Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011) – Film Review
Director: Robert B. Weide
by Dan Berlinka
If you’re in the cinema watching this documentary, you’re a Woody Allen fan. Or you went with someone who is. But if you don’t like him yourself, you never should have agreed to go. So we can assume that there’s going to be a lot here that you’ll enjoy.
The use of archive is excellent, particularly from Allen’s early TV appearances on talk shows, game shows, and, apparently, pretty much any other show that would have him. The interviews, while entirely laudatory, are largely entertaining. Although those with his long-time collaborators offer the greater insights.
And then there’s Allen himself, both as a surprisingly warm presence in his recent interviews, and through the well-chosen clips from a truly remarkable body of work.
It’s true that there are broadly four phases to his career – ‘the early funny ones’, followed by the Keaton, Farrow and ‘Meh’ periods. But while most people would agree that there’s been a decline, being reminded of the sheer number of great films Woody Allen has made is still pretty staggering.
“Focus is on the work, not the private life”
Beyond that, however, the documentary has little to add to the excellent 1987 BBC profile (which itself makes a brief appearance in this film). Presumably the three hour plus TV version feel less thin, but in the cinema cut, after an excellent summary of the years leading up to Manhattan and Stardust Memories, everything starts to feel a little skated over.
The most… ahem… controversial moment in Allen’s life and his subsequent and well documented relationship with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, is mentioned almost in passing, and though it might be argued that the focus is on the work, not the private life, the film never really gets under the skin of its subject, whether that’s the man, or his movies.
Overall, I would probably hold out for the longer TV edit, but it’s certainly an agreeable watch for anyone who ever fell in love with a picture that began with that Windsor font and a jazz soundtrack.