All you need to know about Woody Allen

By Verne Gay

THE FILM "Woody Allen: A Documentary" on "American Masters"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. on WNET/13.

REASON TO WATCH Allen, who gave his full participation.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Produced by Robert B. Weide -- something of a potentate himself who's a leading expert on the Marx Brothers and producer of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- this film covers Allen's entire life and career. Every major film is discussed, with observations by Allen, his many collaborators, stars and critics. Even a few minutes Monday are devoted to the seismic split with Mia Farrow, over his affair with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn (neither are interviewed here). Of the media deluge at the time, Allen says: "Believe it or not, I didn't think I was that famous to warrant such coverage. . . . Apparently it was a good juicy story [and] took a little edge off my natural blandness."

MY SAY "Woody Allen: A Documentary" is a sprawling, rich, generous and most of all entertaining portrait that fans will luxuriate in. Those critics of Allen who post-Farrow deciphered his films as some sort of twisted commentary on his psyche? Not so much.

Yes, it's balanced on the fulsome side of the scale, but one doesn't come to an "American Masters" treatment for the skeletons. These are celebrations of vaunted careers, and Weide has convincingly established -- for those who may actually need convincing -- that there's much to celebrate.

What's best here are the endless details devoted to Allen's creative process, as musician, stand-up, actor, writer and director. He works on an ancient Olympic typewriter that lost its metal cover years ago; in a bedside drawer he has stashed papers on which he has scrawled hundreds of ideas for movies (and revisits them often); in casting matters, he would sometimes -- oftentimes -- spend just about 10 seconds with an actor before making a decision; as a director, Allen was and is a minimalist, too, telling his stars they needed to hurry up so he could get to a Knicks game. Says he: "I'm influenced by Groucho Marx, Bob Hope and Ingmar Bergman. There's not rationality to it. . . . "

BOTTOM LINE Sunday ends after the release of "Manhattan," Monday goes up to "Midnight in Paris." Barely a wasted minute.


woody collage