Wild Man Blues
I avoided this film for a long time. I’ll admit it, though I try hard not to let the personal lives of artists affect my view of their work, there are exceptions, like Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson and, for a while, Woody Allen. It was just so weird and distasteful for a man to fall in love with and marry his sort-of stepdaughter. (The relationship is a lot more complicated than that. Soon-Yi Previn is the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, who Mia stole from her best friend, Dory Previn. Woody sort of inherited the relationship. If you want to see an odd life, take a look at Mia, too. She has had fifteen children, four of her own, eleven adopted. Two adopted ones have died. Weird. She’s an adoption factory.)
I have come to terms with the situation, and am back to seeing Woody only for his art. His life is his own business, including the constant allegations that all his works are based on his own life, which he denies. We see his relationship with Soon-Yi in this film, and it looks like a good one. Some critics were moved to say they saw Soon-Yi as “bossy.” My opinion is that these critics must be the sort who believe the man of the house should be the boss, should “wear the pants.” In other words, assholes. Soon-Yi discusses things with Woody, expresses her opinions, keeps him on track to do things he is sometimes reluctant to do. This is bossy?
One of the things I’ve always admired Woody for is the real main subject of this movie. He is not the only one who did not show up to accept his Oscar. (In fact, he did not show up to accept three Oscars!) He believes, along with George C. Scott and many others, that the idea of a “best” film or performance is a ridiculous one. (He is completely right … but that never stopped me from accepting an award. They look good on the mantle, and advertising them on the book cover can’t hurt anything. And hell, it feels damn good to get them.) And he did not refuse the awards; they are sitting proudly on his mantle. He didn’t show up because he had something more important to do. He had to show up with his band at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan on Monday night, as he had been doing for many, many years. I really love him for that. Performing his music was more important to him than a gold statue.
So now we have this documentary about Woody and his music. It was directed by Barbara Kopple, who had wide-open access to the couple and the band as they toured Europe to sell-out audiences from Barcelona to Budapest to London. They are put up in fantastic hotel suites, monster things with staffs of butlers and housekeepers. Woody seems stunned by the applause they are getting, audiences demanding encore after encore. He has been more popular in Europe than in the US for a long time, but he thought that was just his films. He’s treated like a rock star.
Well, the dude earned it. He has been practicing every day of his life since he was a kid. I had heard his playing on the sound tracks of films going all the way back to Sleeper. He has played with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans. But I had never seen him play before. The passion comes through. He and the rest of the band just play one kind of music, which is old time New Orleans jazz, but that’s what most people do, right? And he’s good. He will never be Woody Herman (who he named himself after), but who will? I’ll never be Robert A. Heinlein or Ray Bradbury, but I keep working at it. I think I keep getting better. If I’m not, I don’t want to know about it. I just want to keep writing. And Woody will always keep playing, Oscars or no Oscars.