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Annie Hall by Woody Allen (1977) (United States)

Annie Hall is probably Woody Allen’s best film. As Allen himself said, the film was a “major turning point” (Björkman, 75) for himself. Unlike before, Allen didn’t want to continue making the usual comedies that he already had, and wanted to have deeper values. He wanted to make the audience think more and not just watch his films for the comedic value.

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DVD Cover of Annie Hall

The film tells the romance between comedian Alvy Singer and aspiring actress Annie Hall from Alvy’s perspective. Although it’s a romantic-comedy film, it’s subtly suggesting as if it’s more than just that. The film is confusing, right from the very beginning. As the story progresses, you start to understand. And then, the film’s timeline goes off-track and you have to wrack your mind to understand what’s happening again. Woody Allen, right from the beginning, had wanted the film to be about “what happens in a guy’s mind” (Eisenberg, “Woody Allen Explains Why Annie Hall And Hannah And Her Sisters Were Disappointments”).

In the film, however, we don’t see that. Instead, we see what happens in Alvy Singer’s mind. Alvy Singer is not a normality we see everyday. He’s a neurotic, insecure and obsessed with death Jew, clearly not your everyday male. Above all, it seems as if he plays a part of Woody Allen. Diane Keaton who plays Annie Hall’s last name was once Hall and her nickname was Annie. Even Tony Roberts who plays Rob is Allen’s best friend and in the film, Rob is Alvy’s best friend. It seems as if the film isn’t just about Woody Allen but about his relationships with other people. To the audience, some believe it’s an autobiography film, some believe it’s a semi-autobiography film, some only care for the romance between Alvy and Annie. From my perspective, the film is essentially all about love and relationships.

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Marshall McLuhan’s cameo in the film

Cinematic techniques used in the film are plenty. At the start of the film, there’s a direct address to the camera by Alvy Singer. During a flashback to his childhood, Alvy suddenly appears, having “adult time-traveled back the past” (Filmsite, “Annie Hall (1977)”). While queuing for a movie with Annie and there’s a man who keeps talking and talking, Alvy  interjects the scene, unseen by others, and even brings a real-life character, author Marshall McLuhan, into the scene to settle his argument against the noisy man who misinterpreted McLuhan’s work. “Boy, if life were only like this.” Alvy said this after McLuhan’s correction to the man. It does make people wish that life was so convenient. There’s also split screens and conversations between the screens. An example would be when the film shows the difference between the dinner styles of Annie’s family and of Alvy’s family. The families first show a stark difference in their dining manners and then they hold a conversation between the split screens. There’s also the use of subtitles that contradict whatever the characters are saying in the famous balcony scene. The original animated Wicked Queen from Snow White also makes an appearance in the film when Alvy fantasizes about being the Wicked Queen’s lover.

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Annie and Alvy at their first extended chat at Annie’s balcony

When first released, the film received widespread critical acclaim. The film won 10 awards in total the year it was released, even beating out Star Wars by George Lucas (1977) (United States) that year. Tim Radford called “Allen’s most closely focused and daring film to date” (The Guardian). Annie Hall was often compared to Ingmar Bergman’s various films, unsurprisingly, since Allen was greatly influenced by Bergman. Allen was also influenced by European Art Cinema, literature and among many others. Using his experience as a stand-up comedian, he injects jokes pertaining to several of his influences.The script that Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman had written several edits as they passed the screenplay back and forth until they were satisfied. With the plot itself engaging and the cinematic techniques executed so well, the dialogue which is a chunk load was ignored by many critics. This is probably because the dialogue drove the story forward so well and was ingrained as part of the cinematic techniques that it wasn’t questioned.

Annie Hall is also considered to be one of the New Hollywood films with director/actor Woody Allen known to be one of the New Hollywood films’ important figures. Todd Berliner, author of Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema, suggested that there are five key principles about the New Hollywood films:

  1. “Seventies films show a perverse tendency to integrate, in narratively incidental ways, story information and stylistic devices counterproductive to the films’ overt and essential narrative purposes.
  2. Hollywood filmmakers of the 1970s often situate their filmmaking practices in between those of classical Hollywood and those of European and Asian art cinema.
  3. Seventies films prompt spectator responses more uncertain and discomforting than those of more typical Hollywood cinema.
  4. Seventies narratives place an uncommon emphasis on irresolution, particularly at the moment of climax or in epilogues, when more conventional Hollywood movies busy themselves tying up loose ends.
  5. Seventies cinema hinders narrative linearity and momentum and scuttles its potential to generate suspense and excitement.”(51-52)

Such is also true of Annie Hall. However, the sheer genius that Allen has done with including the many different cinematic techniques all the while drawing a line between reality and fantasy makes the film so real yet unreal at the same time. Many of the ‘unreal’ situations that has happened are what people in reality desire. After all, who doesn’t want a life where they can go back in time and explain to their grade school teacher or their classmates then about why they did the things they did? Alvy Singer certainly wanted that and he did that. When he fell in love with the Wicked Queen from Snow White, Alvy Singer could even hold a proper conversation with her. In the world of Alvy Singer, anything was possible to him.

About the Author:
Edna is an avid reader who spends her free time looking for food to eat.

References:

  1. Allen, W. and Björkman, S. 1995. Woody Allen on Woody Allen. London: Faber & Faber.
  2. Berliner, T. 2010. Hollywood incoherent. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  3. Ebert, R. 1977. Annie Hall Movie Review & Film Summary (1977) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/annie-hall-1977 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  4. Eisenberg, E. 2012. Woody Allen Explains Why Annie Hall And Hannah And Her Sisters Were Disappointments. [online] Available at: http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Woody-Allen-Explains-Why-Annie-Hall-Hannah-Her-Sisters-Were-Disappointments-31531.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  5. IMDb. 1935. Woody Allen – Biography. [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000095/bio [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  6. IMDb. 1977. Annie Hall (1977). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075686/ [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  7. Movies.nytimes.com. 2013. Annie-Hall – Trailer – Cast – Showtimes – NYTimes.com. [online] Available at: http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/2547/Annie-Hall/overview [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  8. Radford, T. 2010. Annie Hall: Archive review. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/oct/18/annie-hall-archive-review [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  9. Slant Magazine. 2013. Annie Hall | Film Review | Slant Magazine. [online] Available at: http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/annie-hall [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  10. Sparknotes.com. 1984. SparkNotes: Annie Hall: Analysis of Major Characters. [online] Available at: http://www.sparknotes.com/film/anniehall/canalysis.html [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  11. the Guardian. 2010. Annie Hall: the best comedy film of all time. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/oct/18/annie-hall-comedy [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  12. the Guardian. 2003. Annie Hall. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2001/oct/21/features.philipfrench [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
  13. VoxTalk. 2013. Responding to Roger Ebert: Annie Hall review. [online] Available at: http://www.voxmagazine.com/blog/2013/04/responding-to-roger-ebert-annie-hall-review/ [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
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