Caroline Frost Headshot

Woody Allen Documentary: Director Robert Weide On The Challenges Of Pinning Down The Reticent Film Maker (PHOTOS)

Posted: Updated:

"I knew he wasn't a man who embraced technology, but he’s literally had the same typewriter since he was 16. Every professional word he’s written in his life was on this one typewriter.

"And he doesn’t have an office. He has this little desk in the corner of his bedroom, with a little World War II surplus lamp he turns on. And that's where he creates."

woody allen
This is as technical as it gets for Woody Allen - why change it when it's not broken?

Robert Weide couldn't believe his eyes when he encountered the working environment of one of the world's most productive film-makers, still going strong at 76.

The Emmy award-winning documentary maker is a lifelong fan of The Marx Brothers, WC Fields and Woody Allen, a group of which only one is still around. So Weide seized on the chance to document a man's work, of which he has been a lifelong fan.

Favourite Woody Allen film?
"The default answer is Annie Hall, that film just knocked my socks off at high school as it did so many other people. So that one because of the nostalgia, but there are easily eight films I love as much as that one…"

But Weide still had challenges, not least persuading the reclusive New Yorker to take part…

"Woody was so reticent, and it was nothing to do with concept or creative control.

"It was his self-deprecating streak, that his films don’t warrant any kind of serious discussion or documentary treatment – he’s not Kurosawa, Fellini or Bergman, and those are the filmmakers he admires and he thinks it’s a joke to put himself on a level that deserves any sort of study like this.

"At one point he did write to me, suggesting I did the film without interviewing him - other people could talk, but he didn’t have to. I told him I wasn’t interested. And once he agreed to do this, he was very hesitant to seem complicit in his own tribute.

"He’s his own worst critic, so I had to sit through a lot of him putting down his own work, he really feels that way. I know few Woody Allen fans who don’t think Manhattan is a masterpiece, and when that finished, he thought he’d botched it so badly that he offered to do the next one for free to make it up to the studio, so that’s how out of touch he is with his own standard."

woody allen
With Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, which beat Star Wars and Close Encounters to an Oscar

An intimate portrait of Woody Allen's life inevitably touches on the scandal that caught the world's attention nearly two decades ago, when he fell in love with Soon-Yi, the adopted daughter of his long-term partner Mia Farrow - how far did Weide want to wade into all of that?

"I knew people would be curious," explains Weide. "I told him up front I would have to touch on this, otherwise we'd face accusations of a whitewash, and he understood, but I just didn’t want it to hijack the documentary.

"He didn’t think about it one way or another. It was just another interview question, like asking him about making Bananas, and he answered it honestly.

"He knew it had caught the attention of the country and the world, it truly surprised him, but his attitude was, 'If people hate me because of this – fine, it doesn’t matter.'

"He just kept working through it all, he was able to compartmentalise, and the script that he was writing at the time of the court case was Bullets Over Broadway, which is a great script."

Neither this, nor anything else - the avalanche of blockbusters, the increasing need for sequels, forays into CGI and 3D - has capsized Allen's career, and Weide considers the director's ability to remain undistracted as one of the keys to his enduring success...

"He just goes on. He's now 76, and he's just had the biggest financial hit of his career (Midnight in Paris).

"His career is unprecedented in many ways. He doesn't even have to show a script to the money people - nobody has that kind of control, the total autonomy.

woody allen
Woody Allen enjoyed a recent hit with Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson (above)

"Because his films are so cheap, he’ll always make a few bucks, so he’s got a queue of people lining up to work with him.

"He can make whatever he wants. Whether or not it does well at the box office, by the time it’s out, he’s making his next film. He’s totally his own man."

And did film maker and documentary maker become friends? "We email, or rather I email, and his assistant prints it out and he dictates a reply. One time my wife and I went to his edit suite, and I had my wife on my right and Woody on my left. And I remembered that kid in high school loving Annie Hall so much, and I wanted to jump in a time machine and let him know that this moment would come... he'd be pretty chuffed."

Woody Allen: A Documentary, an absolute treat for Woody Allen's many fans, is in UK cinemas now. Some pictures from the film below... and beneath that, 10 great Woody Allen clips

Woody Allen documentary
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide
10 Classic Woody Allen Clips
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide

Around the Web

WoodyAllen.com - The Official Website of Woody Allen

Woody Allen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Woody Allen - IMDb