Woody Allen revealed - but don't ask about Mia Farrow

By Jonathan Foreman, June 8, 2012
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Woody Allen: A Documentary (15)

Robert Weide, director of Woody Allen: A Documentary, apparently spent much of a year-and- a-half in Allen's orbit. His film's rambling structure - part chronological, part thematic - includes interviews with stars, agents, co-writers and family members, and a lot of material from previous documentaries.

The most interesting parts of it, however, are those that deal with Allen's youth in Brooklyn. Weide, who is best known as the director of the comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, accompanies Allen on trips to the Midwood house where he grew up, the schools he disliked and the once glamorous cinema where he fell in love with movies.

It turns out that Allen was a good-looking and confident youth with little of the neurotic shtick that became his signature.

He was also such an accomplished joke-writer that, at 16, he was being paid $25 a week to supply gags to national radio figures like Walter Winchell and Leonard Lyons.

In general, Allen comes across as surprisingly - and genuinely - self-deprecating. There is little evidence of the intellectual insecurity that critics have identified in his more pretentious films and that supposedly comes from his not having attended university. But then this is very much an "official biography", and in general is less revealing than Barbara Kopple's 1998 documentary, Wild Man Blues.

Perhaps most disappointing is Weide's failure to do more than briefly touch on the massive scandal that accompanied Allen's infidelity with, and subsequent marriage to, his partner Mia Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.

He does at least deal with the extraordinary fact that Farrow did not leave the set of Husband and Wives but stayed working under Allen's direction even as the scandal deepened, and he faced accusation of child-molestation. But there is something disingenuous in Weide's failure to mention the uncomfortable parallels between the age-inappropriate relationships between Allen-figures and teenage girls in films like Manhattan and Allen's real personal life.

On the other hand, it is refreshing to see just how little Allen resembles a stereotypical Jewish intellectual: the real-life Woody is a romantic with a solid American work ethic, and his great loves besides filmmaking, are jazz and sport. He admits to hurrying neurotic actors along in their scenes just so he can get home and watch a basketball game.

Last updated: 11:22am, June 11 2012