Woody Allen: A Documentary (★★★★ Empire Review)

WoodyAllenDocSquareThe no-nonsense title says it all: this is a no-frills, clips-and-talking heads compilation – but what clips! What talking heads! Diane Keaton, Gordon Willis, Mariel Hemingway, Marshall Brickman, Sean Penn and Charles Joffe are just a few of the former collaborators on Curb Your Enthusiasm director Robert B. Weide’s interview list. Weide was granted unprecedented access to the artist formerly known as Allan Konigsberg, and didn’t waste it, giving us a rare insight into the mind of one of our greatest living filmmakers. Cut down for cinema release to a less bum-numbing 113 minutes, the DVD reinstates the excised 80 minutes of interviews, film clips and rare behind-the-scenes footage for a fuller picture of his career, from writing jokes for money aged fifteen, to his most successful film (Midnight in Paris) sixty years later.

Attempting to encapsulate Woody Allen’s career in anything approaching a reasonable running time is a feat in itself, but Weide’s mostly chronological approach smoothly follows Woody’s output as it evolves from his “early, funny films” into more sophisticated and mature material such as Annie Hall and Manhattan, through his Bergmanesque/Felliniesque period and into his second and now third creative renaissance. Of course, Weide comes to praise Woody, not to bury him, and the film is more concerned with his work than his chequered personal life (“It took the edge off my natural blandness,” he says of the Soon-Yi controversy). It’s unlikely to win new fans, but for anyone with even a passing interest in one of the most prolific, accomplished and infuriatingly inconsistent American filmmakers, it’s three hours of bliss. ★★★★

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