making a masterpiece are reduced to, ‘I’ll prostitute myself anyway I have to to survive this catastrophe.'"

Forty years and as many features into his career, you can forgive the 76-year-old New Yorker for seeming self-deprecating and sour. After all, here is a filmmaker who has given his life to cinema, maintaining a tireless work ethic and remarkable degree of artistic control. Sure, there have been a few "clunkers" (as Manhattan’s Mariel Hemingway puts it) but Woody never lets the cynics get him down.

This is the cornerstone sentiment of Robert B Weide’s compact authorised biography, a film that chronologically lays out the facts but fails to find anything new or profound to say about Allen or his substantial body of work. We learn, for example, how a teenage Allan Konigsberg went from churning out funnies for a string of weekly columnists to becoming a household name in the 1960s doing TV stand-up, but his difficult transition to movie director is largely skimmed over.

And after lingering on his unsurpassed late-'70s triumphs Annie Hall and Manhattan, we briskly hopscotch over the next few decades, bringing us right up to the present day where Weide vainly recycles on-set anecdotes from the casts of Match Point, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Midnight in Paris. All the while his subject is restricted to the sidelines, popping up sporadically to point out his favourite childhood fleapit and offer the briefest of glimpses into his creative process. How disappointing.

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