Starring Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, Annie Hall won the Oscar in 1977 for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Direction and Best Screenplay. The story focuses on Alvie Singer (Allen), a nervous comedian, and his humourous relationship with Annie Hall (Keaton). The film also explores Alvie's diverse relationships with women. The filming techniques have been imitated widely in take-offs.

I watched this today for the first time and was pleasantly surprised. It is one of those rare movies which works on many different levels simultaneously. It was artistically fabulous, funny, thought-provoking and very, very, unique. The acting was also superb. Rather than being high-budget or overly dramatic, it's strength lay in its cleverness.

Introduction

This was film released in 1977 and was Woody Allen's first successful attempt at making a more thoughtful type of comedy film. It charts the fabulously funny relationship of Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). It reveals Allen's neuroses and wonderfully provides a thoughtful analytical view of human relationships. It won 4 oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Woody Allen), Best Screenplay (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton). On the night of the awards ceremony Allen was in Michael's Pub in New York, playing his clarinet. A testament to his temperament.

Background

The first draft was written in just 4 days. With this in hand Allen asked United Pictures for $4 million. One could see a clear influence of Federico Fellini's 8 and a half on the early versions. It, like Annie Hall was made at a pivotal career turning point. Still there were great changes made to this draft and most of fantasy scenes were left out of the final version. A notable exclusion was Alvy's home being sited under a rollercoaster! He got the idea of a silent credits at the opening from "The Front" . With the use of the Godfather films' cameraman Gordon Willis, one could also see the influence of Francis Ford Coppola's use of flashbacks. He filmed in three different styles: hot golden light for California, grey and overcast for Manhattan and forties, Hollywood glossy for the dream sequences. But these distinctions were largely lost when it came to the editing stage. The film was Allen's first to directly draw on his own life. Initially, Diane Keaton's charater was to have been a smart New York journalist to avoid people linking this to their previous relationship together. But late on he decided to change this and Keaton acted out herself complete with mismatched clothes and disjointed conversation. Keaton's father says Annie Hall is 85% true even to the point of Alvy's positive influence on Annie. The film bears a striking resemblence to the reality as Keaton herself admitted.

The film took 10 months to film and the original cut was 2 and a half hours long. It was sprawling and contained material for more than one film as was shown by parts appearing in Radio Days (although reshot), Deconstructing Harry, and Manhattan. But with some fine editing the result became stunning.

The Plot

As is usual with Allen films it is relatively simple and not really the lynchpin of the film. Annie Hall is brilliantly weaved and brought together by the end. But what stays with the viewer is the joy and nostalgia of the film. It has so many fine moments, from Annie calling Alvy when he's in bed with another girl to ask him to kill a spider for her to the scene with her parents who Alvy believes to be classic Jew haters. The beginning of the film reveals a reflective Alvy looking back at his relationship with Annie:

"I keep sifting through the pieces of the relationship through my mind, and examining my life and trying to figure out where did the screw up come." (Alvy in Annie Hall)
By the end of the film his friends are drawn to California and Alvy is left feeling they have in some sense been corrupted. Allen uses Lacey (Paul Simon) as a symbol of the degraded nature of Californian life. He left him to create his own lines, asking only that he used the word mellow (a term Allen hated). In the film Alvy responds to Lacey:
I don't think I could take a mellow evening, 'cause I don't respond well to mellow. You know, I have a tendency to, if I get too mellow, I ripen and then I rot."
The film contains various other attacks such as on his parents and his old school. But by the end of the film with all the happiness, sadness and philosophising coming to an end Alvy is able to reach some form of resolution.
"I thought of this old joke, you know, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says: "Doc, my brother is crazy. He thinks he's a chicken." The Doctor says "well, why don't you turn him in?" And the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well I guess this is how I pretty much feel about relationships. You know they're totally irrational and absurd and... but, I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs."
It's a truly great film. One that deserves to be watched. It's also ideal for helping you realise that putting things in perspective really helps! Woody Allen successfully gives an insight into his relationship with Diane Keaton and it is this personal essence that drives the film on. You really feel like you're experiencing life with Allen and it is marvellous to watch his mind work.

Credits

Woody Allen's film Annie Hall, set in Manhattan, focuses on the relationship of the aspiring singer title character with stand up comedian Alvy Singer.

Most films happen to start in the present time frame instead of beginning with a childhood flashback like Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Considering the film's references to Freud and the two main characters' frequent visits to their psychoanalyst, its not at all suprising that Woody Allen would show "the child is the father to the man" by explaining how his protagonist's whole personality was influenced by the early years of his life. Thus from the film's first scene, we are already a given a hint of Alvy Singer's depressive nature. In that scene, Alvy's mother calls in a doctor because her son's morbid thoughts about the expansion and eventual death of the universe have depressed him to the point where he stopped doing his homework and thinking about anything else. The doctor called in to talk to Alvy tells the child that the universe will be around for billions of years and that he should stop worrying about its collapse and enjoy his life instead.

