Wild Man Blues

Photo Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival

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As a teenager, Woody Allen became obsessed with New Orleans jazz. So enthralled was he that he quickly bought an instrument, took lessons, and forty years later continues to practice the clarinet daily. His appearances at Michael's Pub in New York are legendary. Last year, however, Allen and his band embarked on a European tour--eighteen cities in twenty-three days--and Barbara Kopple and her crew accompanied them every step of the way.

Kopple is known for her Oscar-winning examinations of harsh American life (Harlan County, U.S.A. and American Dream). It is perhaps this fish-out-of water venture that makes director and subject so comfortable with one another. Although Kopple's mission is to document Allen's performances, her glimpses of his private life are brilliant. Allen's cinematic persona blends with reality: his insistence on his own bathroom, separate from Soon Yi's; his queasiness on a pleasant gondola ride; his claustrophobia. Most bittersweet, however, is his inability to be in the "moment" as he travels to remarkable locales; instead, his insecurity is paramount, in this case about his musical talent.

How to make a film on Woody Allen without making a Woody Allen film? Kopple ends the piece with the prodigal son returning to his parents' apartment triumphant. Yet there are no congratulations. His mother (sitting next to Soon Yi) wishes he'd fallen for a nice Jewish girl. His father thinks a pharmacist would have been a better career choice. Sound familiar?

- Andrea Alsberg

Directed by: Barbara Kopple
Produced by: Jean Doumanian

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