DVD Review Of Wild Man Blues
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/25/09


  Barbara Koppleís 1998 documentary on filmmaker Woody Allenís 1996 tour of Europe with his New Orleans Jazz Band (reputedly eighteen concerts, and seven countries, in twenty-three days), Wild Man Blues, is one of the most pointless, dull, and utterly inert documentaries Iíve ever seen. Iíve long been a fan of Allenís films, and even his worst films (see The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion) are a cut or three above their typical Hollywood counterparts. And Kopple is a noted documentarian of quality- see Harlan County, USA. But, this film is nothing but a manifest ploy to rehabilitate the manís image after his 1991 scandal of splitting up with actress Mia Farrow and shacking up with her daughter.

  Documentaries are supposed to enlighten and give insight into their subject matter. This film does not, even at a bloated hour and forty-five minutes in length. This could have been cut to an hour, with ease, had most of the execrable jazz been cut. Itís not that the music is so bad as the fact that Allen and his compatriots are so utterly meager. Without Allen, the rest of the musicians could never have gotten a gig at a bar mitzvah.

  The truth is that the music was just a diversion for Allen to get his side of the scandal out into the public. We see, of course, Soon-Yi Previn (who later married Allen), and she is portrayed as not quite there (and sometimes seems autistic), emotionally nor intellectually. This great difference in intellect, age, and attitudes (sheís not a fan of Allenís earlier films, and- at least, then- has not seen Annie Hall) lends credence to many of the anti-Allen crowd, and this might not be so glaring if Previn were a babe- say, a Scarlett Johansson or Natalie Portman. Instead, she looks sort of like an Oriental Christina Ricci, replete with bulging fetal forehead. We also get snippets of Allenís sister, Letty Aronson, and parents, Nettie and Martin Konigsberg (then in their 90s), but the parents come only at the filmís end, when the tour is done, and the whole segment of Nettie kvetching about Soon-Yi not being a good Jewish girl feels staged.

  But, the real problem with Wild Man Blues is that Allen is never allowed to display his wit and intellect. There are a few good Vaudevillean one liners (a lady says to Allen, ĎYou are so intelligent;í and he replies, ĎWell, yes. It is a burden, though, sometimes. With this much intelligence comes great responsibility. You know. Itís lonely at the top.í), but mostly endless scenes of Allen blowing on his clarinet, making nice with Soon-Yi in their chi-chi hotel digs, hobnobbing with sycophantic mayors of European cities who give him the keys to their respective cities, and a number of oddball scenes that serve no purpose in the narrative- such as a French fan who disbelieves Allen has any prowess as a musician, only to- after the show, become a true convert. I mean, did the filmmaker- Kopple, really believe the viewer would be surprised or enlightened that the man had changed his opinion? There are about two minutes devoted to the scandal, an equal amount of time on Allen discussing his films, but absolutely nada on Allenís career in stand up comedy, early television, much less his day to day life before and during celebrity. So, again, what was the point for this film, save to burnish Allenís reputation as a human being?

  Perhaps that is good enough to carry a film if it provides a modicum of the other qualities previously mentioned. But, Wild Man Blues does not. Even for Allen fans who define the original intent of the term as fanatic, this film is something of coitus sans ejaculation. Nowhere do we get a glimpse of Allen unguarded; do we really believe that he and Soon-Yi in white robes, eating a gourmet Spanish breakfast, is a revelation of any sort? Of course, that question would be better addressed to director Kopple, who made a highly regarded Oscar winning1976 documentary called Harlan County U.S.A., about a minerís strike- as well as many others, but in this film seems to be on cruise control.

  As for the DVD? Itís released by Alliance Atlantis and has no special features whatsoever- not even a trailer. While keeping in step with Allenís own preferences for his own filmsí DVDs, Kopple should have broken ranks, for even if the film, alone, is not that interesting, a good audio commentary on the making of the film, and about conversations and incidents left out (did Allen have a Ďfinal cutí?), would go a long way to affording me the ability to recommend this DVD (but not the film). Alas, its lack dooms me to deny even that slim approbation.

  At best, Wild Man Blues is a competent little film- a travelogue with a celebrity, but not one which will leave a lasting impression to the uninterested observer, even if it does, occasionally appeal to the architecture lover out there. There are no great techniques nor style explored- the way an Errol Morris or Ken Burns documentary is manifestly theirs. Thus, this film is recommended only for Allen fans who desire to have the manís whole oeuvre- as director, writer, actor, or what not. And, yes, I am one of those people. But, for the rest of you, go watch Another Woman or Stardust Memories. Trust me on that!


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website.]


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