Wild Man Blues

1998, Movie, PG, 105 mins


The subject is Woody Allen, but anyone interested in his career as a writer, stand-up comedian, actor or filmmaker will learn little from Barbara Kopple's new documentary, which takes its title from a Louis Armstrong number. Its focus is Allen's devotion to traditional New Orleans jazz -- he's a dedicated amateur clarinetist who performs regularly in New York -- and the 18-city European tour he and six other musicians undertook in 1996. For all the footage dedicated to their performances, it's the peek behind the curtain of Allen's not-so-private life that's the big draw. How much like his nebbishy, perpetually whining screen persona is the real Woody Allen, and what's up with his much-talked-about new bride, Soon-Yi? To all appearances, Allen is proof of Kurt Vonnegut's warning that you are what you pretend to be: While it's funny for a while to hear him mewl about shower drains in deluxe European hotels, complain about how badly his movies do in the U.S. and mutter darkly about an idyllic Venetian gondola ride -- "The gondolier could cut our throats and no one would know" -- there's a point at which you start wishing he'd just keep it to himself. Soon-Yi, by contrast, exhibits considerable grace under incessant scrutiny. Though she does treat Allen with the tart, bemused condescension generally associated with nursing-home attendants, she also laughs off his mother's tactless observation that she wishes Allen had married a Jewish girl, and calls him on his notorious lack of consideration. Die-hard Woody Allen fans will be grateful for even these small glimpses of their idol at his most unguarded, but the less-devoted would be better off renting ANNIE HALL. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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