Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Annie Hall (1977) * * *

(first lines)
Alvy Singer: (addressing the camera) There's an old joke--um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life--full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly. The... the other important joke, for me, is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud's "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious," and it goes like this--I'm paraphrasing--um, "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is a neurotic Jewish comedy writer living in Manhattan in a relationship with exuberant Annie Hall (Diane Keaton, née Diane Hall), an aspiring midwestern night club singer. He met Annie at a quick game of indoor tennis, and the film follows the up and down relationship of the two mismatched neurotics over several years, intercut with imaginary trips into each other's history. For example, Annie is able to "see" Alvy's family when he was only a child, and Alvy observes Annie's past sexual relationships. In the first flashback showing Alvy as a child, we learn he was raised in Brooklyn and his father operated a bumper cars concession on Coney Island. The family home was located below the Thunderbolt roller coaster, which Alvy thinks accounts for his "nervous personality".

Alvy Singer: Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here. My grammy never gave gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.

Alone in her apartment for the first time, Alvy and Annie engage in a self-conscious conversation. As they speak, subtitles flash their unspoken thoughts: "I'm not smart enough for him" and "I sound like a jerk." Despite all their caution, they connect, and we're swept up in their new romance. Annie is an extrovert, knows what she wants and radiates self-confidence, but after she meets Alvy she also begins to see a psychiatrist. Alvy ponders his quest for love and romance with Annie. The twice-divorced Alvy knows that it's not easy to find a mate when the options include pretentious New York intellectuals and lifestyle-obsessed writers, but Annie seems different. They discuss such topics as endless therapy, movies vs. TV, the absurdity of dating rituals, anti-Semitism, drugs, and, in one of the best set pieces, repressed midwestern WASP insanity vs. crazy Brooklyn Jewish boisterousness.

During a visit to a Long Island beach house, Annie sifts through her college course catalogue and considers taking Modern American Poetry or Introduction to the Novel. Alvy advises: "Just don't take any course where they make you read Beowulf." As Alvy begins to prepare to make love, he suggests: "We should just turn out the lights, you know, and play hide the salami." He complains that Annie is sexually idiosyncratic--she always needs to smoke pot each time before they have sex. Annie mentions his years-long Freudian psychoanalysis.

Alvy: Yeah, grass, right? The illusion that it will make a white woman more like Billie Holiday.
Annie: Well, have you ever made love high?
Alvy: Me? No. I - I, you know, If I have grass or alcohol or anything, I get unbearably wonderful. I get too, too wonderful for words. I don't know why you have to get high every time we make love.
Annie: It relaxes me.
Alvy: You have to be artificially relaxed before we can go to bed?
Annie: Well, what's the difference anyway?
Alvy: Well, I'll give you a shot of sodium pentothal. You can sleep through it.
Annie: Oh come on. Look who's talking. You've been seeing a psychiatrist for 15 years. You should smoke some of this. You'd be off the couch in no time.

To stimulate himself, Alvy produces "an erotic artifact"--a red lightbulb to create "a little old New Orleans essence." Without grass, while they go through the motions of making love, in a clever use of double-exposed film, Annie's bored and detached spirit leaves her body's position on the bed during intercourse and sits on a nearby chair to watch her conversation with him. He talks to her alter ego and makes love to Annie at the same time. He is frustrated because he cannot entirely possess her, saying "I want the whole thing."

Alvy: Hey, is something wrong?
Annie: No, why?
Alvy: I don't know. It's like you're removed. (she rises from herself on the bed)
Annie: No, I'm fine.
Alvy: Are you with me?
Annie: Uh, huh.
Alvy: I don't know. You seem sort of distant.
Annie: Let's just do it, all right?
Alvy: Is it my imagination, or are you just going through the motions?
Ghost Annie: Alvy, do you remember where I put my drawing pad? Because while you two are doing that, I think I'm going to do some drawing.
Alvy (gesturing at the Ghost version of Annie): You see, that's what I call removed.
Annie: No you have my body.
Alvy: Yeah, but I want the whole thing.
Annie: Well, I need grass.
Alvy: Well, it ruins it for me if you have grass. Because you know, I'm like a comedian. So if I get a laugh from a person who's high, it doesn't count, you know, 'cause they're always laughing.
Annie: Were you always funny?
Alvy: Hey, what is this--an interview? We're supposed to be making love.

