AFI Countdown Challenge #31: Annie Hall

OK, let’s talk about Woody Allen.

Woody Allen is, as near as I can make out having never met the man, a disgusting human being.  Setting aside how he met his wife and various other accusations made about him (particularly Roman Farrow’s), whether they are true or not make his films harder to view when you consider what he tends to do in the movies he personally stars in.  I can somewhat set aside many other actors and directors accused of various sexual crimes under my general guideline of separating art from the artist.  That works for me with the likes of Kevin Spacey and Roman Polanski.  But Woody Allen is a different story in many ways.  In many of his comedies, he seems to be basically playing himself, and even as the actor/director aged, his female leads seemed to stay roughly the same age, adding an “ick” factor to his work.  He doesn’t appear in his work anymore, and he’s done a lot more varied work over time, but the comedies have that problem.

And that’s something of a minor shame for me.  I wasn’t a big Allen fan for a while, but I did see Annie Hall in college and it is genuinely delightful.  As it is, I really did look to see if I could get through this entry with pictures that showed more of Diane Keaton and none of Woody Allen, but that wasn’t possible. so here we are.

Here’s the thing:  Annie Hall is a very engaging look into an ultimately doomed relationship, and “doomed” seems to be too strong a word the actual scenario.  It’s a film with very low stakes as Allen’s Alvey Singer tries to figure out love, particularly with the quirky Annie Hall as played by the delightfully quirky Diane Keaton.  It helps that Keaton was actually born Diane Hall and may have had the nickname Annie, so she may very well be playing, if not herself, than at least Allen’s view of her.  While she may look like the old character trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she doesn’t save Alvey (a requirement for that character type in many ways).  By the film’s end, Alvey wants to marry her, but she declines.  The two part on good terms and even seem to still be friends, but they won’t ever be anything more than that.

Allen came to this film apparently as a mediation on his own turning 40.  I’m currently about the same age Allen was when he made this film now.  And quite frankly, I think I have a few personal insights on love that are, well, different from Allen’s, but that’s the point.  Allen is not a grand observer on human nature, but he has a keen insight on himself.  Look into any of the things he discusses that aren’t himself.  He doesn’t understand people from places other than New York City, he doesn’t really understand women, and he sure as hell doesn’t understand any music other than the 1940s era jazz he listened to while growing up.  But he does understand himself (or at least the part of himself he can show to the public), and that’s actually where the film stands out.

Much of the film, when he isn’t going through ups and downs with Annie, discuss Alvey’s general reluctance to leave New York and go to Los Angeles like so many people he knows in the entertainment industry.  L.A. is a weird place to Alvey, a place he feels has but one cultural advantage and that being the ability to turn right on red (you can do that in many places, so add “driving” to the list of things Allen doesn’t quite understand).  Alvey is a New York guy, but Annie gradually moves to and apparently falls in love with L.A.  The film isn’t even subtle about it:  Annie outright says Alvey basically is New York, an unhip, dying city.  The two aren’t really compatible, and though Alvey concludes he may not be good at relationships (he was divorced twice by the time he met Annie), they still tend to be worth it.

Annie Hall is also a highly experimental work with a number of familiar people hanging around.  It’s not the slightest bit chronological, and while Alvey may focus on Annie, he discusses other women he’s been involved with at various points, including his two ex-wives.  True, Allen playing a character who romances an attractive famous actress is hardly a new phenomena considering we see Alvey in bed not just with Keaton’s Annie but also women played by Carol Kane and Shelley Duvall.  Plus, he’s apparently dating an unbilled Sigourney Weaver at the end of the film.  These aren’t even the only famous faces in the film.  Jeff Goldblum forget his mantra, Paul Simon pops up a few times, and Christopher Walken appears as Annie’s deranged brother.  And all the while, Alvey worries about love and if he’ll ever find someone, noting he was even in love with the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (leading to an animated sequence with Alvey and his best friend Rob, played by Allen mainstay Tony Robbins).

But as Alvey talks to the camera, to repeatedly break the fourth wall, fret, and worry about, oh, everything, we can see why Allen might have, as an artist, rated a spot on the AFI list.  I actually, before Allen’s personal problems became apparent, got a big box set of his movies on DVD, but due to his personal problems, I haven’t finished them and may not.  This film may not represent the great horror that is The Birth of a Nation, but knowing anything about who Woody Allen is today makes all his films problematic viewings at best.

But Diane Keaton is still a national treasure.

NEXT UP:  We have a look into greed and what it can do to a man’s psyche with 1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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