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Woody Allen: A Documentary Reviews

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JonathanHutchings
JonathanHutchings

Super Reviewer

January 27, 2013
Watching PBS' documentary on Woody Allen is like spending an afternoon with an old friend. It's enormously entertaining, but despite a running time of over three hours and the full participation of Woody Allen and almost all of his notable, still-living associates, it feels less like an in-depth examination of Allen's life than a light-hearted overview of it. In its admirable but foolhardy attempt to cover every facet of Allen's life and career, it's forced to gloss over a lot of topics and speed through decades in minutes. The fact remains, though, that Woody Allen: A Documentary is enthralling, hilarious, and guaranteed to evoke powerful nostalgia from all Woody Allen fans.

This movie's closest parallel is probably Wild Man Blues, another documentary for which Allen opened himself up. Wild Man Blues captured Allen naturally, which made it loose and intimate, but Woody Allen: A Documentary consists entirely of staged interviews and archive footage, which gives it a more official feel.

And while Wild Man Blues was micro - looking at Allen over the course of a month - Woody Allen: A Documentary is macro - starting with Allen's birth, and going all the way up to the success of Midnight in Paris. So vast is its focus that there were obviously a lot of decisions that needed to be made about what to keep and what to cut. I have some quibbles with what they've chosen to include and exclude, and just about everyone else will too. In trying to do so much, they've prevented themselves from being able to wholly satisfy anyone, other than the curious non-fan looking for a quick overview of what Woody Allen is all about.

Woody Allen: A Documentary was written, produced and directed for PBS' American Masters series by Robert B. Weide. Weide, a career chronicler of funny people, has directed documentaries on the Marx brothers, Mort Sahl, W.C. Fields and Lenny Bruce. He's also executive-produced the entire run of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm and directed half of its episodes.

Weide's most relevant work with regard to Woody Allen: A Documentary is Marx Brothers in a Nutshell, a 1982 documentary he made for PBS. His first project out of film school, it was produced by Allen's long-time agent/producer Charles H. Joffe, and, likely as a result of this, managed to land Woody Allen as a talking-head contributor. This led to Weide allegedly spending years trying to convince Allen to participate in another documentary, this time with himself as the subject.

Allen was quite reclusive in the '80s and '90s but started to open up and make more public appearances in the '00s, so it makes sense that he'd finally agree to this project in 2010. Filmed over 18 months, Woody Allen: A Documentary boasts "unprecedented access" to Allen, although he's no more revealing, candid or emotional than he's been in any of his press junkets of the last decade. He says a lot of the same things we've been hearing him say forever, although he's charming and hilarious as always.

He also offers many seemingly mundane tidbits that are likely to thrill Woody Allen obsessives - like a tour of his childhood neighborhood, and a look at the typewriter on which he's typed up every single one of his movies.

Weide is clearly a Woody Allen fan, and this movie was made for other fans. The tone is loving, verging on worshipful. None of the many criticisms leveled against Allen over the decades are addressed (outside of a brief acknowledgement from Leonard Maltin and Mariel Hemingway that he's made 'some clunkers'). Weide doesn't invite anyone with any remotely harsh things to say about Allen, and doesn't ask any tough questions. If he had levelled those tough questions, it's unlikely he would've gotten any answers from Allen, but it might have been nice of him to try. All in all though, it's an interesting journey through the life of one of cinema's greatest voices.
Sam B

Super Reviewer

June 29, 2012
It sidesteps the far more interesting inner-depths of Allen's mind (and history), but as a look at his writing process and filmography, this documentary is fascinating, insightful, and satisfying.
Bill D 2007
Bill D 2007

Super Reviewer

October 29, 2012
"Woody Allen: A Documentary" is no great work of art, but it's a very thorough overview of Allen's life and work. Mr. Allen allows himself to be filmed quite a bit and gives thoughtful commentary on a range of subjects.

