By Hemanth Kissoon
“Until ANNIE HALL I was only interested in making the audience laugh.”
Regardless of your stance on the work of Woody Allen (and surely every so-called silver screen lover must admire at least one of his films?), this documentary is for cinephiles everywhere. To be hitting so many highs for over four decades is an outstanding achievement. Since 1969 Allen has directed a feature every year (apart from 1970 and 1976), I mean wow! After all these years a documentary on the dramedy maestro is weirdly timely, coming off his biggest financial hit, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, winning him his fourth Oscar to boot; and it seems now he has achieved doyen status.
At only 108 minutes, to cover an entire career for the 76 year old, the pace never dawdles, while also touching on all the bases. We start with his youth in 1940s Brooklyn and we zip pretty much chronologically through this polymath’s life: stand-up comic, New Yorker contributing journalist, jazz clarinettist, playwright and filmmaker. Woody Allen talks frankly and frequently to camera. We also get:
- Archive footage and stills (with one interesting animation effect, which is a shame, as the film is not as playful as its subject’s movies);
- Clips from his oeuvre; and
- Multiple talking heads, such as Marin Scorsese, Chris Rock, Martin Landau, Scarlett Johansson, Senn Penn, Penelope Cruz and Diane Keaton (their mutual admiration and affection a highlight). We even have Owen Wilson hilariously comparing Allen to Michael Bay after the success of MIDNIGHT.
It is not a hagiography, we get (gentle) criticisms of some of his work, and the Mia Farrow controversy is briefly talked about.
For fans, the runtime will probably be too brief, and too much of a whistle-stop tour. For less devoted acolytes WOODY ALLEN: A DOCUMENTARY is a satisfying sweep of a prolific career. While not sycophantic, it is a celebration of a unique, hardworking talent.