News From the Queue: Woody Allen Doc, Hollywood Reality Show

By Bryan VanCampen

Woody Allen in Sleeper

Sometimes, there’s a movie out there that you don’t even know you’ve been dreaming about for decades. In fact, you’ve had to put the dream away and forget about it, because you just can’t imagine that such a movie could be unearthed.

That’s certainly the case with Robert Weide’s Woody Allen: A Documentary, four hours and change about everything you’d want to know about Allen but might have been afraid to ask. It arrives from Netflix spread across two DVDs. Personal stuff aside, Woody Allen is one of the great comedians and literary wits of the last 60 years, and his remarkable filmmaking oeuvre simply cuts across all genre restrictions; of his 40-plus films, Allen has directed at least 15 classic films and in particular written more Oscar-winning roles for women than anyone else in the history of the business.

From the moment I saw Allen in Sleeper, I devoured everything I could find: his comedy albums, New Yorker humor pieces, plays, and especially Richard Schickel’s documentary from a few years back. But what Weide has accomplished here simply amazed me. I think for most Allen fans, the biggest gap in his career has been all of Allen’s early TV work as a comic. Well, Weide really opened the vaults. There’s footage here of Allen killing on the Steve Allen show, and goofing around on the Dick Cavett program, even Allen singing and dancing in top hat and tails in one of the worst musical numbers in television history.

I think by the time Weide got to the 60 Minutes behind the scenes footage of Sleeper, my jaw well and truly hit the floor. There’s lots of footage of Allen cracking up at Diane Keaton’s performance, which helps that section of the film. Mia Farrow gets a lot of credit here, and Allen really wrote her all the parts that made her reputation with him in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but Weide’s doc confirms what I have always felt, that Allen and Keaton’s ‘70s work, culminating with Manhattan, really elevated them to the top of Hollywood’s great screen couples.

So – maybe you saw Midnight in Paris last year thinking it was an Owen Wilson movie. Maybe you’d never heard of the Woodman before. Well, get your hands on Weide’s movie, or throw some of Allen’s movies into your Netflix queue. Sure, Woody’s made a few dogs, particularly from ’00 to ’04, but boy, there’s great stuff waiting to be discovered.

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Aside from a wickedly absorbing Wayne Newton TV series on E! called The Entertainer, I usually stay away from “reality” television. But after seeing one episode of SyFy’s original series Hollywood Treasure, I was hooked. I watched 21 episodes in just a few days because they are just that addictive.

Hollywood Treasure follows Joe Maddalena, owner of Profiles in History and the world's largest auctioneer of original movie, television and pop culture collectibles, as he and his associates travel the world looking for the most iconic movie props and memorabilia. What really sells the show is Maddalena’s boyish enthusiasm for all things Tinseltown. When faced with a full-size DeLorean car from Back to the Future or the dress Marilyn Monroe wore in the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch, Joe Maddalena’s eyes just light up.

The need to authenticate all these geeky prizes is another fascinating aspect of the appraisal business. Whenever possible, Maddalena and his crew bring in actors, directors and other crew people who worked on the actual productions. They also use digital frame grabs from the movies in order to study minute details like decomposing foam rubber and garment imperfections.

The search for movie booty is just the set-up for the auction segment that ends every episode. As George Carlin once said, it all comes down to values, what you value and what you’re willing to pay for the privilege of ownership. You might remember the Everlasting Gobstopper from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but what would you pay for it? Or how about a working Batcycle sidecar from the ‘60s Batman TV series? Or the first pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, used before the production changed directors … and slippers?

From the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang “hero” car – “hero” meaning the car was seen in the film – to one of the monster suits from Predator 2 and goodies from all kinds of genre movies, Hollywood Treasures has the geeky toys we love and Maddalena’s thrill of the hunt. What more could a movie nerd want to see?

Opening at Cinemapolis

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