The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Behind the scenes of Woody Allen – the light version

with 5 comments

Do you enjoy taking a peak behind the scenes? I do and whenever I have the opportunity, I’ll dive as deep as my time schedule allows me into the extras that come with DVD editions of movies. Well, apart from the trailers then; those I’ll skip. At the best they’re pointless, at worst they’re annoying, misleading, spoiling and whatnot. But that’s a story for another day.

My favourite among about-films were those that came with LOTR. Those who made it seem to have been given absolutely free hands to do whatever they wanted for how long they wanted. There was no time limit at all; the floodgates were open. The more there was of it, the merrier. This meant that they could expand on every little detail and aspect of filmmaking without ever having to apologize or compromise. Nothing was too little and narrow to be covered in depth. The sword smith, who at the most would get a single line in a normal about-film, had an entire little film dedicated to this topic only. I loved it; as a matter of fact I wonder if I didn’t love the extras even a little more than I loved the movies (which I still thought were good.)

Cut into pieces
Most about-films aren’t like that. There is an unexplainable tradition in this genre to cut every interview into fragments, one line at a time, run them through a mixer and then glue them together again with some inserted clips from the movie. A document destructing machine couldn’t have made a better job.

Since nothing is allowed to be discussed properly, what you get are superficial, empty one-liners that are spoken by a bunch of celebrities, but probably are written by the PR department. When you’ve watched them you’ve learned nothing new about the making of the film that you didn’t know already. I still keep watching them, always in the hope that someone will cross the line of the expected and say something meaningful and remarkable. And besides I can never get enough of seeing the craft of movie making. Film sets, make-up, editing, costume making – I just enjoy seeing those people at work, as much as I can enjoy watching a professional chef cooking a delicious restaurant meal. I always hope to get a glimpse of that between all the talking heads.

Popular in Sweden
Considering my life-long love for Woody Allen’s movies and my eagerness to learn more about the making of movies, I was excited and delighted when the theatrical Woody Allen: A Documentary opened in my city.

It doesn’t happen too often that a documentary about a director comes up on a big screen in a multiplex, but then Woody Allen is very popular in Sweden. Or at least I always thought he was; I ended up as the only person in the audience, so maybe his reputation as a Swedish darling is exaggerated.

So what did I get from this one-to-one date with one of my favourite directors? Well, while my real life experience of dating to be honest is very limited, I imagine that I got pretty much the same as what you get on your first date: I got a conversation aimed to please and possibly tease, but never getting into uncomfortable places.

He presented me the story of his life in the same way as you would if you were flipping through a photo-album.

He did as you do when you talk with strangers, keeping it to the job and not so much about the private life, always making sure that the small talk remained in a safe zone. Nothing offensive. Nothing that hurts or burns.

The scandal when Allen left Mia Farrow for her daughter is mentioned, but only briefly and with a respectful distance. I don’t say this is the wrong choice, but it reinforces the impression that this film mostly is a harmless celebration in the standard format that Hollywood loves to use. It’s not an independent documentary with the ambition to say something new, something that makes me feel and think about Woody Allen, life and myself in a new way.

Our second date
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed our date well enough and had no regrets going to it. Yes, there are those talking heads, and no, they’re never allowed to say more than a line or two, but for an Allen lover like me, it’s still a good watch.

I loved to learn how Allen writes his scripts, using an old manual typewriter, cutting out the pieces he likes and then putting them together with staples. I thought the clip where he fought a kangaroo in a boxing ring was hilarious. I was captured by the story about how he decided to be the director and have everything under control after he had seen his script for What’s New Pussycat being massacred in the final film.

But for my second date with Allen, the one where get a bit further in our relationship, I think I’d rather go back to his vast production and revisit some of my favourites from all those years. They would bring us much closer than this documentary does.

Perhaps it’s about time I make a Woody Allen marathon? I’m chewing on the idea. I’ve never done any marathon, but if I’d do one, he would be a good candidate.

Woody Allen – A Documentary (Theatrical cut) (Robert B. Weide, US, 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

July 9, 2012 at 1:00 am

5 Responses

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  1. Great post, I love how you referred to your showing of the doc as a “date,” because that’s exactly what it feels like when you’re in this giant room alone with a film.

    I love DVD special features, I really eat that stuff up. But with each passing year, special features (GOOD special features) are becoming less and less common. The DVD for Shame, for example, contained a handful of lame, phoned-in making-ofs that were already available online anyway. Sigh, oh well.

    Woody is one of my favorite directors too, so I loved this doc about him. His writing method was cool to watch indeed. If you’re interested, you should definitely check out Barbara Kopple’s Wild Man Blues, it’s a fantastic documentary about Woody and his penchant for jazz music. Great write up here!

    Alex Withrow

    July 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    • Thank you Alex! I’ve noticed the lack of good extra material too lately. I thought I was imagining things, but apparently I’m not the only one. I thought the exteras were an additional argument for people to buy DVDs rather than downloading illegaly. But maybe something is changing in the market? Most people watch video on demand online and if you want plenty of extras you’ll need to pay for a Criterion edition?

      I would really like to see that documentary! The music is one of the things I love about Allen’s movies, that gives them such a special atmosphere. Funny enough I don’t usually listen to that kind of music at home. But in his movies it’s an essential part and I’d love to learn more about it.


      July 9, 2012 at 7:49 pm

  2. Great post, Jessica (as always 😉 I didn’t know this documentary existed! I’ll need to watch it ASAP! Oh, and the idea of an Allen marathon is awesome. Now I wanna have one too!


    July 13, 2012 at 3:41 am

    • Thanks Fernando! It’s fresh from the presss I think and just came up in the theatres here. About marathons, it’s not something I generally do. But if I would make one, Allen would be a good candidate.


      July 13, 2012 at 7:01 am

  3. […] saw a lot of great documentaries that I loved but couldn’t fit into the list:  Palme, Woody Allen: A Documentary, Bully, Marley, For You […]

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