Woody Allen: A Documentary – DVD Review

By Jeff Swindoll

Iconic writer, director, actor, comedian, and musician Woody Allen allows his life and creative process to be documented on-camera for the first time. With this unprecedented access, Emmy®-winning, Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Robert Weide follows the notoriously private film legend over a year and a half to create the ultimate film biography. Beginning with Allen s childhood, WOODY ALLEN: A DOCUMENTARY chronicles the trajectory and longevity of Allen s career, from his work...

It’s not great irony that this documentary on the iconic director and nebbish is being released on Valentine’s Day as documentarian Robert B. Weide has fashioned a valentine to Woody Allen.  The notoriously shy director offers a full access pass to both his life and films.  Fans will wish for another 3 hours and haters will just hate. 

Allan Stuart Konigsberg was born on December 1, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York.  Never heard of him?  Well it wasn’t until he changed his name to Woody Allen and began a career as a comedy writer that you started hearing of him. 

Beginning in comedy eventually led to him stepping behind the camera in some hilarious comedies that would eventually lead to a more serious film career.  He would begin winning Oscars in 1977 with Annie Hall and it would begin the trend of Allen as a serious filmmaker.  His star has ebbed and waned, but some items in his personal life certainly didn’t help.  He appears to be back to closer to top since he is up for several Oscars for Midnight in Paris. 

Those personal issues made him persona-non-grata for many.  His affair with his affair with Soon Yi Previn, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, would make tabloid news for months and taint his reputation.  Allen is notoriously private and has yet to even consider a commentary on one of his films.  Fans never really expect any special features at all (surprised that there was a smattering on Midnight in Paris) so it was a triumph that director Robert B. Weide got such access to Allen, his colleges, and his family.  He has been asking occasionally over a decade and no one was surprised as he when Allen finally conceded. 

The results, which aired on PBS as part of the American Masters series, are marvelous if you’re a fan of Allen.  We start our stroll down Allen’s memory lane with his childhood and move into his career.  The first part is perhaps more interesting but it’s not a complete whitewash.  I wasn’t exactly expecting the Soon Yi affair to be brought up but was surprised when it played a part in the second half.  I guess you might say it’s a warts and all profile.

The second half really deals with his modern films and not all of them are very successful but Allen is a one believing more in quantity, making one or two films a year, so part two seems packed and very short time given to each film.  It just breezes by and you wish for a little more. 

Woody Allen: A Documentary is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions.  Special features include the 3 minute “Woody in the Hood” where he walks more around the old neighborhood, the 1 minute “The New Yorker” about his publication in that journal, the 6 minute “Mariel Hemingway: Woody in Idaho” where the actress invites him to Idaho with disastrous results, the 6 minute “12 Questions” has Weide offering 12 questions no one has asked to Woody (this appear to be a internet promo), the 50 second “Mom and Death” where Woody’s mom talks burial plots, and a 6 minute interview with Weide.  There’s also a text bio of Weide and info about Docudrama.

If you like Allen then prepare for a nice look at his life and works (and the closest to a commentary you’ll ever get, however short).  If the Soon Yi situation put you off of him then I doubt this will win you back.  This doc certainly made me want to watch more of his films… maybe the earlier funnier ones. 

woody collage