Woody Allen and jazz

Debordagoria phantasmagorias at SPAMyahoo.com
Thu Aug 3 11:14:04 MDT 2000


Like Lou, I find the biographical aspects of Woody's
films fascinating and significant, especially since
Allen himself flatly denies any such connections.
However, I found "Sweet and Lowdown" quite watchable,
thoughtful even.  Perhaps, Lou, you should have stuck
with it for more than ten minutes!

--- Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx <xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxx.xxx> wrote:
>
> Lou, thanks for this very detailed commentary on
> woody and jazz! I was informed a
> lot..
>
> Xxxx
>
>
> Louis Proyect wrote:
>
> > Recently I have run into Woody Allen and Soon-Yi
> Previn near 5th Avenue and
> > 91st street, only 4 blocks from my building on 3rd
> Avenue and 91st. I do
> > not say hello. Allen, the ultimate recluse,
> appears to be circulating in
> > public more often nowadays. For a while this was
> nearly impossible during
> > the public relations debacle that followed word of
> his romance with Soon-Yi.
> >
> > As a major part of his attempt to refurbish his
> image, Allen agreed to
> > participate in a documentary based on a tour of
> more than a dozen European
> > cities with his Dixieland revival band. Titled
> "Wild Man Blues", it either
> > shows him and Soon-Yi at leisure in palatial
> hotels, or him playing
> > clarinet with the band on various concert stages
> before adoring fans. As
> > everybody knows, including Allen who admits as
> much on camera, nobody would
> > pay a nickel to hear him if he hadn't become so
> successful as an actor,
> > director and screenwriter.
> >
> > What the documentary also reveals, however, is his
> growing malaise as he
> > tries to come to grips with the fact that his
> recent films have been deemed
> > critical failures as well as box-office flops. It
> is only in Europe where
> > Allen-like Jerry Lewis-still has a hallowed
> reputation. Even Soon-Yi seems
> > underwhelmed by his more recent films. Over
> breakfast she tells him that
> > she found "Interiors" tedious. This is another
> meaning of the "blues" in
> > the film's title. We are witnessing the fall to
> earth of a major artist.
> >
> > What's remarkable is that the film's director,
> Barbara Kopple, had been
> > best known for politically engaged films like the
> Academy Award winning
> > documentary "Harlan County USA" (about miners
> striking in Kentucky) and
> > "The American Dream" (meat packers striking in
> Minnesota). Since Woody
> > Allen is relentlessly anti-political, this seems
> like an odd choice at first.
> >
> > Perhaps, not so odd considering that prior to
> making the Allen documentary,
> > she made "Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike
> Tyson" in 1992 for NBC.
> > Tyson was in jail, on charges of rape, when she
> started making the film.
> > Allen's reputation around that time was about as
> tarnished and for similar
> > reasons: preying on women.
> >
> > Maybe plain old-fashioned pecuniary considerations
> influenced her decision
> > to make a film about Allen, since these are not
> plush times for leftwing
> > documentarians. Kopple has responded to the market
> by turning to other
> > kinds of filmmaking. She's directed two episodes
> of the ABC series
> > "Homicide," and even made some commercials, most
> notably the Reebok ad
> > featuring female basketball star Saudia Roundtree.
> >
> > Turning to jazz performance, the central concern
> of "Wild Man Blues", we
> > find that Allen's attitude toward jazz is not that
> far from his film
> > esthetic. Woody Allen's films, especially in
> recent years, are mostly a
> > pastiche of styles from the European film
> vocabulary. He tells Kopple that
> > he makes movies like the kind he loved when he was
> growing up, which means
> > Fellini or Bergman. Unfortunately, what Allen does
> not understand is that
> > Fellini and Bergman made films in a completely
> different way. They drew
> > upon local reality and human drama in order to
> make works with a universal
> > appeal. It is exactly those elements that Allen
> has lost touch with,
> > cocooning himself in a socially homogenous world
> of highly successful media
> > and show business types in uptown Manhattan.
> >
> > Jazz for Woody Allen is what he heard on the radio
> growing up. This is big
> > band music. He cites Count Basie, Benny Goodman,
> Artie Shaw, and Glen
> > Miller. Needless to say, he lacks the financial
> and musical resources to
> > recreate the big band sound today. So he settles
> on another kind of music
> > from a more innocent past. He performs the music
> of jazz's infancy: 1920s
> > New Orleans. Seen in performance, Allen's band has
> a worshipful attitude
> > toward the genre. Although it is technically
> competent, it lacks the fire
> > and passion of the original. Discussing the cool
> reception he received in
> > Rome, Woody tells people back in his hotel room
> that the audience seemed
> > "anesthetized." Obviously, this is the result when
> you are working in a
> > genre that lacks any kind of organic connection to
> a living society,
> > whether it is jazz from the 1920s or movies
> slavishly imitating Fellini or
> > Bergman.
> >
> > Turning now to one of Woody Allen's most recent
> (and unwatchable)
> > films--"Sweet and Lowdown"-we are presented with
> not only another version
> > of his museum sensibility with respect to music,
> but an apologia for his
> > own amoral behavior.
> >
> > Unlike other films in homage to Europeans, "Sweet
> and Lowdown" is basically
> > a knock-off of "Zelig", one of Woody's early
> films. "Zelig" is about a
> > personality in the 1920s who ingratiates himself
> with powerful politicians
> > and artists by adapting chameleon-like to his
> surrounding milieu. The film
> > includes "talking head" commentaries on Zelig from
> well-known writers and
> > media figures, as though he was a real person.
> >
> > In "Sweet and Lowdown", the same kind of method is
> followed. The main
> > character Emmett Ray (played by Sean Penn) is
> supposedly the second
> > greatest guitar player in the world during the
> 1930s, after French Gypsy
> > genius Django Reinhardt. "Talking heads" giving
> their take on Ray include
> > Allen himself and DJ Ben Duncan.
> >
> > Their consensus, reinforced by the first ten
> minutes of the film (I could
> > not watch it any longer), is that Emmett Ray was,
> in addition to being a
> > great artist, one of the most disgusting human
> beings of his age. To make
> > sure that this point is driven home, we see Emmett
> Ray:
> >
> > ** Pimping in the hotel where he is performing.
> When one of his whores
> > tells him that her client died during sex, his
> only concern is whether he
> > can be tied to his death.
> >
> > ** Stealing an ashtray from a hotel room. When he
> leaves the hotel, he
> > tosses the ashtray on the street.
> >
> > ** Inviting black musicians to come with him to
> the city dump where he will
> > shoot rats with his .45 revolver. They are
> understandably repulsed.
> >
> > But we are led to understand that when Emmett Ray
> sits down to play his
> > guitar, all is forgiven. He is an object of
> adulation, just as Woody Allen
> > was on the European stage. This, of course, is
> Allen's way of saying that
> > one can be a creep and still be a treasured human
> being. So what if you are
> > a pimp or leave your lover for her daughter. Just
> as long as you make great
> > art, you're okay in Woody Allen's eyes.
> >
> > Unfortunately, a film or any other work of art
> cannot be made around a
>
=== message truncated ===


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