Columnist: Sydney Reade
Editor-in-chief: Yasmin Alameddine
You may have heard quite a bit about Woody Allen in the news over the past few weeks. He’s had a troubled personal life that has no doubt been hard on his family members, estranged or otherwise. In cinema, however, Allen’s contributions to the industry cannot be discounted, especially a contribution as powerful as 1977’s Annie Hall, number 35 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 of All Time List. The movie won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Annie Hall is a lesson in comedy, unconventional cinematography, and life. Broadly, it is the story of Alvy Singer, (played by Woody Allen), trying to untangle the reason for his recent break up with Annie, the titular character (played by Diane Keaton). Thus the narrative is nonlinear, beginning after the break up.
Alvy is a neurotic Jewish male, so a majority of the narrative is introspective and looks at personal character flaws that may have led to the downfall of their courtship while also reviewing key scenes of their past year together. Flashbacks include a discussion on cinematography in line at the movies, examinations of both lovers’ previous relationships, a night of cooking lobster together, their meet-cute at a tennis court, sexual encounters, buying books about death, an explosive dinner scene rivaling that of Meet the Parents, and a trip to California where the streets are so clean because “[Californians] don’t throw away their garbage, they turn it into television shows.”
In the end, Alvy tries to create a play out of their failed romanticizing, giving the story the happy ending it never had. Alvy and Allen are nearly inseparable, so it is important that Alvy’s reason for this ending is that art tries to make things perfect where life never could. Ultimately, this is an overarching theme for the movie, which succeeds because its offbeat humor and depictions of the mundane serve to remind us that there is pain, beauty and ridiculousness in love. Yet, love is still worth it, even if it requires years of therapy.
Allen is incredibly talented at portraying these small life moments in poetic ways, aided by his unexpected cinematographic construction. In this film, he repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, talking to the camera from the get-go in a Roger Moore-esque, documentarian fashion. When he disagrees with the interpretation of a film given by a man standing behind him in line at the movies, Alvy steps off screen to bring in the filmmaker, so that the filmmaker can critique the fan’s interpretation, as though that were something that magically happened in life (I wish). Annie and Alvy both talk to the camera as if they are being interviewed, to give interpretations of past events. And, in what is perhaps the greatest live-action version of a Norman Rockwell painting ever made, Allen uses a split screen for an entire scene to contrast what dinner at his Jewish culture-based household would have looked like to Annie in comparison to the
WASP-y meal he is being made to endure at her parents’ home.
The plot may take a few viewings to become clear, but the groundbreaking cinematography will be immediately apparent. And in many ways, it may have been Allen’s intention to create a need for multiple watches, as it probably took Alvy at least as many tries to make sense of his relationship.
Diane Keaton shines in this movie in her predictable way—quirky, incisively inquisitive, with just a touch of over-eager awkwardness that polarizes her fans and critics.
Allen gives us yet another window into his mind, and into Jewish culture, and for that his acting and screenplay-writing is certainly to be commended. Annie Hall is a thought piece if there ever was one, but also a brilliantly funny movie with some decent acting (Christopher Walken shows up randomly in the middle) and stimulating visual construction.