Saturday At The Movies: Woody Allen: A Documentary

Apparently, I’m a lot like Woody Allen. So I’ve been told by men older than myself. I can see it, I admit. There’s the whole jewish thing for starters. There’s the neurotic aspect of my personality too. And I admit, I do worry about the universe expanding. I do think it’s my business.

However, I don’t you think you have to be chock full of all of his insecurities to be a Woody Allen fan. It probably helps, but as a filmmaker he’s created some of the most wonderful films of the last 40 years. Comedies and dramas that explore what it’s like to exist in this world. To search for love and happiness and friendship, all with the spectre of just how fragile and finite our existence really is. To paraphrase a Canadian comic book character with claws, Woody Allen is the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn’t always very nice.

Woody and I

I got on board with Woody in the 90’s, when I was a teenager and he was going through his one and only scandal, the dissolution of his relationship with Mia Farrow and his love affair (and eventual marriage) to her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. What’s amazing was through and subsequent to all that drama, Woody released a series of stellar films – Husbands and Wives, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, Deconstructing Harry. At the same time, I was going back to his earlier work – watching Annie Hall and Manhattan for the first time, rewatching The Purple Rose of Cairo and Crimes and Misdemeanors. I read biographies about the man and his work, looking to get an insight to what makes him tick.

How Does He Do It?

Which brings me to Woody Allen: A Documentary, a PBS two part film for American Masters that was recently released on DVD. Done with Woody’s complete cooperation, it’s as inside a look into his world and creativity that anybody interested in filmmaking and filmmakers should watch. Critics, actors and peers, including Martin Scorsese, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemmingway, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and many others offer enlightening descriptions of Woody’s methods as a writer and director. We watch Woody onset of his 2011 film You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, giving guidance and advice to his stars Brolin and Naomi Watts. It’s not one of his better films, but seeing the man at work is entertaining and informative.

There’s a strong focus on a few films – Annie Hall, Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Not surprising, really, as these three are really considered to be Woody at his best. It’s certainly hard for me to not think of them as such. All three offer such great insight into the human condition – who we are and why do the things we do. If you haven’t seen Annie Hall or Manhattan, you’re missing Diane Keaton at her best. As for Crimes and Misdemeanors, it offers up brilliant performances from Jerry Orbach and Martin Landau, two old time pros who work off each other brilliantly. To hear Woody and his stars talk about the films gives a fan an even greater insight and appreciation into his craft.

Final Thoughts

At nearly four hours long, Woody Allen: A Documentary is a near perfect exploration of Woody’s life and work. It doesn’t dwell on the Farrow scandal, so if you’re looking for that kind of gossip, you won’t find it here. As a fan of both Manhattan Murder Mystery and Deconstructing Harry, I would have like a little more insight into both those films. Overall though, this is one of the most compelling films I’ve ever watched on a filmmaker, made even more enticing by Woody’s full blown participation.

Watch it and you may find your appreciation of the man and his universe expanding.

Leave a Reply