Wild Man Blues

Director: Barbara Kopple

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


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?

Barbara Kopple, Director
Barbara Kopple is a respected documentarian who has won the Academy Award twice, the first time for Harlan County, U.S.A. in 1977, and again in 1991 for American Dream, which also swept all three documentary awards at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. Harlan County, USA has been designated an American film classic by Congress. She has also produced and directed for television and HBO. Among her credits is a TV movie, Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson, for which she received an Emmy nomination.

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards


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