Woody Allen: A Documentary ★★★

The film delivers exactly what the title promised; an affectionate documentary about the life and career of one of America’s most prolific and renowned filmmakers. Directed by Robert B. Weide the film explores Allen’s early life as a gag writer and his first forays into stand-up comedy before his successful transition into writing and directing for cinema. Featuring extensive interviews with the man himself along with an exhaustive selection of talking heads from friends, family and key collaborators, the film attempts to provide a light overview of an eventful life.

Although the film is labelled at under two-hours on IMDb the TV-edit I watched, which was split over two consecutive nights, clocked in at over three-hours. It is hard to know what has been added to the theatrical version but I welcomed the longer form, not least because his four decade career deserves the extra attention. The documentary is very much a celebration of a career rather than a probing examination of the man behind the camera. For this reason it skirts over the more controversial topics of his life and career. It does mention his break-up with Mia Farrow (her absence as a contributor is unsurprising) but doesn’t go into detail whilst it practically brushes over his failed films in order to focus on the successes.

Whilst this is disappointing in a way - a more candid documentary would have been interesting particularly in examining why some of his films were so poor - it doesn’t detract from what is an informative and entertaining film. His career is examined in detail with lots of engaging anecdotes surrounding his creative process. It is good to see Allen contributing to the film too and he is open to the process and to his failings. Whilst all the contributors are gushing in their admiration at least they are people who know Allen best rather than famous fans offering empty praise.

Watching his career in chronological order also proves interesting. Everybody knows he has particular creative phases (such as the oft-mentioned early funny films) but you get a much better understanding of his influences and passions and why he explored new creative avenues. His exhausting work ethic also puts most people to shame whether it was working as a gag writer as a teenager or still writing and directing a film a year well into his 70s, the man seems incapable of stopping.

Woody Allen: A Documentary might avoid the tough questions but it proves to be an enjoyable trip through a noteworthy career.

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