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.


About Pamp

Pamp is a lover of great scotch, good films, and bad fiction. When not playing video games or reading comics, he occasionally helps teens figure out "things and stuff". On a good day he does all three at once.

Posted on June 3, 2009, in Director Spotlight, Film Review, Woody Allen and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The “you know nothing of my work” scene has been often imitated, for one. I love this movie, and watching it again made me realize how incredibly funny it really is. It was made at a time when comedies didn’t pander, too. There’s no talking down, no elaborate setups, it’s just damn funny.

    I remember my dad saying that that lobsters in the kitchen scene made him laugh harder than anything he had ever seen.

  2. Mike Pampinella

    The “you know nothing of my work” scene was brilliant.

    As for the lobster bit…I loved the contrast between Annie and the other woman Alvy dated, and how they reacted to his treatment of the lobsters. It was almost Allen’s wink and nod stating, “Hey, not everyone will get my quirky sense of humor. I’m not aiming for that audience.”

    Just an overall brilliant film.

  3. Annie Hall was, in a lot of way, Allen’s peak. He was known for making good comedies up until then, but Annie Hall was so much more that I really seemed like Allen was going to be the next brilliant film-maker. Some say he is, but none of his movies afterward seemed to grab the kind of audience Annie Hall did. Sure, Hannah and Her Sisters did great at the box office, but ten years later, it feels like that movie4 isn’t even in the same league.

    Now, Allen makes one movie a year, the same people go see it, and they all seem rather tired and bland. It’s not that he’s not making funny movies any more, it’s that he’s not challenging any more. His movies are stage plays filmed instead of movies.

    • Mike Pampinella

      For as little experience as I have with Allen, I would have to agree. Having watched Cassandra’s Dream and Vicky Cristina Barcelona first it just seems that he hasn’t been able to achieve that same success that he did with Annie Hall.

      It seems that you have to move backwards through his filmography, rather than forwards if you want to get the most from his career.

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