In Woody Allen's films, introspection and autobiographical elements are practically assured. But an upcoming documentary directed by Robert Weide will give viewers an external look at the life and career of the American auteur for the first time. Weide will allow Allen fans to literally follow his career from the set of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger to the premiere of Midnight In Paris as well as through his current home and childhood haunts.
Allen has been writing, directing and performing for 40 years. His works span stand-up, slapstick, musicals, theatrical productions, short stories, dramatic thrillers and bittersweet rom-coms, and average at over one film a year. No matter the genre, Allen's works all feel distinctly and inimitably his. Right from the opening credits, all in identical font, rolling in order of appearance to a timeless score, Allen's love of traditional cinema hovers above his unorthodox narratives. While watching an Allen film, the movie-going experience is treated as a classical medium, and the viewer in turn is treated seriously and even challenged.
Allen's persona is as mythologized as the characters he plays—characters Allen insists are fictional, even though they often overlap with his life. Allen's characters and Allen's character seem to feed off each other though never directly mimicking each other, in a complex case of life imitating art imitating life.
In 1979's Manhattan, for example, a neurotic, Jewish comedian falls for 17-year old girl, leaves her for New York intellectual, then returns to his young love, but, alas, too late. In real life, the neurotic, Jewish comedian fell for a Hollywood starlet, left her for her adopted 22-year old daughter, and they lived happily ever after.
Whether Allen creates characters in the image of himself, or audiences craft Allen in the image of his characters, he has spun paranoia, pessimism and self-deprecation into endearing personality traits. This film will present a rare opportunity to see Allen as Allen, removed from the mythology which incessantly surrounds him.
Dubbed "peerless," "not normal" and "a bit adolescent," by his coworkers and friends, Allen remains a subject of much admiration, frustration and respect. The documentary's director, Robert Weide of Curb Your Enthusiasm, noted that Allen "made three features just in the time it's taken me to make this one documentary."
The documentary will feature commentary by actors Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Mariel Hemingway, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Martin Landau, Louise Lasser, Sean Penn, Tony Roberts, Chris Rock, Mira Sorvino, Naomi Watts, Dianne Wiest, and Owen Wilson; writing collaborators Marshall Brickman, Mickey Rose and Doug McGrath; cinematographers Gordon Willis and Vilmos Zsigmond; Allen’s sister Letty Aronson; longtime manager Jack Rollins; casting director Juliet Taylor; pals Dick Cavett and Martin Scorsese; and others.
Robert Weide's American Masters – Woody Allen: A Documentary, a two-part event, will air Sunday, November 20, 9-11 p.m. (ET/PT) and Monday, November 21 from 9-10:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on PBS. Watch the trailer below: