Annie Hall

April 3rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Annie Hall, written and directed by Woody Allen, 1977 (script, Amazon VOD): I watched this for the first time after talking to Sean Witzke about it. I liked and disliked it at the same time. I thought it was pretty well written and the direction was great, but I never really got into any of the cast. Woody Allen as Alvy Singer was basically my exact mental image of Woody Allen, which was funny to see. I guess I’ve absorbed some of this movie over the years. But every character wasn’t repellent so much as… just kind of there. I never found myself caring what they did, though I did have a strange sense of dread every time Alvy met a new woman. It’s well-acted, but like… there’s something I didn’t get here.

The direction, though, rules. It only took a handful of scene changes for me to pick up on what Allen was doing with the transitions between scenes. I didn’t even have the words to describe how I felt about the transitions before I reread the first issue of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen and everything clicked. I don’t know that it works for every transition, but I got the feeling that each scene built on the previous one or was directly connected to it, either by way of a scrap of dialogue, a phrase, or some theme that was being explored.

Sometimes it was overt, as in when Alvy’s mother is talking about how he distrusted the world and they cut to Alvy ranting about hearing someone muttering “jew” under his breath. Other times, it was more subtle, like when Alvy says he needs a cold shower and then we cut to Rob telling him that he’s gonna send him to the showers. There were a few of those bits, and I really enjoyed them.

The cuts also made the movie more interesting to me in a structural way. It feels like a cut-up movie, like if a movie had been made and then diced into pieces and… not rearranged, since it’s mostly in chronological order, but had all the fat cut out, I guess. Annie Hall feels lean, and I couldn’t find any wasted space. I didn’t really care what happened to the characters, but I did like seeing what happened… which I guess is a kind of caring. (Now I’m wondering why my reaction is “I like this but I don’t like it.”) But the scenes are short and snappy, the dialogue pops, and I don’t think I was ever bored. It’s easy to see why so many people love this movie.

It’s such a funny movie, too, and I loved how weird the cast was. Christopher Walken as a creepy brother, Jeff Goldblum as a party member with one line, and Shelley Duvall was the reporter, right? Alvy’s asides to the camera were all pretty good, and I loved the subtitles when he and Annie were freaking out about each other. I think my favorite part was the cocaine scene.

There’s this one bit in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, one of my favorite movies, when Ferdinand looks at the camera and says “All she thinks about is fun.” Marianne notices, and says “Who are you talking to?” “The audience,” Ferdinand replies. I love that bit, that conscious recognition that you’re watching a movie, and a lot of Annie Hall gave me that same feeling. The asides, the pace, the editing… it’s a movie that couldn’t be a play or a book or a song or anything but exactly what it is. Pierrot Le Fou lingers and lavishes attention on its subjects, while Annie Hall hits you with rapid-fire anecdotes. There’s a charm and a conscious acknowledgement that it’s a movie, a filmed record of someone’s life. I thought that was a very cool touch, and it deepened my appreciation of the movie. “I’m a movie,” both films say. “Watch me.”

I said, “I liked and disliked it at the same time.” Now that I’ve actually written this out, I’m gonna go with just, “I liked it on several different levels.” I don’t know why I’m so hesitant to admit that.

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