The documentary knows its audience well, providing a fond survey of Allen's career trajectory and peeks into his artistic process—the dresser drawer he
stuffs with ideas, the typewriter he uses to write everything since his newspaper jokes as a gawky teen, the two-minute mute casting meetings, and so
on. There is also a requisite shot of Allen strolling along a Manhattan street, as though he is unzipping the rows of passersby on either side. With
each step, another head turns, unable to resist recognition of this skinny-limbed icon in black glasses and a hat.
"He always thinks of that hat that he wears as a disguise hat," Weide tells The Atlantic. "He puts that on his head so he can be anonymous
walking down the street." It's yet another unsuccessful attempt at privacy for the man born Allen Stewart Konigsberg.
But that is Allen's essential paradox: He is famous for avoiding, even admonishing, celebrity. Allen's distaste for publicity chats, or any small talk
for that matter, has kept him aloof from the press, and in turn, his admirers. After the overwhelming success of Manhattan
in 1979, and its final line, "You have to have a little faith in people," Allen's next project failed to resonate with viewers and even seemed to mock
them. The following year's Stardust Memories centers on a famous comedic filmmaker no longer interested in making funny movies, despite their
popularity. In its critically illustrative scene, Allen emerges from his car—in aviator sunglasses!—at a beachside resort, where he is mobbed by a
ridiculous-looking hodgepodge of characters offering inane praise and questions.
"Many people saw that film as me attacking my fans, and saying that the people out there who are enjoying my films are clawing and pawing, and silly
looking," he says in an interview shown in Weide's documentary. "But that had nothing to do with the film at all." It was Allen's favorite movie at the
His aversion to the press was cemented in 1992, when his 12-year relationship with Mia Farrow ended disastrously upon her discovery of his affair with her 21 year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. The scandal was
documented exhaustively in just about every major news outlet.
"Apparently it was a good, juicy story—a very juicy story—and it took a little edge off my natural blandness," he reasons in the film. Ultimately, though, Allen says he feels he was too unimportant to have merited such extensive coverage.
The documentary, which depicts Woody Allen in the form of story-tale legend—as American Masters features are wont to do—simultaneously affirms his icon status and highlights Allen's tension with it. "He doesn't think he's any big deal," Weide says. "The biggest hurdle for getting him to do this was
that he didn't think he was an interesting enough subject."
Of course, the great triumph of the movie might be that it was authorized at all. In October 2008, Weide "wrote him a hell of a letter" including,
among other arguments, that the time was right—after all, a lesser director could go ahead and throw together a film with other interviews and movie
clips one of these days—-and the project would be endorsed by common acquaintances. Weide had worked for Charles Joffe, the producer who guided Allen
since his stand-up days. Allen had given Weide an interview for his first documentary, about the Marx Brothers. And the two had other connections, like
Larry David. So the reply was not the absolute "no," he had given Weide back in the '90s, when Allen "felt he was mid-career and didn't want any