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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, November 01, 2017 1:00 am

'Start to Finish:' A master at work

Reviewed By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL | Associated Press

If we had been allowed to watch God create the heavens and the Earth, we probably wouldn't have stuck it out for all six days. The act of creation can be slow and tedious when you're a bystander.

The idea behind “Start to Finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking” sounds exciting: Observe as one of the best writers and directors goes from blank page to theater-ready film. In this case, it's “Irrational Man,” released in 2015.

The resulting chronicle is a unique handbook for how movies are made, at least when one person makes all the decisions and that person is Woody Allen. Most interesting are the chapters about writing, financing, casting, choosing locations and other necessary nuts and bolts.

Yet “Start to Finish” is hobbled at times by reality: Filmmaking can be boring. Lax mostly overcomes the keeping-it-real problem by filling “Start to Finish” with bits of information and reflections about Allen's long creative life and his point of view. Among them:

• Allen's script is not scripture; he makes changes if a better idea presents itself. He also allows his cast a degree of departure from written dialogue as long as the words sound natural.

• Actors don't audition for Allen; he chooses them based on what he's seen and the advice from his longtime casting director.

• Only men have rejected roles because the pay is so low; women know their roles are priceless (he's directed women to Oscar nominations 13 times with six wins).

• Allen will risk his relatively modest fees to add a day to the shooting schedule if he decides it serves his story.

It's fair to question whether “Start to Finish” would be more compelling had the movie been memorable. “Irrational Man” came and went with little interest from audiences and mixed reviews. Actually, that reinforces the premise; success at the box office or approval of critics isn't the point.

Like it or not, conflict behind as well as in front of the camera makes for a better story. Allen's demand for a professional set and his power over the project result in a quiet chronicle. But Lax rewards students of cinema with a clear-eyed view of the craft and a sharp portrait of one of its most creative minds at work.