Director Spotlight: Annie Hall
Up until recently I had zero experience with Woody Allen. Then, for some odd reason, I decided to cut my teeth on the film Cassandra’s Dream, which really did nothing for me. Shortly after that I watched, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which I enjoyed and decided that I must look into his more critically acclaimed films. Once the decision was made, I went straight to the top and watched Annie Hall, one of Allen’s undisputed masterpieces.
To call Annie Hall a comedy is certainly selling it short. It’s an experience. It transcends the barriers of comedic storytelling. Allen’s frenetic dialogue, movement, and joke delivery are unsurpassed by all that came before or after him (with perhaps the exception of Groucho Marx, whom Allen has cited as one of his major influences). His one liners and humorous tales take on a life of their own as if they were each intended to star in a film themselves. For instance, after being told by Diane Keaton’s Annie that she would hold up under torture Allen’s character Alvy Singer states:
“You? You kiddin’? If the Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale’s charge card, you’d tell ’em everything.”
From that one line you can almost imagine a five minute short film depicting the joke and how truly comical the punchline would be once acted out, even though you know where the scene is headed.
While the quips and retorts certainly hold you captivated (Allen’s delivery clocks in at about 85 MPH, so you can’t turn away for a minute) the innovative choices Allen made for the film should also be lauded. The use of a split screen spot which allows viewers to see opposing dialogue as it happens. An animated scene featuring Alvy and the wicked witch from Snow White bantering back and forth. Fourth wall breaking, daydream sequences used as a way to exhibit his true desires. Then again, who hasn’t dreamt of their true desires before?
“Boy, if life were only like this”, states the protagonist after a fantasy moment, which speaks volumes to the audience. As an admitted neurotic in need of serious analytical therapy, Singer indulges in escapism frequently even though his life is pretty good on the surface. This is the basis for the conflict seen running throughout the film. No matter how successful he is in his career, love life, or other endeavors Alvy is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. At one point Keaton’s alter ego tells Allen that:
“…you’re incapable of enjoying life, you know that? I mean you’re like New York City. You’re just this person. You’re like this island unto yourself.”
And this isn’t some strange revelation. All of Alvy’s actions and veiled comments are his plea for help. The film ends with him lamenting the way in which he handled his relationship and wishing he had done things differently. Having gotten to know Alvy Singer fairly well over the hour and half film span, we know that things couldn’t have gone differently, because from his childhood (there are scenes depicting a manic Alvy as a child) on to adulthood, he’s been sabotaging himself pretty consistently. This explains why the bedraggled comic continues to see a therapist, to no avail, for fifteen straight years.
Annie Hall is, again, an experience. For a comedy made in the late seventies it took some calculated risks. Animated scenes spliced in with delusional fantasies could have been off putting to an audience seeking a comedy that was more grounded in reality. Fortunately, such moments enhanced the story and made it’s characters that much more likable and memorable . All of this, coupled with the amusing stories and one liners, makes Annie Hall an outstanding movie viewing experience.
For the above stated reasons, I give Annie Hall 5 out of 5 pitchforks.