Sight and Sound Top 250 – #140 Annie Hall (1977)

Hey look! It’s the first Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time post of 2016! I’m dedicated this year to get through a lot more of these than I did in 2015, and we’re starting off the year with #140 on the list, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

ah1I really can’t explain how I’ve made it this far in my movie watching life without having seen what is widely considered Woody Allen’s breakthrough film Annie Hall, but somehow I have, an oversight that I have now corrected and one that I am certainly glad that I did.

Actually, I should go ahead and admit that Allen and his films are something of a blindspot for me in my film watching experience, an oversight that I intend to spend some time correcting this year. I’ve seen some of his earlier more broad comedies such as Take the Money and Run, and some of his middle period films such as Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo rank extremely high in my list of personal favorites, but for some reason, perhaps simply the sheer volume of films that Allen has written, directed, produced, or been involved with in multiple ways it seems like there are just so many that I have yet to see that it’s kind of hard just deciding on one to start with. Intimidation through numbers.

Which is, of course, kind of a silly response, as the real answer to that question is just to pick one, sit down, and watch it, but there you go.

Anyway, let’s get on with looking at this one, shall we?

“When Annie Hall started out, that film was not supposed to be what I wound up with. The film was supposed to be what happens in a guy’s mind … Nobody understood anything that went on. The relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about. That was not what I cared about … In the end, I had to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton, and that relationship, so I was quite disappointed in that movie”

That’s Woody himself talking to Eric Eisenberg in a 2012 interview. Actually it seems that he went through quite a few different ideas on the way to turning out the final film. As a matter of fact, in one of the early drafts of the screenplay the movie was a dramatic murder mystery with the Allen/Diane Keaton romance as a subplot. Would Allen making such a movie have been a terrible idea? Obviously not, since he did subsequently go on to make the movie Manhattan Murder Mystery which also co-starred Keaton. However, if he had wound up making that movie instead of Annie Hall, well, that would have been a cinematic loss.

ah2Allen’s statement does, however, make one wonder just how a film’s creator can be so seemingly off the mark about his own movie and just what it indicates about the relationship between Allen and his audience. Is it possible that he’s simply too close to the movie to see it for what it is? Can it truly be that he doesn’t see the greatness of the film, or is it possible that one of the other films that he had in mind on the long voyage from initial concept to what actually wound up on the screen might have turned out to be even better than what was finally produced? Of course, that’s one of those “what if” questions that will never be answered, but it does make for interesting speculation.

All speculation aside, however, it can’t be denied that whether it’s what he wanted to present or not, Allen wound up crafting a movie that not only has withstood the test of time, but still draws first-time viewers like myself into it lake a well-crafted low-key comedic web. Honestly, I didn’t expect, after all the years of build-up and of hearing just how great the movie was, that there was any way that it could have lived up to the hype, but amazingly it does.

ah3I suppose part of my resistance to watching the film is that I was expecting the overly neurotic constantly muscle twitching nebbbishy Jewish character that is the way that so many Allen imitators and impersonators choose to focus on when they are portraying him, and while it’s possible that he may in fact develop into that character in later films, and while there are traces of it here, in actuality that is downplayed to a large extent so that Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, while definitely in need of a good therapist – whom he does eventually find – is actually much more likable than one might expect.

Now I don’t purport to be a mind reader, and I wouldn’t deign to speak for Mr. Allen, but part of me suspects upon reading the quote above and some of the other reading that I’ve done subsequent to viewing the film, a large part of his dissatisfaction with Annie Hall lies in the fact that he was wanting to make a film that was more “about” something – a film that simply had more plot than the character study (or studies) that he eventually wound up producing. However, as we all know, plot does not necessarily make a great movie, and there is certainly enough “about” going on in Annie Hall that it definitely thrives without it. I don’t mean to say that there is no plot at all, but really what there is can be boiled down simply to “the rise and fall of a relationship”. And that’s all that is needed here.

ah4Okay, once again, I could go on and on about this film, writing about the use of color in the great Gordon Willis’s cinematography; how the movie is as much an ode to New York as it is to the love between Allen and Keaton; how much of it seems at least peripherally autobiographical, though that again is an aspect that Allen prefers to downplay without completely denying it; just how imminently quotable the script is (the film really is a showcase for Allen’s way with words, both on the printed page and in his often fourth-wall-breaking delivery) etc., etc., but the bottom line is that Annie Hall is simply a masterpiece, and an incredible turning point from Allen’s earlier films and a showcase for not only his talent, but everyone involved.

So why did it take me so long to get around to this movie? Well, as I said at the start I really don’t know. But now that I’ve seen it, I’m simply going to take this moment to urge you not to follow in my footsteps but rather to seek out the first opportunity you can to give it a viewing.

Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.



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