Apparently Alvy ignored the doctor's advice, since his morbid and obsessive thoughts and inability to enjoy life because of them continued well into his adulthood and eventually irritated his girlfriend Annie Hall, who tried to love him at first but eventually became too fed up with him. The first time we see Alvy together on his date with Annie, we clearly see how exasperated she is with his obsessive and joyless nature. Not quite the master of courtesy during dates, Alvy scolds Annie for arriving late to the movie theater. He then ruins the date by refusing to see the movie altogether. But why? He confesses himself to be an obsessive compulsive who cant stand missing the beginning of a film. Therefore, when he finds out that he and Annie are two minutes late past the start , he absolutely refuses to go into the screening room.

The most annoying thing about Alvie however is not his obsession with being to a movie on time, but rather his constant need to whine and complain about things that most people wouldn't even notice. While in line to purchase tickets at the cinema, Alvy whines constantly about a pretentious guy standing behind him who makes banal academic comments about Fellini's movies. "I think I am going to choke," he tells Annie and then dismisses the guy as an over-intellectual type who met his date through the New York Times Book Review personals section, where he stated his interest in meeting a Mozart loving, book reading sodomite. Annie of course is quite peeved that her boyfriend is driven to eavesdrop and make vicious comments about a stranger, all the meanwhile looking for sympathy because it was him who was supposedly inconvenienced by the stranger's presence. ( Note: Alvy's habit of making fun of strangers also irritatingly transfers to a hobby of mocking Annie herself. But that's a point to be discussed later in paragraphs six through eight.)

Obsessing about things and complaining about them is a character trait of Alvy's that spills over into many facets of his life. The effect of this on Annie is that everyday tasks that should be fun and stress free become intolerable hassles because Alvy finds them so threatening and troubling. When he and Annie get together to cook live lobsters by boiling them, horrified Alvy tells Annie that he finds these creatures extremely dangerous and will not touch them. When she coaxes him to pick one up and drop it into the boiling pot, he expresses such fear and squeamishness as he drops the lobster into the hot water, that you would think he was handling a bomb about to explode. However, it would be unfair to say that dealing with Alvy is all pain and no pleasure for Annie. Sometimes Annie does find his quirks rather charming. During the lobster cooking, she has a fit of laughter about his fear of lobsters. Rather amused, she asks Alvy to pose for a picture holding a big stick that he had just reached with behind the refrigerator to make the lobster crawl out towards him so that he wouldnt have to carry the icky thing with his hands and risk being hurt by its claws. Her funny bone is also quite tickled, when Alvy tells her, serious and straight faced, that he would never shower at the gym no matter how sweaty he was, become he was afraid of what could potentially happen to him while he was naked in the company of another likewise naked man.

In fact, it is not really Alvy's quirks that are his biggest flaw with regard to his relationship with Annie. The quirks are merely symptomatic of a bigger problem. They merely reveal that Alvy is self obsessed, only attentive to his own needs and fears, while being insensitive and completely unsympathetic to those of Annie. When Annie and Alvy have sex, Alvy tells her that he absolutely can't put up with her smoking grass because it would make her sexual performance fake. Alvy thinks that if she smokes grass, the pleasure that she gets during sex wont be attributable to his presence and sexual performance, but to the stimulation effect of pot instead. According to him, it would be as if during a comedy show, he knew that his laughing audience had smoked up and they were laughing not because they found his jokes funny but only because they were high on drugs.

Alvy's need to bolster his ego and to be certain that it is him and not the drug that is causing Annie's pleasure completely makes him insensitive to her insistence that she needs to smokepot in order to relax during sex. She believes that she would otherwise be too tense, which would inhibit her and make her unable to make love freely and joyfully. Alvy's insensitivity certainly ruins the sex at that moment. Feeling that Annie is unusually listless during the lovemaking session, he says to her: Why do I have the feeling that you are somehow removed? His searching gaze around the room confirms his suspicion. The movie veers to surrealism as Alvy at that point notices Annie's soul - an exact replica of her body wearing the same clothes but only dimmer looking - sitting on the chair with a sketchpad, thinking about what she should draw. Rather dismayed, Alvy tells Annie's soul to return to the body and be together with him during the still continuing sex session. Annie's soul sarcastically replies, "You still have my body!"

