March 1, 1999 -- Woody Allen today remains one of the most enigmatic figures in American life and "Wild Man Blues," is an attempt to illuminate some of the lesser-known parts of his life. Allen is admired for his prodigious production of quality films. A stand up comic, an actor in 40 films, a writer of 38 films and a director of 32 (according to the Internet Movie Database), including his Oscar-winning "Annie Hall," Allen is one of the best-known people in the country. He's also reviled by many for his notorious love affair with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his girlfriend, Mia Farrow. So who is this guy, really? The public and private personas merge in this film.
The film, by Academy Award-winning director Barbara Kopple (who won Oscars for two documentary films, "Harlan County, U.S.A., and "American Dream.") follows Allen on a fast-paced tour of Europe. Allen, who plays clarinet in a Dixieland jazz band, is touring with the band (all the 23 concerts in 18 cities are sold out in less than three hours after tickets go on sale). Soon-Yi goes along on the trip, as does Woody's sister, Letty Aronson, who has been involved in his last four movies.
It is immediately obvious that Woody is not a good traveler. He has established a comfortable routine in New York over the years, always eating in the same restaurants, and so on. He hates to leave. He looks uncomfortable on the charter jet, he looks uncomfortable in the plush hotels. How will he get his clothes washed? Will there be too much starch in the shirts? He's a fussy old man. Some of the phobias and neuroses that Woody suffers are quite evident in the film. It also shows that the characters he played in many of his films weren't much of a stretch. He fusses, frets and worries his way through the whole trip.
What is really interesting here is the relationships between Woody, his sister and Soon-Yi. They discuss everything from how deal with crowds of fans to what numbers should they play in the next show. Soon-Yi proves to be quite independent. At one point she tells Woody when she thinks he's been ignoring some members of the band and reminds him to complement them when they have played well. She scolds him and manages him throughout the film. She genuinely seems to be enjoying herself and is as comfortable with the trip as Woody is uncomfortable.
Another really revealing segment is a session with Woody and his parents. It is fascinating how Woody's mother and father put him in his place. All of his fame and fortune don't buy him any slack. Woody's mother tells him he should have married a nice Jewish girl. It is a very interesting scene. Another interesting thing about the film is the enormous popularity of Woody in Europe. The fans just love him and they turn out in huge crowds just to get a glimpse of him. It is very clear that Europeans appreciate Woody's genius more than Americans do.
This is a very fine film, especially for film buffs and fans of Woody Allen. There are some good insights into his character and the editing of the film is very clever. I really liked one jump-cut which follows Soon-Yi observing that Woody is not very animated or energetic. In the next scene we see Woody slouched, utterly inert, in a large chair. It is a hilarious sequence of shots. This film rates a B. This film was rated one of the top three documentaries of 1998 by the Online Film Critics Society.
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