If you missed Robert B. Weide’s two-part American Masters profile of Woody Allen that aired last November on PBS, it’s just been released on DVD—by Docurama—with bonus material that wasn’t seen on TV. Weide, whose earlier documentaries have dealt with W.C. Fields, The Marx Brothers, Mort Sahl, and Lenny Bruce, sufficiently impressed Allen that the notoriously private writer-director-author-comedian gave him virtual carte blanche to film him at work and interview him at length about his life and career. I doubt that anyone will ever have such access again, or be able to win Woody’s confidence to this degree.
Weide also spoke to many colleagues, friends, actors, and even ex-lovers including Louise Lasser and Diane Keaton, along with his sister (and producer) Letty Aronson, plus Sean Penn, Scarlett Johansson, Mariel Hemingway, cinematographers Gordon Willis and Vilmos Zsigmond, writing collaborators Marshall Brickman, Mickey Rose, and Doug McGrath, and Woody’s longtime manager-producers Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe, who won him independence as a filmmaker from the very start of his career (“before I had done anything to earn it,” in Woody’s words).
It’s a fascinating portrait on both a personal and professional level: seeing Allen revisit the neighborhood where he grew up in Brooklyn tells us a lot about his influences and lifelong interests. Learning that he remains as sardonic and unconvinced of his own movies’ merits as ever is also fascinating.
The DVD bonus material includes some interesting anecdotes that didn’t make the final cut, including a story of how he sold his first essay to The New Yorker, and a lighthearted q&a between Weide and Woody. (You can also watch it HERE.)
Just before the special aired, my pal Pete Hammond did a first-rate interview with filmmaker Weide for Deadline Hollywood that uncovered still more interesting background stories—like how Woody, who is mechanically inept, maintains his manual typewriter. Read it HERE:
Full disclosure: Bob Weide is an old friend, and I appear in this film as one of his “talking heads,” mostly providing connective tissue between topics as he covers the depth and breadth of Woody Allen’s career. I’m delighted to have played a small part in such a first-rate documentary.