After the classic Woody Allen opening credits of white Windsor font titles on a black background the story begins. Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) talks directly to the camera explaining how one year ago his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) ended. Now he looks back trying to understand what went wrong. Except that’s not at all what he does. And that’s one of the problems with Annie Hall.
This film does several things extremely well and a couple of things really poorly.
First the good and, at times, the great.
Woody took breaking of the 4th wall to another level. While other films had done the same on occasion as a gag, Annie Hall does it with much more clever subtlety.
His reasoning behind breaking the 4th wall was…
“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.”
Whether or not that’s true it’s still an effective film making technique and certainly set this film apart from anything anyone had seen in years.
There’s a lot that was innovative about Annie Hall.
There is an animated sequence in the middle of the film. Alvy reflects back on how when he first saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all the other boys adored Snow White while he fell for the evil queen. The sequence lasts less than 30 seconds but it was extraordinary.
There are a couple of fun moments in Annie Hall, such as Christopher Walken’s small part as Duane, Annie’s brother.
Duane: I tell you this because, as an artist, I think you’ll understand. Sometimes when I’m driving on the road at night I see two headlights coming toward me. Fast. I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.
Alvy: Right. Well, I have to…I have to go now, Duane, because I…I’m due back on the planet earth.
I have a feeling that’s a statement uttered to Christopher Walken on a regular basis.
Woody is, like usual, himself. In every Woody Allen film there is a large dose of semi-autobiographical material. The ending in particular is fairly meta (although in 1977 nobody knew what that meant). Even to this day, though he no longer appears in his films, the lead character tends to be just a version of himself.
Midnight in Paris – Owen Wilson
Café Society – Jesse Eisenberg
Irrational Man – Joaquin Phoenix
But the genius of Woody Allen is his uncanny ability to write dialogue for other characters.
He wrote the character of Annie Hall specifically for Diane Keaton. She’s such a well-developed character. But Annie’s not the only one. Over his career he graced the screen with an impressive group female characters and several actresses have been grateful beneficiaries. Actresses in his films have won six Oscars to date.
Scene after scene is filled with razor-sharp conversation. Woody’s comedic style of biting, brutally honest satirical commentary on the culture and times is at its absolute most unbridled. New York City and Los Angeles, the stereotypes of gender differences in sexuality, the presentation of Jewish identity, the psychoanalysis and modernism of the 70s…nothing is off limits.
The story moves effortlessly back and forth from Alvy’s childhood to present day to events over the last several years. But (and here’s where this review takes a turn) there’s just not enough story to hold it all together. By the end any charm left in the film has been spent.
A series of events with two central characters isn’t the same thing as a story. The only thing I can maybe put my finger on is that Annie thought she wasn’t smart enough for Alvy. As she started to read more and get some education she outgrew him?
But if that’s it…and I’m not saying it is…it’s not clear. You don’t really get the sense that Annie is becoming smarter or better educated. That’s no discernible change of any kind.
Woody writes great dialogue. Really great dialogue. But after a while it’s the same thing over and over again. Alvy and Annie don’t really evolve. When you see Alvy at all those points in his history it becomes even more clear that he doesn’t have even a fraction of a story arc.
This was the third time I’ve seen Annie Hall and I still don’t understand the appeal. I think from a film making perspective it is remarkable. The performances are excellent. But from a storytelling perspective it’s fairly weak.
But I’m in good company. Woody Allen doesn’t like Annie Hall either.
“That film was not supposed to be what I wound up with…In the end, I had to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton and that relationship, so I was quite disappointed in the end of that movie. – Woody Allen*
I have often regretted that this was the first Woody Allen film I ever saw. It has mostly soured my view of him as a film maker. That’s not to say there aren’t Woody Allen films I adore. In fact, Hannah and Her Sisters is the film that got me seriously writing screenplays. It was so good it made me want to write.
I wish I had seen that one first. In the end Annie Hall has a hell of a lot of style but very little substance.
But at the 50th Academy Awards nobody seemed to mind.
It was only up for 5 Oscars but it won 4 of them. Picture, director, actress (Keaton) and screenplay. Woody missed out on best actor (and therefore the film sweeping the “Big Five”) with the Oscar going to Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl. Don’t feel too bad for Woody. First, he won for director and screenplay. Second, he never goes to the Oscars anyway. With the exception of the first Oscars post-911 he’s famous for never attending. Nobody is really sure why. Maybe it’s like Alvy said in the film.
“And it goes like this. I’m paraphrasing. I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” – Alvy
So for all we know he still might not even know he didn’t win. If you see him around don’t mention it.
Star Wars was the big winner that night taking home 6 Oscars plus an additional special Oscar given to Ben Burtt the real creative genius behind all the creatures and droids.
Star Wars wasn’t only up for technical Oscars. It had a total of 10 nominations including picture, director, screenplay and supporting actor for Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. He lost to Jason Robards who became the fourth actor to win back-to-back Oscars**.
But it was Robard’s Julia co-star Vanessa Redgrave who garnered the most attention when she won for best supporting actress.
In her acceptance speech she took a swipe at members of the Jewish Defamation League who were protesting what they believed was her anti-Semitism. The controversy began with her involvement in the documentary film about the PLO, The Palestinian, a film narrated by Redgrave.
She called them “Zionist hoodlums.” She was heartily booed.
A couple hours after her win Paddy Chayefsky came to the stage to announce the screenplay winners.
“Before I get on to the writing awards, there’s a little matter I’d like to tidy up–at least if I expect to live with myself tomorrow morning. I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.” – Paddy Chayefsky
The crowd cheered.
It seems strange now as the Oscars ceremony has become a regular platform for “the propagation of personal political propaganda.”
I wonder what Woody Allen would have thought of her “Zionist hoodlums” remark. Maybe it’s for the best he wasn’t there.
*“Annie Hall” Might Be Woody Allen’s Greatest Disappointment, By Devin Faraci
**Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn were the previous back-to-back Oscar winners.