PBS 'American Masters' to profile Woody Allen

By Dave Walker

HOLLYWOOD -- Woody Allen has sold a lot of movie tickets in his career, no question. 

In recent decades, though, you've had to consider the haul as a collective total, because his individual films haven't been blockbusters. Far from it.

But he's a hit-maker again thanks to "Midnight in Paris," so the two-part PBS "American Masters'' profile, long in the works and scheduled to air Nov. 20 and 21, is perfectly, if coincidentally, timed.

The Title: "Seriously Funny: The Comic Art of Woody Allen." Allen didn't show for the panel, no surprise.

"It's funny. You don’t hear the phrase 'independent filmmaker' attached to Woody that often, but in some ways he’s the quintessential independent filmmaker, to the point where he’s got the situation that, as far as I know, nobody has," said Robert Weide, who produced the film, during the Summer TV Tour. "The people who finance his films don’t even read a script, not even an outline. He’ll say, 'Well, it’s a film about a woman who has some problems and, you know, her relationship falls apart in London.' And they’ll say, 'Great.'

"The deal with Woody is that —a  precedent that was established with his first feature as director, 'Take the Money and Run' in 1969 -- 'Deliver it on time and on budget, and nobody will mess with you.' And this is the situation he’s had going now, the scam he’s pulled off, for 40 years. It’s sort of well known that Woody’s pictures will do more business in France alone, possibly Paris alone, than traditionally they’ll do in all of the United States. So he’s beloved in Europe, and they just love having him out there.

"Of course, the big shock is that Woody is now 75 years old. He’s been doing a film a

year for 40-plus years now, 42 years. And 'Midnight in Paris' is now his biggest moneymaker. I’m not somebody who pays a lot of attention to that stuff, but I think it’s up to, like, $43 million domestically. And with overseas money this will be a $90 million moneymaker for him.

"Every time people assume that maybe he’s down and out or he’s played out, along comes 'Match Point' or 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' or now 'Midnight in Paris.'"

Other accounts of the "American Masters" session:

Greg Braxton @ LATimes.com:

Robert Weide, who produced the documentary and conducted several interviews with Allen, said it took persistence over several years to persuade Allen to give insight to his work, but he finally convinced him in 2008 that "it was time."

"He can't stand it," said Weide of Allen as he referred to the filmmaker's aversion to being the center of attention or to receive honors. If the Kennedy Center were to include him in their annual salute to artists, he might spend most of his time backstage "throwing up," Weide said.

Gary Levin @ USAToday.com:

The two-part documentary, which includes footage from six sit-down interviews and visits to film sets, includes other footage: A 1986 interview Allen shot with his mother, in which she confides he'd have been "softer" if only she'd been less strict; a visit to his childhood home in Brooklyn; and clips from his early TV exposure as a stand-up comedian.

David Hinckley @ NYDailyNews:

When Woody Allen saw the finished cut of his movie "Manhattan," says the director of a new PBS "American Masters" show on Allen, "he thought he had blown it so badly it was unreleasable."

"Is there anyone who doesn't think 'Manhattan' is a masterpiece?" Weide asked TV critics here. "But Woody went to United Artists and said he'd do his next film for nothing if they would just agree not to release this one."

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