Film Review: Woody Allen. A Documentary (Theatrical Cut)
May we interject one concept into this juncture? Well, reverential witticisms aside, the title of this look into the iconoclastic comic is a misnomer, nor is the film necessarily a direct biography in the strictest sense. However, as a digest of the highlights of Allen’s career it is without a doubt successful in that regard. Certainly, Woody Allen’s (formerly Allan Konigsberg) upbringing, early career and rickety but enduring film career is covered. From his timid on set manner, early stand-up routines and lifelong affinity for penning his scripts on a typewriter older than most of his fans are all intriguing factoids, but when they’re stacked up against even the funnier segments from Stardust Memories (“We love your movies, especially the early funny ones” Allen is informed by visiting Extra-Terrestrials in the film), the snippets take precedence.
Interestingly re-edited from a televised version, the cut here approaches comprehensive in regard his most significant work and early appearances, although it is certainly ruthless in selecting the worth of his work. You won’t find any anecdotes regarding his cameo as ‘Jimmy Bond’ in the original Sellers/Niven version of Casino Royale or even a single frame from Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (you know the rest) here. The downs are covered as much as the ups, although for any mention of Interiors, you can’t help but wonder where somebody left out Scoop or Cassandra’s Dream (then again, he has made close to 50 films) or whether or not A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy could possibly be called a return to form (as we’re so told here).
There is no doubt that given the talent behind this document, director Robert B. Weide (as well as a brief interview with fellow Curb Your Enthusiasm star/lifelong Allen fan Larry David) is much more concerned with a portrait of the comedian Woody rather than the real Woody. Allen’s personal life here is shrouded in euphemism, his controversial affair with Soon-Yi Previn is touched upon but ultimately played out in stronger regard to his and Mia Farrow’s final effort, Husbands and Wives (brilliantly selected footage clearly demonstrates Farrow’s underlying ire for her adulterous co-star). The media storm and ensuing custody battle is similarly played out, but with the backdrop of another production.
On the one hand, to sweep such difficult material under the rug is a mistake many a biography can make (Marley similarly fell afoul of this). The objectivity is lost as the polemic of the filmmaker is indulged, and with Allen’s fate in the hands of an obvious fan such as Weide, we are treated to a greatest hits clip show interspersed with interviews. There are chuckles to be had, but most of them are in the reused footage and you certainly will be hard pressed to shake off the urge to skip this film altogether, dash over to HMV and seek out a copy of The Purple Rose of Cairo. In fairness though, whatever fleeting insight into the man is enjoyably intriguing, the very fact that even a compendium of Allen could even be half as funny as one of his films is a testament to itself. Whilst not entirely rewarding, it is worth some of your while. If not, you’ll always have Midnight in Paris.