Features: Woody Allen, Letty Aronson, Robert Greenhut, Diane Keaton, Louise Lasser, Tony Roberts, Dick Cavett, John Cusack, Sean Penn, Dianne Wiest, Leonard Maltin, Owen Wilson, Scarlett Johanssen, FX Feeney, Richard Schickel and Mariel Hemingway.
Writer/Director: Robert B. Weide
Running time: 113 minutes
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screenings - Wed 6 Jun 6.00pm; Mon 11 Jun 9.30am.
Originally screened on US television as part of PBS’s American Masters series, Robert Weide’s portrait of the artist and the man, Woody Allen, is a comprehensive document made no less captivating by its conventional approach. Fresh from its Cannes premiere where the French went understandably crazy for this love letter to one of their favourite sons, this theatrical version runs a scant 113 minutes, having been reduced from the mammoth 192 minute cut that aired in late 2011.
Weide’s camera masterfully captures the great comic’s working methods and the correlation between the Brooklyn boy that Allen was, the ground-breaking stand-up star he became and the auteur that now stands as one of American cinema’s treasures. The warmth felt for Allen across the entertainment sector is evident in the willingness of past collaborators to dress up for the doco and reminisce about being on an Allen set. By all accounts, it is an actor’s dream job, in which Allen gives them free-range to shape their characters – as long as they do it quickly (as John Cusack notes, Allen’s driven work ethic seems to be oddly aligned with the game schedule of his beloved New York Knicks).
One notable no-show is ex-partner Mia Farrow (their creative partnership and her muse-like effect on his mid-career output is well documented, however). Weide tackles the still-divisive incident of Allen’s affair with his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn with depth and sensitivity. Allen speaks more of the public perception and coverage of the event instead of its impact upon him. It is left to producer Robert Greenhut to recall a time on the set of Husbands and Wives (and later again, on Bullets over Broadway) when reality and film-fantasy clashed with heart-breaking intensity.
Fans will be fascinated by his childhood recollections; Allen meanders through the old neighbourhood, recounting moments that infused works such as Annie Hall, Radio Days and Broadway Danny Rose. A sequence in which we watch the man work at his 50 year-old typewriter is instantly iconic. Having profiled American comedy giants Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce in past works, and served as producer to the eccentric Larry David on over 60 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Weide has a proven affinity for what drives the comedic mind.
In Allen, he has a willing participant who openly discusses his past works, though he tends to self-deprecate at the expense of truly personal introspection. The overall impression is that Allen, lively as an interview subject even at 77, does not take his art as seriously as those that adore his culturally-significant oeuvre. Weide’s even-handed film, however, treats the man and his work with the love and respect they fully deserve.