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$2,000 dollars an ounce
by Asa Butcher
2008-08-01 09:03:59
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Annie Hall
Directed by Woody Allen
1977, Rollins-Joffe Productions

Thirteen Woody Allen films over the course of six days may be too much for some people, but, as my wife will attest, I am not some people. I embarked on this Woody Allen marathon to finally familiarise myself with a cross-section of the man's work over the past thirty years, beginning with 1971's Bananas and moving steadily forward to 1995's Mighty Aphrodite.  However, I consciously decided to end my journey with his 1977 Academy Award winning film Annie Hall and it was the perfect conclusion to my Woody Allen education.

Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that Woody Allen is a tour de force in modern cinema. He has been nominated a total of 21 times for Academy Awards - 14 of which were for his screenwriting, six for direction and one for acting - but has only won three times. Annie Hall marked his Academy Award debut with five nominations (Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor) and his film walked away with four Oscars that night.

Incidentally, however successful Woody Allen has been at the Academy Awards, he has only appeared in person once believing that the whole concept of awards is silly. In fact, he was once quoted as saying that winning Best Director for Annie Hall didn't mean anything to him, which may have irritated his fellow director nominees that Oscar night in 1978 - Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were among them. No matter how Woody Allen views awards, his film did win Best Picture and means that I am obliged to review it for my on-going assignment.

After watching twelve of his films in quick succession, I had become quite familiar with his directorial, writing and acting style, so it was with some pleasure that I found myself comparing Annie Hall to Bananas, the very first film I had watched a week earlier. Bananas felt as though it was a string of comedy sketch ideas and one-liners strung together with a plot and this was my feeling also for Annie Hall. In both films the one-liners and the sketches are all hilarious, but Annie Hall's humour felt deeper, as though Allen had grown-up, thrown out the slapstick, and dug deeper into his own life and emotions.

People are quick to describe Woody Allen's main character Alvy Singer as a thinly disguised self-portrayal, but I'm not so sure. After seeing Allen's acting range in eleven films - he wasn't in The Purple Rose of Cairo - he portrayed a wide-range of characters that naturally included the neurotic nerd so closely associated with him, but there were some roles that showed just how talented he is. He played it straight in A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, he was perfect in Stardust Memories and played-off Mira Sorvino superbly in Mighty Aphrodite, each showing his true ability.

I believe that the neurotic character is Allen's alter-ego, the one that he would never be in real life, but gets to live out on the screen. While some writers take the negative parts of their lives and flip it over for a screenplay, I think that Woody Allen takes his confidence, intelligence and talent, his positive traits, and flips them over to produce characters like Alvy Singer - I can't believe that Woody Allen has spent one day with an analyst!

When it comes to a Woody Allen film people seem to know what to expect. They begin with the Opening Titles written in white Windsor font on a black background, the location is New York City, the characters go to analysts, they star either Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Tony Roberts or Woody himself and there's a great deal of dialogue, plus no action sequences. Annie Hall ticks about seven of these boxes, although whether you could class Diane Keaton's crazy VW Beetle driving sequence as action is open for debate.

For those who don't know, Annie Hall is a romantic comedy about Alvy Singer (Allen), a Jewish New York comedian, who falls in love with Annie Hall (Keaton). Alvy has an obsession about death and his very cynical, especially when he finds himself in Los Angeles, while Annie is ditsy and clumsy, and doesn't need an analyst until she first meets Alvy. Today the story has been regurgitated hundreds of times in movies and TV shows, but to see it in the hands of Allen is something else.

The film has some great directorial moments, such as Alvy breaking the Fourth Wall and talking directly to the audience, there is an ingenious use of split-screen in a family dinner scene, on-screen subtitles that say what the characters are really thinking and a brilliant cartoon sequence that has Alvy having relationship problems with the Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Allen is famous for using the same actors and Annie Hall is no different, with Diane Keaton returning for her fourth (of eight) roles under his direction and Tony Roberts, who plays Alvy's L.A. friend Max, stars in the first of six films they would make together. However, it was Keaton that walked away with Oscar for Best Actress and also influenced a fashion that would forever be associated with the film - I think she still dresses like Annie Hall today.

While on the topic of partnerships, this was the first cooperation of eight between director Allen and cinematographer Gordon Willis, who would later work on the stunning black and white visuals of Manhattan and receive his only Oscar nomination for the mockumentary Zelig. Willis' work on Annie Hall resulted in many of the directorial moments I mentioned earlier, plus his visuals of New York City leave you Googling cheap flights to NYC to experience it for yourself - after Manhattan you won't care how much the flight will cost in order to get there.

Watch out for early appearances by a number of actors at the start of their careers, such as Christopher Walken, a mere year before he starred in The Deer Hunter, Jeff Goldblum as the man who forgot his mantra, Beverly D'Angelo as a TV actress and Sigourney Weaver's screen debut - there are also cameos by Paul Simon and Truman Capote to watch out for.

Before I wrap up this loving tribute to Annie Hall, perhaps I should explain the "$2,000 dollars an ounce" title to those unfamiliar with the film's greatest moment that was actually an unscripted accident. Alvy and Annie are… Wait, I think you should just rent the film and see it for yourself and discover all the reasons why Annie Hall, not only won four Oscars, including Best Picture, but was also ranked #2 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Romantic Comedy". Achoo!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-08-01 10:25:55
Some critics claim that Woody Allen is more popular in Europe than in America. That may be because some find his movies too cerebral and complex. Yet most of them, "Annie Hall" especially so, are simple in many ways, but deals with romantic issues in complex ways. Allen is a genuine artist, with a great capacity to synthesize the intellectual to the imaginative.

Simon2008-08-01 17:16:34
A classic! Thanks for the review.

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