Woody Allen: A Documentary.

10Jun12

Documentaries on artists are at their best when they manage to capture, through interviews, clips, context and commentary, everything it is that you love about the person in question. You should leave with a sense that their lives have been summed up, and you’ve been eloquently reminded of their virtues. And that means that this reflection on Woody Allen and his sprawling, marvellous career will be a treat for anyone that has seen his films only to howl and swoon at the man’s genius.

There is everything here. From his breakthrough as a stand-up comedian on the Dick Cavett show to his early slapstick comedy in the likes of Sleeper; on from the crude and crazy but often hilarious to the heartwarming and genre-changing rom-coms, Annie Hall and Manhattan; through his constant contemplation of the question of death, his active love lives with Keaton and Farrow, his eternal use of an ancient typewriter and his late renaissance in the form of Midnight in Paris – every side of Woody is here with the man himself to steer us through things, not to mention an abundance of his colleagues ready to shower him with sincere and considered praise.

He comes across as an enigma, as he should. There remains, for instance, the paradox presented by the depiction of a man that makes movies endlessly, beginning his next script the day he finishes filming the last. To sustain that sort of intensity and so often hit the jackpot over four decades is a rare, glorious achievement. And yet, Woody talks as if he has no time for carving out the perfect film. He says that he always has visons of himself making the next Citizen Kane, but once the reality of having to manage hundreds of people and build them into your plans materialises, he makes constant compromises and prostitutes himself in order to get the damn thing finished. He even claims he plays by the Quantity theory: make enough art in volume and you’ll strike gold occasionally.

How to reconcile these two figures? The obsessive hard worker and the man that, as he puts it, would prefer to be at home with his wife or playing the clarinet than spending an extra hour in the editing room? However he’s rendered intelligible, what’s clear from the perspective offered here is that the man is so hugely fun, enormously honest and clearly capable of having an entrancing effect on everyone he meets and shares his creativity with that the joys of Hannah and her SistersZelig and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are no mystery at all. The man was born to amuse, but also to warm our hearts.

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