Littered with friends and co-stars’ insight into working with the fearless director, Robert B. Weide’s Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) is a comprehensive and no holds-barred study of the iconic American filmmaker’s life and career. It also succeeds in revealing some of Allen’s previously undeclared notions on his most celebrated work and the untold stories behind his some-forty films.
The documentary follows a traditional, linear format of archive footage, childhood pictures and sit-down interviews with the likes of Diane Keaton, Marshall Brickman, Letty Aronso, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack and Owen Wilson; each offering their adoration and respect for the man who either kick-started, rejuvenated or punctuated their film careers. Their stories detail the formation of Allen as cynical imperfectionist (who readily admits to churning out as many as one-two films per years just to fulfil his creative itch), from hyperactive 15-year-old comic Allan Konigsberg in 1940s Brooklyn to today’s still boundlessly productive 76-year-old auteur.
Candid moments with Allen are dotted around the film, illustrating his famed control over his own work. What’s more, his voice is imprinted on the entire documentary, offering both wildly funny and bitterly self-deprecating moments. It’s bracing that director Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm) hasn’t skirted around the less-celebratory factors of the man’s career, though his failures both professional and personal are explored rather than dwelt upon.
Regarding the darker aspects of his personal life, Allen readily admits that his personal exploits are public property in keeping with his celebrity position – but in typical Allen-style, the director doesn’t seem to care one iota about those judgements. His armour is impenetrable, and something that has only hardened throughout his fast-paced career in the filmmaking business. Some of his pursuits and choices have come at a great cost; his betrayal of long-time partner and star of his films Mia Farrow herself is unsurprisingly absent from the interview footage, as is any mention of Allen’s estranged son – for better or for worse.
Keaton features prominently as a quip-readied, shining presence within Woody Allen: A Documentary – still radiating everything her gawky character in Annie Hall (1977) was so cherished for. Excerpts from hits such as life quandaries Manhattan (1979), Hannah and her Sisters (1986) and Midnight in Paris (2011) outline the main questions raised by Woody’s staple and unrelenting voice; Why do we exist? Why do we love? Why do we die? Weide’s biography talks about the filmmakers’s life neither as iconic nor a piece of scandalous tabloid fodder, but as a quest to explore our most basic human concerns.