Ultimately, it makes Allen out to seem like a rather shallow craftsman, not a true artist. Not sure that was the intention of the project! I feel that Allen had a brief period of true artistry in the late 1970s. In my view, his last great work of art was "Stardust Memories," which I'm confident will someday be perceived as the masterpiece it is.
flixsterman
flixsterman

Super Reviewer

July 18, 2012
An revealing and informative look at the life and career of one of Hollywood's most prolific writer/directors. Definitely slanted in Mr. Allen's favor as some of the more controversial topics seem a little glossed and minimized.
July 13, 2013
Long documentary that holds back too much and pulls all of its punches, being more a montage with talking heads. Allen's comments are great though and his approach to being creative reminds me of myself: self-depreciative, working all the time, etc.
August 21, 2012
"Woody Allen: A Documentary" is an absolutely comprehensive chronicling this celebrity's life. The film is incredibly entertaining, not because of the narration or anything that sets it apart from other documentaries, but simply because Woody and all of his movie clips are entertaining by their very nature. With 200 minutes of footage, the documentary is not as daunting as it might seem, splitting the film into two parts at a logical point in Woody's life so that watching it in two sittings will not disrupt the film's flow. The documentary tells the story of Woody's personal life from childhood to famous writer, interspercing the important moments of his career into this timeline. With such a long run-time, the documentary provides a ton of insight into the making of Allen's most famous films, as well as audience reactions and their inability to dictate the author's work. If there is one thing to take from this film, it is that Woody is an artist that creates films without regard for the audience. He puts on paper what is in his mind, manifesting his quirky humor and allowing the actors to take liberties with his script to properly develop their characters. That is what makes his films so amazing and candid. Some of my favorite parts are the interviews with actors (Scarlett Johannsen, Penelope Cruz) as they recall stories of their interactions with Woody during filming. Martin Scorsese is featured a lot, creating an interesting perspective of Woody. The documentary also draws many parallels between the content of his films and his own childhood and adult life. "Woody Allen: A Documentary" is a must see for all fans of his movies, and I would guess that anybody who is not familiar with his body of work will be adding many of his movies to their Netflix queue as the documentary progresses. This is simply another reminder of the greatness of Woody Allen's films.
July 18, 2012
I think the only reason I was so fascinated by this documentary is because of how much I love Allen and his filmography. I'm not sure if this is a great "documentary," so to speak. Portions of it are illuminating, but it's mostly just a love letter to his work. That's something I don't entirely mind, but I have to wonder if it would be more interesting with less flattery and more criticism.
June 29, 2014
A pleasure to watch...
Lucas A.
May 23, 2014
A true, faithful, and characteristic denotável portrait diary of one of the most beloved masters of cinema: Woody Allen. Here, the director reveals not only its great history behind the camera as well as on camera, such as your relationships with your audience and your work. The film shows not only the history but the history, success and fall of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Brilliant!
Billie P.
March 24, 2014
This Woody Allen documentary is about Woody Allen as a filmmaker and some of the larger themes that are played out in his films. It is a tad bit light on biography, so if you're looking for that, you won't find that here.
March 7, 2014
Slightly disheveled this director shows a little-known facet of Woody Allen as a director, actor and musician, among other things. This work is a great contribution to a better understanding of the work of Woody Allen.
March 7, 2014
the best director, actor , writter etc
December 25, 2013
Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011)
December 6, 2013
I hadn't expected Woody Allen's full participation in this documentary (or any documentary), given his often-discussed need for privacy (and the inevitable discussion of his private life). However, that's probably why this is a bit of a puff piece. There is a more-or-less detailed discussion of his early career and gag-focused films and then his shift into "mature" material with Annie Hall. Then, onward into the mixed bag of films that appeared in the 80s and 90s, but with little extended treatment of each one. After that, the documentary starts to jump around and at least one talking head mentions decline or drift (after Deconstructing Harry, which gets no discussion at all) - up until Match Point and his renewal. A coda talks about the success of Midnight in Paris. Throughout it all, Allen professes that he doesn't think any of his films are good and that he'll never have a masterpiece. An interview in the disc's extras suggests that he doesn't care. It seems pretty apparent that he's worked out his themes in the past (as there is pretty much no discussion of themes or content after Crimes and Misdemeanors) and now he's just a craftsman (or an actor's director). Probably that's true, but it's hard to know whether you are going to get a dud or something richer (from anywhere in his oeuvre). Way back when, I would have expected better.
October 31, 2013
When not sleeping my way back to health this is what I am doing - watching Woody Allen. Well worth the time and my limited attention...
August 5, 2013
Some paths concerning Woody's personal life are only lightly traversed, but as a filmography study it's a first rate look at one of film's greatest minds.
July 29, 2013
A true delight from start to finish. Even if you loathe the man - you have to admit he is an absolute cinematic genius.
July 19, 2013
Excelente documental sobre la vida y obra de una de las mentes mas brillantes del cine. Un repaso sobre cada una de sus peliculas con sus curiosidades y comentarios de cada uno de los implicados,
June 24, 2013
I really relate to this film because of my autism.
May 26, 2013
Great way to spend a Sunday evening!
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