Woody Allen - A Documentary

by Ed Tapper

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 14, 2012

Woody Allen - A Documentary

At age 16, Woody Allen broke into show business as a gag writer for other comedians, and, shortly thereafter, was himself in demand as a stand-up comic in nightclubs and on television. Trained from this early age to crank out countless jokes on a tight, daily deadline, Allen went on to become the most prolific writer / director in the history of film, with over 40 movies to his credit. Audiences became privy to his personal psychotherapy sessions while viewing his films, and his neurotic grappling with issues of mortality and, more even more daunting, his mother, were incessantly explored in cinematic essays. Many movie-goers bailed out, ill at ease with Allen's high-brow, comedic blend of Kaufmann and Kafka. Fans who stayed on witnessed Allen's true gifts: his ability to expand his art, explore new styles and themes, and adapt his writing to any given period.

Though the media had a field day with the relationships and dramas of Woody's personal life, the director strove to keep his private affairs from the public eye. However, Allen finally offered more than a glimpse to filmmaker Robert Weide, who was allowed to tail him for over a year, and create a three-hour documentary on his life and working methods. The film was recently premiered on the PBS American Maters series, and is now being released on DVD.

"Woody Allen: A Documentary" is altogether superb, required viewing for fans of the elusive director. In the 2-disc set, Allen himself is interviewed in depth, as are members of his family, and the actors he employed and befriended. There is ample archival footage from throughout his career, interspersed with discussions of his key films, arranged chronologically. The only shortcoming is that, after watching this impressive study of Allen's career and directorial methods, the viewer is still left in the dark as to his real character. Perhaps, like his creation, Zelig, his true identity will remain a mystery. The film does manage to put into perspective all the great movies, and a few of the less great. Yet "Manhattan" star Mariel Hemingway aptly states in the documentary that, in a filmography so vast, there are bound to be a few misfires; but, even in those, there are many things to admire.

Woody Allen: A Documentary