Premiering as a part of the PBS American Masters series "Woody Allen: A Documentary" is an impressively scaled and professionally comprehensive project on the enigmatic filmmaker. Allen is a true Hollywood renegade--a man who has followed his passions and interests and made a career out of making the films he wanted without regard for commercial compromise. Such examples of contemporary auteurs are pretty rarified in this business of show, and Allen has become and remained an unlikely and inspirational trailblazer for over forty years. Allen, however, remains an intensely private and aloof persona, so this massive (over 3 hours) compilation of interviews and film clips is a rare treat. While the 2002 Richard Schickel special (he is also on hand as an interviewee for this piece) "Woody Allen: A Life in Film" offered a glimpse of what Allen thought of his film legacy, it lacked the sheer scope of this new documentary. "Woody Allen: A Documentary" definitively showcases the highlights of Allen's career as well as any other piece of film that I've seen. And that makes it pretty special indeed.
Director Robert Weide follows a course that is largely chronological. While Allen (and his sister) do offer some insight about his childhood and family, this really just serves as an introduction. Seeing Allen revisit his old childhood haunts is unexpectedly intimate. And while there are some other personal moments interspersed throughout including his music and the dissolution of his relationship with Mia Farrow, the topic here is focused primarily on Woody Allen, the professional. Allen, it seems, almost fell into show business and had early stints as a writer, comedian, and performer before breaking into filmmaking. His first foray into studio movies was the wildly successful "What's New Pussycat?" which, despite its popularity, convinced Allen he wanted to do his own thing. From his earlier comedies, to his breakthrough "Annie Hall," to the doldrums of the late nineties and early two thousands, to his recent resurgence--this film does an excellent job hitting all the career highlights. Appropriately, it even includes this year's "Midnight in Paris" which is his biggest money-maker of all time.
The documentary is loaded with great film clips and lots of celebrity interviews. From friends, co-workers, business partners, to a veritable who's who of Hollywood stars--there is no shortage of people willing to chime in on this American institution. Through it all, Allen comes across as incredibly spry, self deprecating, and very very funny. If you have any interest in Woody Allen films, this is absolutely unmissable. I doubt that a better, more comprehensive documentary will ever be made about his resume of works. That said, it is somewhat less than all-access when it comes to the man behind the camera. It offers more of Allen than I've seen before, but this is NOT an intimately personal look at the man. But it is an essential and incredibly entertaining piece from the aspect of film studies. Even with a running time of over three hours, "Woody Allen: A Documentary" flies by. And most importantly, it made me want to go back and revisit so many films that I haven't seen in years! KGHarris, 11/11.
DVD Bonus Features: 12 Questions with Woody Allen, Deleted Scenes/Interviews, and Interview with Weide.