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Woody Allen gets 2-part American Masters profile

Probably the only television exposure more prestigious than a 60-minutes segment in peak Oscar season, a profile on PBS American Masters is a rare honor reserved for national treasures. All the more rare when it spotlights a subject as chronically shy and elusive as Woody Allen.

Allen has agreed to finally open up about his life and career for a two-part PBS “American Masters” documentary tentatively titled “Seriously Funny — The Comic Art of Woody Allen” which will debut Nov. 20 and 21. The documentary will feature vintage clips of Allen performing stand-up on variety shows in the 1960s, show him visiting his old New York neighborhood and showcase clips from several of his landmark movies, including “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Match Point.”

The special also comes as the 75-year-old filmmaker is enjoying his greatest recent success with “Midnight in Paris.”

Robert Weide, who produced the documentary and conducted several interviews with Allen, said it took persistence over several years to persuade Allen to give insight to his work, but he finally convinced him in 2008 that “it was time.” The project was highlighted Sunday at a panel discussion during the PBS portion of the Television Critics Assn. gathering in Beverly Hills.

…Allen deserves to be recognized as the “quintessential independent filmmaker,” Weide said. “The people who finance his films don’t read his scripts, they don’t even get an outline. His thing is, he delivers his films on time and on budget, and no one can mess with that. This is the scam he’s had going on all this time.”

He’s also shown as an artist who is very specific and critical about his work. Using a grading system, “he says he’s made a couple of A’s, a few Bs, a few Cs and a lot of Ds and Fs,” Weide said. He counts “The Purple Rose of Cairo” as one of his favorite films, while downplaying more popular films such as “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.”

Allen doesn’t give a lot of feedback or direction to his performers, said two actresses on the panel who have worked with him. Mira Sorvino, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her portrayal of a troubled prostitute in “Mighty Aphrodite,” said he encouraged her to use the script only as a blueprint, and to use her instincts to flesh out her character.

“It was like being treated as an artist, not a craftsman,” she said. “It was very freeing and very terrifying.”

(full story at the LA Times Showtracker)