In one scene Alvy is standing in line at a cinema with Annie and listening to someone behind him talk about Marshall McLuhan's work. He leaves the line to speak to the camera directly. The man then speaks to the camera in his defense, and Allen resolves the dispute by pulling McLuhan himself from behind a free-standing movie posterboard to tell the man that he is wrong. Another scene is animated, featuring a cartoon Allen and the Wicked Queen from Snow White. In another scene Alvy again addresses the audience, and then stops several passers-by to ask questions about love. Alvy breaks the fourth wall, and Woody Allen explained, "because I felt many of the people in the audience had the same feelings and the same problems. I wanted to talk to them directly and confront them."

(Alvy addresses a pair of strangers on the street)
Alvy: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?
Female street stranger: Yeah.
Alvy: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?
Female street stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.
Male street stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.
Alvy: I see. Wow. That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something?

It becomes clear that the two are on separate tracks, and what was once appealing becomes annoying. After many arguments and reconciliations, the pair realize they are fundamentally different and split up. Annie moves in with Hollywood record company executive Tony Lacey (Paul Simon). She likes California, but Alvy hates it. Alvy soon realizes he still loves her and tries to convince her to return with him to New York. He fails and returns home to write a play about their relationship, recycling the conversation just exchanged but ending with him winning Annie back.

Annie: It's so clean out here.
Alvy: That's because they don't throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.
Annie: So you wanna go into the movie or what?
Alvy: No, I can't go into a movie that's already started, because I'm anal.
Annie: That's a polite word for what you are.

Later, with Annie back in New York, the two are able to meet on good terms as friends, now with different lovers. Alvy ends the film by musing about how love and relationships are something we all require despite their often painful and complex nature.

(last lines)
Alvy Singer: After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I... I realized what a terrific person she was, and... and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I... I, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.

Woody Allen's romantic comedy of the Me Decade mixes the slapstick and fantasy from such earlier Allen films as SLEEPER (1973) and BANANAS (1971) with the more autobiographical comedy of his stand-up routines and screenplays, using the movie techniques of talking heads, splitscreens, and subtitles. With funny dialogue and sight gags, Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman reversed the happy marriage of opposites found in classic screwball comedies. Considered Allen's most mature and personal film, ANNIE HALL beat out STAR WARS (1977) for Best Picture and also won Oscars for Allen as director and writer and for Keaton as Best Actress. Audiences loved Allen's take on contemporary love and turned Keaton's rumpled menswear into a fashion trend. Diane Keaton's baggy wardrobe provided a welcome alternative to polyester pantsuits and flared trousers in the 1970s.

It's a charming, clever and thought-provoking movie, not very exciting or gripping, even boring at times, but very enjoyable. ANNIE HALL brought a new level of seriousness to Allen's work, and is not so much about two people falling in love as about two individuals trying to negotiate a mutually beneficial relationship. The neurotic, self-obsessed commentary is pointed but relatively gentle, free of the bitterness that sometimes marks Allen's later work. This film is a series of insights that leave the viewer feeling strangely optimistic--or at least very amused--about human nature. Much of this is due to Alvy and Annie themselves. Unlike the oddly but perfectly matched couples who walk off into the sunset in the majority of romantic comedies, Alvy and Annie continue with further introspection, obsessive analysis, and reflection. The appeal of ANNIE HALL is that there are no easy answers. This movie elevated Allen to the forefront of modern filmmakers, promoting him from a comedian who made films to a comic filmmaker. It also set a new standard, its name becoming synonymous with the sub-genre of the intelligent, New York-based romantic comedy.

