Wild Man Blues

In addition to writing and directing, Woody Allen, as many people know, loves jazz music and plays in a New Orleans jazz combo every Monday night in New York. In 1996, the group decided to tour Europe for a few weeks, an event recorded in Wild Man Blues by documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.). Kopple is said to have been brought in after Crumb director Terry Zwigoff refused to relinquish the right to a final cut, a fact that may explain why practically every other scene features Allen receiving unchecked adulation from wide-eyed admirers. Still, Kopple deserves credit just for opening up Allen's private life, even if the portrayal at times too obviously suggests his approval. The film divides its time pretty much evenly between the tour and backstage footage of Allen, and musically, it's quite good; Wild Man Blues nicely conveys a sense of its subject's dedication to his craft. Allen is no mere dilettante, and the performance segments reveal him and his band to be terrific revivalist musicians. But except for a handful of New Orleans jazz devotees, most of those drawn to Wild Man Blues will not be there for the music. Allen comes off pretty much as might be expected: as a less scripted version of his film persona. Seeming genuinely neurotic, he also appears to rely heavily on his officious then-girlfriend (and now-wife) Soon-Yi Previn. For all the criticism that relationship has taken—and to some extent, the original scandal is what drove Allen out of reclusiveness—it's portrayed as quite functional. The same can't be said for a final scene in which Allen aggressively, and clearly performing for the camera, attempts to justify his life by embarrassing his aged parents: It seems as mean-spirited as anything in last year's misanthropic Deconstructing Harry. Those interested in Allen simply because he's Allen will want to see Wild Man Blues, but in the end, Kopple has been given a couple of interesting subjects (New Orleans jazz in its current state and Woody Allen), and her film fails to get at the heart of either.

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