At first blush, Wild Man Blues seems a departure for filmmaker Barbara Kopple, best known for her two Oscar-winning films about labor struggles, Harlan County, USA and American Dream. But Kopple also made Fallen Champ, a TV documentary about boxer Mike Tyson, whose struggles to redeem a tarnished public image might be compared to those of filmmaker Woody Allen at the time this film was made. Allen's breakup with longtime companion Mia Farrow in favor of her stepdaughter Soon Yi Previn turned his public persona from that of a quirky but lovable neurotic into one of a middle-aged sexual predator. Judging by the tepid critical and box-office reactions to the film, most filmgoers (and critics) saw the film as more image repair than an honest attempt to understand the famously reclusive Allen. Rather than a portrait of the artist at work on one of his films, it is about one man's moonlighting profession. Allen has been playing jazz clarinet for years at a New York club, but in Wild Man Blues, he takes his act on the road. Insights into the Soon Yi relationship are offered in offhand ways; she is clearly a take-charge woman, while Allen retreats at the least sign of difficulty or confrontation. The decision to devote an inordinate amount of footage to Allen and his band's performance is a dubious one, but Allen's lunch with his parents speaks volumes about their relationship and the sources of his own well-publicized neuroses.
by Tom Wiener review