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Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Woody Allen: A Documentary", life through a camera

Woody Allen: A Documentary

I already wrote this: I owe a lot to Woody Allen, not only in terms of "cultural education" but also in terms of humour and a certain view of life. I was sixteen when a friend of a friend passed me a couple of films. The first one was Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (Les Quatre Cents Coups). It grab me and shook me as very few things before. But it was nothing compared with the impact of the second film. I'm referring, of course, to Allen's "Annie Hall", that not only remains as a fundamental movie for me. I know that will "remain with me" forever.

This personal introduction explains why it was virtually mandatory for me to watch this documentary, even though I suspected there wasn't going to be a lot of new information for me on the director (seen it all, read it a lot). The surprise was that for a while, "Woody Allen: A Documentary", it does proof to be a quite revealing and very entertaining film.

Seems that director Robert Weide has had access (which is remarkable) not only to deconstruct the career of the Brooklyn artist, but also to film a bit of his daily life and creative process. During its first half, we have the chronicle of Allen's rising from teen writer to stand up comedian, TV star to a movie writer-director praised as an iconic auteur. For any devoted fan, the archive footage of his monologues and jokes on TV, along with the opinions of the people who are (look at his film credits!, always the same people) "Allen's gang": Jack Rollins, Charles H Joffe, Letty hugely enjoyable. But the contrast with his opinions on camera, his memories of childhood, and his writing habits (the scenes when he shows his working desk, his impossibly outdated German typewriter, and the scrapped notes he keeps that then will become scripts are precious), make this documentary A MUST-SEE.

Seriously, it could have been close to perfection. We start the recap of his filmography going movie after movie for a while (nice to see Martin Scorsese sharing his views on Allen's career). There's another precious chapter (it couldn't be any other way) with the apparition of Annie, or better said, Diane Keaton. Yes, as the movie says, count me among the ones that felt in love with her in this movie. There's one wonderful scene, with Allen incapable of not laughing in front of her, that it reveals much more than any declaration on their level of connection. But after "Stardust Memories" Weide changes the film structure. Gone is the idea of going film-by-film, and everything seems to be rushing from there on. A glimpse on the Mia Farrow-Soon-Yi scandal, although it is remarkable Allen share a thought on that too, a very quick jump into the 90s, another one on his late "lost period", and then his unexpected success with the charming "Midnight in Paris", all mixed with opinions on his legacy, and how actors (Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson or Naomi Watts among others) enjoy his peculiar way of directing them. Too much in too little time, forgetting too many things...

Now I have found the film I've just seen is the cinema-release version of a PBS documentary which originally clocks at 191-minutes. That is an enormous difference in length (almost 80 minutes) which might help explaining why the second half of the film looks more disjointed and pressed. I'm sorry to say that if that's the case, well then it seems that, again, business defeated cinema. A commercial decision (reducing the film length) was prioritized instead of consistency and coherency of what potentially was a superb documentary on one of the most important directors, if you allow me to say, ever. I know that I will end watching the complete documentary sooner or later, so I'll let you know... For now, a recommendable documentary that could have been a must-see.

SCORE: 6,25/10

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