Woody Allen: A Documentary - Blu-ray Review

'Allen comes across as clever but odd. He talks like an academic without ever quoting the scripture from which he has learnt.'

In a documentary about one human being, it is difficult for film, film-maker or analytic audience to not get confused. What, exactly, are we looking at? Is the quality of the film inherently related to the quality of the person, or of that person's company? If that person is inherently 'good', can the film get by on just saying so?

To take that route as a film-maker can result in bland fawning, as in the Harry Belafonte documentary from earlier in the year, when an ostensibly 'good' man is presented in chronological order, without much comment, until the point where the film-maker gives up and just allows him to monologue. The analytic audience are left with little to analyse.

Without a doubt, Woody Allen: A Documentary has some of that as well. The Blu-ray cut, which runs to over three hours, includes new interviews, archive interviews, talking heads of stars and relatives and archive clips from stand-up routines or films. It is, without a doubt, reverential of its star, who has continued to make around a film a year for the last several years.

And yet, there is insight here too, director Robert B. Weide never allowing Allen to run off with a film which isn't his: he may be the subject, but Weide is in control. Analysis of his films and of their relative successes isn't left to him or his close circle (perhaps a good thing: Allen famously begged his studio not to release Manhattan, widely regarded as one of his best) but instead introduced and contextualised by film scholars. There is comment passed on his personal life and working habits, including his relationship with his current partner, who was at one point his ex-partner's (Mia Farrow) adopted daughter.

The result is a compelling portrait which lacks not for insight, critique, access or personal touch. Allen comes across as clever but odd. He talks like an academic without ever quoting the scripture from which he has learnt. His methods are revealed as somewhat quirky but also resourceful and bountiful (the films keep coming, and being fairly well received).

Perhaps the ultimate conclusion to be drawn on Allen is just how disconnected he seems to be from the film-making process. He talks of continuing to make films because he is searching for his masterpiece but he doesn't seem as invested in actually making them as he is in the writing process. He turns up on set and is handed the day's schedule, which he has never previously seen. He casts actors without seeing them read. He sets up shots, shoots and is driven home. He dislikes giving actors direction. He hires via a slightly cold, template, letter.

The picture is of someone with skill yes, but also of someone with skill who does not know how to stop repeating a process. Woody Allen is films, whether he likes it or not. Perhaps a more startling conclusion in Weide's film than it might appear here on virtual paper, but nevertheless an interesting one, worthy of more analysis.

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