Combustible Celluloid
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With: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Letty Aronson, Antonio Banderas, Marshall Brickman, Josh Brolin, Dick Cavett, Pen�lope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Seth Green, Mariel Hemingway, Annette Insdorf, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Kavner, Martin Landau, Louise Lasser, Robert Lauder, Leonard Maltin, Doug McGrath, Sean Penn, Tony Roberts, Chris Rock, Jack Rollins, Mickey Rose, Martin Scorsese, Mira Sorvino, Stephen Tenenbaum, Naomi Watts, Dianne Wiest, Gordon Willis, Owen Wilson
Written by: Robert B. Weide
Directed by: Robert B. Weide
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 195
Date: 03/18/2013

Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

What's New, Woody?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Robert B. Weide (Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm") landed the honor of making this 3-1/2 hour episode of "American Masters" for PBS, interviewing Woody Allen as well as many of the stars he's worked with over the years.

For fans it's a smorgasbord of fun stuff, ranging from clips of movies you may not have seen for a while, to footage of Woody at work. His sit-down interviews prove that, while he is somewhat like the "Woody Allen" character portrayed onscreen, he's mainly a very different person in real life.

Woody Allen: A Documentary goes roughly in chronological order, spending a little time on Woody's gag-writing career, his career as a stand-up comic, and then his foray into movies. A few moments here and there are dedicated to his jazz performances and his love of sports (especially the New York Knicks).

After 3-1/2 hours we learn a little bit more about Woody than we might have already known; mainly he seems more confident than onscreen. He still has his neuroses, but he's not shy or apologetic about them.

Various actors, ranging from Diane Keaton to Scarlett Johansson poke holes in the rumors that Woody does not direct actors. Rather, he concentrates on casting and encourages the actors to bring their own instincts to a role. (In case anyone is wondering, Mia Farrow was not interviewed for this documentary, though it does have very nice things to say about her.)

It ends happily, as Woody's latest movie, Midnight in Paris, becomes the biggest box office hit of his career. (Though Woody himself calls it a fluke.)

However, even after 3-1/2 hours, the documentary really only scratches the surface of a complicated artist. There are, of course, bits and pieces, such as when Martin Scorsese suggests that an artist keeps creating to keep asserting that he's still alive, but Woody himself never betrays anything. His interviews are matter-of-fact, but not revealing. It seems unlikely that anyone could get much deeper than this, say, to the level that Terry Zwigoff achieved in Crumb. (Zwigoff was once considered for another Allen documentary, Wild Man Blues.)

Despite that, Woody Allen: A Documentary is addictive for a fan, revisiting all those great moments and a list of over 40 movies. As Mariel Hemingway and others say, some of those movies are great, most of them are good, and even the misfires have a little something interesting.

Docurama Films has released the documentary on a two-disc set. Extras include a handful of deleted scenes, including about a minute-and-a-half about Woody's contributions to the New Yorker. Perhaps most amusing is director Weide's "12 questions" for Woody.

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