Monday, November 28, 2011

WOODY ALLEN: The Documentary
A lesson in Being Prolific
by Janet Lawler
November 28, 2011

I grew up watching Woody Allen movies all my life.

Back as a teen, I didn't quite get Woody's intellectual wit when I was watching "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" for the first time, but oh, how I wanted to walk around Woody's black and white New York... and sip wine with his movie characters who seemed to know so much about film, art and this magnificent city.

He presented New York City in the best light for the times.  It was far from the reality that most of us had growing up on city streets, but yet we knew there was an Upper West Side and Upper East Side that was within our reach.
I would dream about some day siting by the 59th Street Bridge with the person I loved... with New York illuminated in the foreground.  I did just that -- only sitting on a bench on Roosevelt Island -- looking back at the Manhattan skyline, which was a dream come true.

According to the PBS documentary Woody Allen: The Documentary, Woody had to put a bench by the 59th Street Bridge for that stunning scene in "Manhattan".  There were no benches there.  And although he knew it was a great shot, he never imagined it would become so iconic.

I found this two-part documentary absolutely fascinating.  PBS gets a donation just for this program alone.  It's filled with gems for the creative person or movie lover.

We think of Woody Allen as closed-off, reclusive, and aloof.  He is shy, but in this documentary, he opens up freely, especially about his creative process.  He is a writer.  It's his roots.  Directing came much later.
He takes us into his apartment in New York... to where he writes... He writes all his screenplays at a simple desk in the corner of the room.  He writes them on a manual Olympia typewriter.  It's the same typewriter he has used since his teens when he wrote jokes for other comedians back in the 50s and 60s.  No computers.

Woody Allen has a work ethic like you can't believe which is why he comes out with a new movie practically every year, including movies such as:  Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper, and Love and Death; Annie Hall, Manhattan, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose, Purple Rose of Cairo, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands & Wives, Bullets Over Broadway, and Mighty Aphrodite; and his recent globetrotting phase with Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and this year’s box office smash Midnight in Paris.

His writing gets better and better.   So do his movies.

When he finishes one script and the movie, he starts another script the very next day.  There is no down time.  He works year round -- either writing, shooting, editing or thinking.  He shows us a box of "ideas" in his room... with napkins, scribbled papers... containing possible new movie ideas.  Each time he gets ready to start a new project... he rummages through his idea box... and thinks if the idea is worth pursuing as a movie.

As passionate as Woody Allen is about writing and directing (movies in general), he also loves music.  He plays the Clarinette. He plays in New York every Monday night.  When the Academy Awards used to be held on Monday nights, he always missed attending because his band played New Orleans Jazz at Manhattan's Carlyle on Mondays.  (He also adds that he isn't thrilled with awards -- unless it's for track -- where there is a clear winner.  Otherwise, there is no clear winner for the Oscars.)

Seriously?  Miss the Oscars to play your clarinette on a Monday night?  Yes, if you're Woody Allen -- being disciplined at the writer's desk or in his band are the same.

I find Woody's recent movies some of my favorites.  I loved Midnight in Paris with its whimsy and Paris charm.  I also was riveted watching Match Point when a husband decides to kill his wife and take his chances at getting caught.  Woody Allen hits and misses sometimes on the big screen, but at least he aims -- and works year in and year out to bring us something unique.

I have a long list of New York directors that I admire... Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack, Edward Burns... but Woody Allen somehow captures New York (and now Europe) in a glow that no others do. 

I still want to grow up and live in a Woody Allen New York movie and on occasion I do.  One time walking home from work around 10PM on Central Park South, I saw a movie crew.  I almost fainted when I realized it was a Woody Allen movie being shot... right outside the Essex Hotel... there was Woody Allen on the street directing.  And in this scene, Melanie Griffith drives up to the hotel and runs inside.  Action... cut.  It's one of my favorite all-time New York moments.  And this year, during the Hurricane Irene storm, my job put me up in a hotel for the night... at the Essex Hotel.  Dreams come true on their own timeline.  Now, if only I could sit on a park bench in Paris and write a great novel and...

... Woody Allen movies makes all those dreams possible on screen.

You can watch the complete two-part documentary at PBS website American Masters.  Here is the link:

Until next time.