Wild Man Blues review

Legend has it that Woody Allen snubbed the 1977 Oscar ceremony, in which he won Best Picture and Director for Annie Hall, because he refused to miss his Monday night clarinet-puffing session with his New York jazz band. With this story in mind, you'd think a film following Allen around Europe with a banjo player would be as appealing as third-degree scabs.

But with the camera rolling in the palms of award-winning auteur Barbara Kopple, Wild Man Blues turns out a cheekily revealing wink (rather than an unblinking stare) into the private life of Mr Woody, his girlfriend Soon Yi, his jazzy passions and his irrational fear of gondolas.

The documentary is mainly a succession of visualised anecdotes set to a Dixieland soundtrack; thus we see Europe like a Woody-penned postcard. And, as the camera tails him, it comes as no surprise that Allen is as neurotic in real life as his screen persona.

What does administer a mild shock is that not only is he a genuinely great and gracious wit, but a passionate musician with a not inconsiderable talent: as the on-stage sequences show, he may look like a 30-gram weakling, but the man's got lungs of iron.

Of course, it goes without saying that both fans of Woody and Dixieland will already be loitering outside their local arthouse for Wild Man Blues, but it's going to take one hell of a marketing spin to convince Johnny Multiplex to join the queue. Which would be a real shame, as this documentary does make for strangely compulsive, even joyous viewing.

Share the laughs with a roomful or wait for it on video, where you can rewind the speech about why a man should never give a woman flowers. But try not to be a mean-spirited schmuck and miss out on the best Woody Allen film he never made.

As the jazz cat in The Fast Show is so inclined to blurt: "Niiiiice". Always charming and often hilarious, Wild Man Blues is just about the most fun you can have with a neurotic New Yorker, a jazz band and a glass frog.

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