There are only five Woody Allen films I’ve had a truly difficult time with, and they were all made within the last 12 years (Scoop, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, Small-Time Crooks, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). But during the same period he also made Match Point, Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Sweet and Lowdown so what’s there to complain about really?
The early aughts just weren’t Allen’s time. My personal solution is to put those five stinkers in a compartment in my head and say to myself, “Okay, there they are in case I want to watch them again.”
But even if Allen had made ten stinkers, he’d still be batting over .750 since he’s directed 41 or 42 films since 1969. And I’ll always worship him (and I’m talking deep, deeper-than-deep sympatico) for his morose, darkly confessional sense of humor. To me his line in the above clip about getting into trouble during a movie shoot and saying “I’ll prostitute myself any way I have to to survive this catastrophe”…that’s hilarious.
And I love the story told in Robert Weide‘s Woody Allen: A Documentary (PBS, American Masters, tonight and tomorrow night) about how Allen was so unhappy with Manhattan before it opened that he told United Artists and his producers that he would make another movie for free if they would shelve Manhattan and thereby spare him the embarassment.
I was afraid that Weide’s documentary would be too kind, too flattering. It’s not that. I wouldn’t call it a lacerating, no-holds-barred portrait, but it looks at Allen’s history, output and issues in a reasonably fair and probing way.
Weide’s doc runs over three hours. The first half (roughly 111 minutes, airing tonight) is a more or less sequential and chronological history of his coming-up-through-the-ranks and then finding-his-moviemaking-soul period. It ends on the artistic precipice of the early ’80s. The second half (running 83 minutes, airing tomorrow) abandons the linear and sort of hopscotches around, looking at this and that film or artistic challenge or issue.
I loved the stories about his childhood and early youth in Brooklyn and writing jokes for the New York columnists and his first major gig as one of Sid Ceasar‘s comedy writers for Ceasar’s Hour and suffering through his early stand-up days in the clubs, which he almost stopped doing because he hated it so much.
Weide chats with former flames/partners Diane Keaton and Louise Lasser, former writing partners Marshall Brickman and Doug McGrath, Allen’s sister/producer Letty Aronson, Allen players Owen Wilson, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Larry David, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Roberts and Diane Wiest, former line producer Robert Greenhut and producing partners Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe.
The doc contains nary a word about former producing partner Jean Doumanian, and there are no off-the-cuff “Woody said” lines like the one I heard years ago from Woody’s longtime unit photographer Brian Hamill about Harvey Weinstein, i.e. “he’s not my kind of Jew.”
I didn’t want to hear or know any more about the Mia Farrow–Soon-Yi Previn-child custody battle, and I was relieved that Weide doesn’t give it much attention.
Here are two mp3 chats I recorded a few days ago. The first is with film scholar and critic F.X. Feeney, who for my money delivers the wisest and most knowing talking-head commentary in the film, and also with Ms. Aronson, whom I recently sat down with at Shutters in Santa Monica.
The first time I laid eyes on Allen was sometime around ’76 or ’77. I was walking East on 57th Street and he was coming the other way with a lady friend. I know it was someone famous because he was wearing one of those khaki fishing hats with the brim pulled down. I looked at him, he looked at me and he knew I’d “made” him, and he seemed fairly terrified by this realization. The idea that I might run over and ask for an autograph (which I’ve never done and will never do) or whatever seemed to really disturb him. He looked so upset, in fact, that I flirted with imitating that goombah routine in Annie Hall….you know, the Hoboken meatball guy who comes over and says, “Heyyyy! Alvy Singah!” But the moment passed.
Allen’s sister-producer Letty Aronson during out chat a few days ago at Shutters.