Anyone going to see this documentary to find out about Allen the man will be disappointed: the focus is definitely on his work, establishing him as a film-maker but choosing not to address his plays or other writing.
Viewers may not know ‘early funny’ films (running joke from Stardust Memories (1980)) such as Bananas (1971), but quite possibly do know Manhattan (1979) – looking good at 33! Those working back from Midnight in Paris (2011) will find much to enjoy…
This film sets out the details of how Woody Allen began his career: at first writing gags for columnists, followed by work with agents, Rollins and Joffe, who encouraged him to try his wit at stand-up comedy. After painful sessions at clubs like The Blue Angel, Allen eventually got recognized, and his name spread. Further exposure in mediums such as Dick Cavett’s show led to writing and appearing in What’s New, Pussycat?(1965), which was mauled by studio executives.
The experience told Allen to direct his own films, which Joffe and Rollins secured, and he began with Take The Money and Run (1969), co-written with friend Mickey Rose (likewise Bananas). Fifteen years’ worth of releases were well represented in clips and comment. At that rate of progress, I did wonder how long the film could be. But it jumped over some films, and also cut a recent decade before featuring Scarlett Johansson in Match Point (2005) and Penelope Cruz (who won the Oscar) starring alongside Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).
Interviews revealed plenty of conflicting views on Allen’ s style; Josh Brolin spoke of his dissent with Allen’s direction, and Robert Greenhut suggested that actors do their best because they wanted to work with him. In contrast, Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan’s teenage Tracy), Scarlett, Mira Sorvino, Diane Keaton and others spoke as clear adherents.
There were few negative aspects to the film but the most notable was having a theologian film-critic read the published interviews (1995) quote ‘existential subjects to me are still the only subjects worth dealing with’ into Allen’s films, which seemed unnecessary.
While Allen was was obviously happy enough to show the first house at which he lived, what had become of the cinema to which he used to escape, and, presumably, footage that he had made of his mother in later life he does not dwell on any other aspects of his personal life. There is, however, plenty of Allen being bright and creative with words and in his films to satisfy most viewers.
Anthony has awarded Woody Allen: A Documentary four torches of truth