Alice: Clarinet Jazz, the Sound of Cinematic Estrangement

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Taking on Alice was a choice made in an effort to overcome certain cinematic prejudices that I’ve developed over the years. So far, it’s been an interesting journey. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and come to a new, uneasy understanding (and begrudging occasional appreciation) of Woody Allen’s work.

However, some things are just facts. One of those things is that Clarinet Jazz is The Sound of Cinematic Estrangement. If you’re at all familiar with Allen’s work, you’ve heard this terrible omen. The moment the first jazzy squawk comes in – a Benny Goodman or Gershwin number – the attack is launched. Allen’s mission: to transform a perfectly fine character-driven, atmosphere-heavy, urbane comedy/dramedy into an insufferable exploration of all the worst things about people who self-identify as “intellectual”.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these tunes. They have their place at dinner parties thrown by the 70+ set and in films of/set in the period from which this music originated. It’s good background noise for wedding cocktails. I can even go so far to envision a circumstance in which one of these effete old-timey noodlefests could be an appropriate underscore in a film. But like every uncle with a seemingly non-threatening yet somehow incredibly alienating passion, Allen’s relentless insertion of banal woodwind-centric tweedling is a passive-aggressive declaration of war.

Some may accuse me of being paranoid. How much weight could one man’s passion for clarinet jazz hold? What does it really say about him as an artist? As a person? Luckily, Barbara Kopple made Wild Man Blues, a film that serves to dispel any doubts that Allen’s exhausting love of clarinet jazz directly correlates to a desire to turn the masses off, creating a filmic haven for the self-aggrandizing awkward.