Movie Magazine International

Wild Man Blues

USA - 1998

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

You may or may not know that Woody Allen wasn't at the ceremony the night he won an Oscar for "Annie Hall". Instead, he was at Michael's pub in New York playing his clarinet at his regular Monday night gig. In Barbara Kopple's documentary, "Wild Man Blues," we learn that Allen's absence wasn't a snub. He's a dedicated musician who's been playing Dixieland-style jazz since he was a kid.

The film follows the Woodman on an impromptu tour of Europe playing his beloved jazz with a backup group of jazz pros. It opens with him waxing maliciously eloquent of the subject of dogs and with that we find out exactly what we're in for - a close-up picture of a deeply unhappy, deeply suspicious human being. He's refined the fine art of kvetching, of finding disaster in the midst of anything, even joy, to such rarified heights that it turns the ancient alchemist's art on its head. Woody transmutes gold into lead, and then back again by cracking a joke.

The drain in the shower of a posh hotel is in the wrong place, his underwear won't be cleaned properly, the gondolier paddling him along a Venetian canal might slit his throat. He's hysterical and fascinating in his absolute rejection of any happiness except when he's onstage playing his clarinet. Soon-Yi, whom he refers to as infamous, comes off as the reasonable, if pushy, adult of the duo. Did anyone expect that?

Kopple wisely steps back, lets the camera roll, and lets Woody be himself. Fun on screen, but not someone I'd like to spend time with personally.

"Wild Man Blues" doesn't end when the tour is over. The piece de resistance is Allen's post-trip visit to his parents. A revealing pan of their apartment shows that all his awards, including three Oscars are there. But that's not what makes this episode integral not only to the film, but also to any consideration of Allen's work. Meeting his parents, we instantly, completely, understand the who and the why of the Woodman. And in a perverse twist on that circle of life thing, it becomes obvious that despite an age difference of two generations, when Allen took up with Soon-Yi, he was in a very real sense, marrying his mom. It's irresistible.

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 4/29/98

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