What makes Alvy an aggravating boyfriend for Annie, as far as love goes, is the combination of two characteristics. These are his constant propensity to make fun of and to insult his dates as well as his habit of impulsively and insistently begging for sex when the desire comes without taking no for an answer. In one hilarious scene, we witness the simultaneous manifestation of both of these traits. At an evening get together of Manhattan illuminati such as professors and journalists, he absconds away from everyone to a deserted room with a television and turns on a basketball game of the Nicks. Robin, a woman who was earlier talking to him about her writing sees him watching sports and marvels at how he can waste his time watching the meaningless non-intellectual activity of men competing to throw a ball into a hoop. Alvy's answer is insulting to the intellectually-minded woman. He tells her that unlike intellectuals who are stuck in thoughts, physical activity is productive and accomplishes something real. Immediately following his insult, Alvy decides to show her the merits of physical activity by pushing himself onto her, locking his arms around her, and passionately french kissing her. After thus seguing from insult to kissing, Alvy implores the woman to have sex with him right there although they could be walked in on anytime by their mutual intellectual acquiantances in the next room. She certainly doesn't want to ruin her reputation by being caught in a public sex act and eventually throws him off of her. Alvy, however ignores her pleas against having sex for as long as possible, unwilling to allow her fears of humiliation to dissuade him from indulging his sexual desire.

Dialogue:
Alvy: No, it'll be great! It'll be great, be-because all those Ph.D.'s are in there, you know, like ... discussing models of alienation and we'll be in here quietly humping.

Robin: (Pulling away again) There are people out there from The New Yorker magazine. My God! What would they think?


With regard to Annie, Alvy doesn't insult her right before impulsively and insistently trying to talk her into having sex with him. With Annie, Alvy is forunately considerate enough to space out the insults and the sex begging. Alvy's mocking of Anny revolves around her supposedly unsophisticated language skills. He tells her that her expression la-di-da is something only uneducated Wichita Falls, Wisconsin folks would say and that the use of the word "neat" to mean praise is outdated. When she refers to her grandmother as grammy, he derisively asks her if she lived in a Norman Rockwell painting. (For those who don't know, Norman Rockwell drew idealized portraits of 1950s America that glorified the family and always depicted them in cute and loving moments. His work has been often criticized by detractors as overly sentimental.) Unlike his constant mocking of his girlfriend, Alvy's pushy demands for sex that won't take for an answer are often not directly shown. Rather, they can be inferred from Annie's conversations with her psychoanalyst. She tells the therapist that she would often comply with Alvy's insistent requests for sex even though she told him she didn't want to make love and tried to talk her way out of it. However, Annie says she later began to stand up for herself and refuse.

There is one specific scene at the beginning of the movie that corresponds to Annie's description to her psychotherapist about how Alvy would beg for sex and how she would respond to his entreaties by trying to talk her way out of it. In this scene, Annie and Alvy are lying in bed and Annie answers Alvy's request for sex with several excuses. First she simply tells him that she doesn't want to make love. Seeing his visibly upset response, she then produces an excuse by saying that she has to be well rested and save her voice for the next day's singing at a nightclub. Alvy, of course, doesn't quite become the sensitive guy and easily let her off the hook with no sex. Instead, he debunks her excuses and argues back to her.

Dialogue:
Annie: I don't wanna..

Alvy: What - What - I don't.. It's not natural. We're in a bed together

Annie: I know, well, it's just that-you know, I mean, I-I-I-I gotta sing tomorrow night, so I have to rest my voice.

Alvy: It's always some kind of an excuse. It's- You know, you used to think that I was very sexy.

Quite frankly, that should be no surprise to the reader considering that Alvy wouldn't allow the presence of a whole party in the next room to stop him from trying to have sex with intellectual socialite Robin. If a crowd of people did not scare him away from sex, why would his girlfriend's flimsy excuses. When Alvy wants sexual satisfaction, he will not bother to allow the unwillingness of his partner to stop him. A childhood scene from the beginning of the movie already forecasts Alvie's sexual impulsiveness. He gets up in the middle of the classroom to run to a girl to kiss her on the cheek. The teacher calls him up to the blackboard and tells him to be ashamed of himself. "What for? I have a healthy sexual desire," Alvy answers her cheekily.

One may wonder how Annie was able to put up so a long with such a derisive, sexually impusive, insensitive, and obsessive compulsive boyfriend for so long. But if their relationship continued for a long while despite all of these traits of Alvy's, what ultimately killed it was his insensitive response to Annie's career needs. When Annie's nightclub singing session inspired Tony Lacey, a recording agent to take interest in her talent, Alvy made Annie decline the agent's inviitation to an evening of drinks that would potentially include contract negotitations for her record. He said that he and Annie could not attend the social event because they already had plans for the evening. Later, when Tony Lacey offered Annie to move to Los Angeles to begin recording her first album for his label, Alvy insisted that she not go and stay with him in New York City instead. Alvy's insistence on never moving to L.A. forces Annie to choose between Alvie and her career. That was precisely the breaking point where Alvie's selfishness and insensitivity have shown themselves to be intolerable. Singing was a talent Annie had nurtured and cherished by frequently performing in Manhattan's nightclubs. She would not allow Alvy's objections to stand in the way of her chance at stardom.

Annie Hall was released in 1977 and received major acclaim at the Academy Awards, being nominated for four awards and winning three of them.
Awards Won
Best Film
Best Director - Woody Allen
Best Actress - Diane Keaton
Nominations that didn't win:
Best Actor - Woody Allen

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