Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) Directed by Robert B. Weide
Here's my three viewpoints to look at Woody Allen after seeing the documentary for the second time:
1) Child+parent compatibility
Allen was born to parents who wanted their son to become a dentist or something normal and respectable in that vein. In the documentary Nettie (Allen's mother) makes a comment on her son that reveals that even after all his cinema success and early success as a comic writer and artist, Nettie would have preferred a different kind of child. One less queer. Letty, Allen's sister comments in the film that Woody was born to the wrong parents. But were they so wrong? I think it's possible that the difference and undervaluing he experienced in his early life probably contributed greatly to the kind of humour and self-debrecating wonder we got from Allen, the director and actor. In a supportive bohemian well-off family would he have created such a work ethic?
Woody Allen is a brilliant artist name. I never really thought about his name much until I re-watched the documentary. Being born Allan Stewart Konigsberg and then inventing one self as Woody Allen, that's a journey I would like to know more about. Names are important. Woody tells that one reason why he changed his name was to avoid an uncomfortable connection between the high school kid and the joke writer, who by the age of 17 was earning more than his parents. Renaming oneself offers (at first) a disconnection to one's past, and therefore it can be a clean platform for new invention – a recreation of the self (or maybe just a realization?). I would also like to add that some people are great at naming people and things – and Woody is definitely one of those people. (I love it that he renamed himself after Woody Herman)
I follow Penelope Trunk's blog and it has taught me to look at anything in life, but especially other people's failures and successes as career advice. Woody Allen's career advice would be: A) "Quantity over quality". He tells in the documentary that he believes in working constantly and putting out movies every year. Through great quantity some works have to be good/successful, he says while accepting that many will fail (self-deprecating again). B) Also, Allen is an example of a person who follows his passion and doesn't consider stopping work to retire at some point (when he's clearly old). Maybe it's to stop death from catching him, maybe it's because he lacks skills needed in the everyday life, or maybe it's because work really is that fulfilling when it is your passion as well. C) Commit to a serious side project to rejuvenate yourself on regular basis – as in Woody and his clarinet. He still plays at Carlyle Hotel every Monday with his band.
A couple of weeks ago an article appeared on The Quietus about longevity of film directors and how many of the old guard still working today should have packed it in a long time ago. Woody Allen was of course listed. According to the article he should have stopped after Stardust Memories (I guess I didn't mention the article, unusual for The Quietus, was terrible). It's a valid discussion (but needs to be discussed in a a less hysterical manner than The Quietus managed) and one that should be applied to the music business and its need to re-package, re-analyse, re-introduce, reform at every given moment. I would say on balance Allen has actually earned the right to keep making pictures. And I'm still not sure he's made an absolute 100% stinker.
Post-Stardust Memories Allen has actually directed what I would consider great films: The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Hannah & Her Sisters, Broadway Danny Rose, Husbands & Wives. Then there's the merely good: Zelig, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Crimes & Misdemeanours, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Radio Days, Match Point, Midnight In Paris. Then there's moments in all of his other films, always some magic, if fleeting. It could be a line of dialogue, a performance, a shot, well something. Which, to get to the point, means I'll indulge Allen more. It's possible he'll never approach anything as great as Stardust Memories again, but very few reach those heights ever. This brings us to Woody Allen: A Documentary.
This documentary, carefully yet knowingly made by Robert B Weide, is fascinating and as entertaining as a very good Woody Allen picture. Most of his films are discussed in detail, Allen himself offering many personal insights. Allen gives open access to his life (past & present) and comes across as reasonable and likeable. The early life is well presented and gives us the real picture that Allen has been working all his adult life at the top level. Behind the self deprecating manner we get enough of a glimpse (though often through others) of the drive that Allen has obviously used to become such an iconic film maker. For any fan of Woody Allen who still hasn't seen this yet, why are you waiting? For anybody else? This is a very entertaining documentary about someone who's cracked a lot of jokes.