ANNIE HALL includes Allen's central themes: his love affair with New York and hatred of Los Angeles, how impossible relationships are, and his fear of death. One scene concerning death is when Annie moves into Alvy's apartment, and Alvy discovers a book of Sylvia Plath's poems, which contradicts Hall's later statement when she is moving out that all the books about death were given to her by Alvy. The film has been widely assumed to be semi-autobiographical, but Allen has denied this. It was originally intended to be a drama centered on a murder mystery with a comic and romantic subplot, and it was filmed that way. According to Allen, the murder occurred after a scene that remains in the film, the sequence in which Annie and Alvy miss the Ingmar Bergman film FACE TO FACE (1976). After shooting had completed, the film's editor persuaded Woody Allen to cut the mystery plot and make the film a romantic comedy. Allen has said that ANNIE HALL was "a major turning point" both thematically and technically: "I had the courage to abandon... just clowning around and the safety of complete broad comedy. I said to myself, 'I think I will try and make some deeper film and not be as funny in the same way. And maybe there will be other values that will emerge, that will be interesting or nourishing for the audience.' And it worked out very very well."

The cast also includes: Tony Roberts (Rob), Carol Kane (Allison), Shelley Duvall (Pam), Janet Margolin (Robin), Colleen Dewhurst (Mrs. Hall), Christopher Walken (Duane Hall), Donald Symington (Mr. Hall), Helen Ludlam (Grammy Hall), Mordecai Lawner (Mr. Singer), Joan Neuman (Mrs. Singer), Jonathan Munk (Alvy Singer - Age 9), Ruth Volner (Alvy's Aunt), Martin Rosenblatt (Alvy's Uncle), Hy Anzell (Joey Nichols), Rashel Novikoff (Aunt Tessie), Russell Horton (Man in Theater Line), Marshall McLuhan (himself), Christine Jones (Dorrie), Mary Boylan (Miss Reed), Wendy Girard (Janet), John Doumanian (Coke Fiend), Bob Maroff (Man #1 Outside Theater), Rick Petrucelli (Man #2 Outside Theater), Lee Callahan (ticket Seller at Theater), Chris Gampel (Doctor in Brooklyn), Dick Cavett (himself), Mark Lenard (Navy Officer on Dick Cavett Show), Ved Bandhu (Maharishi), Sigourney Weaver (Alvy's Date Outside Theater), Truman Capote (Truman Capote Look-Alike), and many others. The screenplay was written by Marshall Brickman and Woody Allen, who also directed.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "Few viewers probably notice how much of Annie Hall consists of people talking, simply talking. They walk and talk, sit and talk, go to shrinks, go to lunch, make love and talk, talk to the camera, or launch into inspired monologues like Annie's free-association as she describes her family to Alvy. This speech by Diane Keaton is as close to perfect as such a speech can likely be... all done in one take of brilliant brinkmanship."

Woody Allen says he gets approached "all the time" about making a sequel to ANNIE HALL, but has always declined. However, he admitted in a 1995 interview that for a time he considered it, saying, "I did think once--I'm not going to do it--but I did think once that it would be interesting to see Annie Hall and the guy I played years later. Diane Keaton and I could meet now that we're about twenty years older, and it could be interesting, because we parted, to meet one day and see what our lives have become. But it smacks to me of exploitation....Sequelism has become an annoying thing. I don't think Francis Coppola should have done Godfather III because Godfather II was quite great. When they make a sequel, it's just a thirst for more money, so I don't like that idea so much."

Like all Woody Allen movie DVDs, ANNIE HALL has no fancy extras such as commentary tracks or "Making of" documentaries. In 2000 readers of Total Film magazine voted it the forty-second greatest comedy film of all time. Zagat Survey Movie Guide in 2002 ranked ANNIE HALL one of the top ten comedies of all time, one of the top ten movies of the 1970s and as Allen's best film as a director. In 1992, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

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