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Film Review: Woody Allen: A Documentary

29th June 2012

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To say that I'm a bit of a fan of the film's of Woody Allen would be a gross understatement. A few years ago, I popped my Allen cherry with his nigh-on perfect relationship comedy Annie Hall, and since then my obsession with the bespectacled neurotic oddball has done nothing but grow.Woody Allen review pic

Now I'm like an addict with his films, watching two - maybe three - a week, and I have no intention of kicking the habit. If there was a Woody Allen Watcher's Anonymous group I'd probably be its most troubled member. It's even got to the point where I've begun writing a Film Studies dissertation on the man and his work. To say I'm a fan is an understatement; I'm a devotee. 

And so it seems prescient for me, what with the forthcoming dissertation, that Woody Allen: A Documentary has been released. The surprise box-office success of 2011's Midnight in Paris has kick-started something of a resurgence of mainstream popularity for Woody Allen, something which has eluded him for a good decade or so, and so Robert B. Weide's examination, and for the most part a celebration, of Allen's entire body of work seems in fitting with the public attitude.

The documentary itself is essentially a series of talking heads from Allen's past interspersed with archive footage of his early career and clips from some of his films. Weide manages to interview a near exhaustive list of fans, colleagues and family members, from Allen favourites Diane Keaton and Scarlett Johansson to Allen's sister and mother. But despite this thorough going-over of the past, it's difficult not to feel that this exploration of Woody Allen's films is nothing more than superficial.

The thing that every good documentary needs is balance, and unfortunately Woody Allen: A Documentary has about as much balance as a drunken trapeze artist. The majority of the piece errs far too much on the side of praise, with only a periphery look at the controversies of his career and personal life. When such controversies are mentioned, you can't help but feel Weide's reticence at even bringing them up. While it's a positive thing that the director doesn't want to pry to the point of leering, it creates the sense of an elephant in the room that no one wants to mention.

That's not to say that the film isn't worth watching. There's enough interesting material here - especially the at times bizarre footage of Allen's early television appearances and a sequence where Allen describes his personal writing process - to walk away with new knowledge of the comedian and writer, and newer fans of Allen's should take the films mentioned in the documentary as a list of must-watches to really appreciate his impact. But in being so overwhelmingly celebratory of his work, an opportunity to delve a little deeper has been missed.

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