Woody Allen: A Documentary - Inside the mind and drawers of a movie legend
Woody Allen: A Documentary (Robert B Weide, Cert TBC)
Casa de mi Padre (Matt Piedmont, 15)
Avé (Konstantin Bojanov, 15)
There are many things to admire about Woody Allen: A Documentary, an epic portrait of the veteran film-maker and comedian. High on the list is a sequence towards the end of the film when Allen invites us into his bedroom to reveal the contents of his bedside cabinet. It’s a remarkably intimate gesture from a director who guards his privacy fiercely, and all credit to Robert B Weide for the trust he’s secured from his subject.
The cabinet drawer, by the way, contains countless scraps of paper, on which Allen has scrawled his ideas for films. And the revelation is in keeping with a documentary that, for all its privileged access, is much more interested in exploring Allen’s working method than his dirty laundry.
So the director’s notorious 1992 bust-up with his partner Mia Farrow – “things fell apart” is the understated way Allen chooses to describe an event that degenerated into accusations of child molestation – is dealt with only insofar as how it affected his film output. Which is barely at all. Admitting he has an impressive – and, in truth, rather unsettling – ability for “compartmentalising”, Allen has been able to focus on his work, whatever the circumstances of his personal life.
As well as his mighty comic gifts – which are properly accounted for in this documentary’s many and well chosen film clips – it’s this fierce work ethic that has turned Allen from a promising young stand-up to one of America’s finest film-makers.
A film a year for more than four decades is an astonishing tally, and at one point in the lengthy interview that makes up the bulk of the film, Allen observes that his approach values quantity over quality, hoping that he if makes enough films, one will eventually hit the mark. That considerably undersells his cinematic talent, but it is true that the sheer volume of Allen’s output easily absorbs the misfires.
As if to underscore the scale and variety of that body of work, a two-part, three hours-plus version of this documentary will be available online after this release. I watched the longer version and was utterly gripped. I can’t think of many other American directors who could reward such prolonged scrutiny.
Will Ferrell, incidentally, has been one of the many high-profile actors to sign up for a Woody Allen movie. The result, 2004’s Melinda and Melinda, was lacklustre, partly because Ferrell’s comic shtick lacks the neurotic charge that Allen expects of his leading men (plus the film just wasn’t very funny).
Ferrell gives a far more relaxed, freewheeling performance in the hilariously deranged comedy, Casa de mi Padre. Starring Ferrell as a simple Mexican rancher battling a violent drug cartel, it’s a wildly inventive pastiche of 1980s action movies, featuring ripe performances from the likes of Gael García Bernal.
Most bizarrely of all, it’s conducted entirely in Spanish. Ferrell’s camp-fire rendition of the ranchera song Yo No Se has ‘instant classic’ stamped all over it. View it on YouTube to sample the film’s loopy brilliance.
And another thing…
Avé, a touching Bulgarian drama about a teenage runaway, and recent subject of a special Big Issue preview screening, is out now on DVD.
Passport to Pimlico (1949)
After a German bomb explodes in post-war London, a charter is uncovered ceding Pimlico to the defunct dukedom of Burgundy. Residents declare independence. As authorities close the border, food parcels are flung over to the Burgundians by sympathetic ex-compatriots, which echoed the Berlin Blockade – the first crisis of the Cold War. This Ealing comedy is a postcard from another age, when Londoners were united rather than divided by community lines. Director: Henry Cornelius. Out on Blu-ray now.