In 1977, Woody Allen concocted what would soon become two very notable, time-honoured characters. Annie’s oversized, androgynous pants, Alvy Singer’s glasses, some lobsters on the loose and one the greatest drives, through upper Manhattan in a Volkswagen Convertible ‘Super Beetle’. The film itself has become an unyielding choice.
Starring, directed by and co-written by Woody Allen (and Marshall Brickman), the film won numerous awards, and a place in the hearts of many. It has stood the test of cinematic time with a string of scenes which effortlessly weave between reality and the whimsical ways of what one would expect from anything Woody Allen has graced. And yet, it is know that Woody Allen himself is not so fond of this great work, whilst there are allegedly prints which began a descent down New York City’s East River when Allen decided they were not right for the picture. Nevertheless, it has been deemed one of the greatest comedies, having won the Oscar, as well as being considered one of Woody Allen’s strongest pieces of works. But why has it become a deity of its genre?
“Annie, there’s a big lobster behind the refrigerator. I can’t get it out. This thing’s heavy. Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side, you know what I mean?”
Ahead of its time, Annie Hall sparked a trend, waistcoat and tie aside. She used black soap- the Erno Laszlo kind, and we see Alvy Singer as one of the early neurotic male leads which began to leak onto both the big screen and the television screen. Seinfeld comes to mind; a man whose ideal takes centre stage of the show, as does his apartment, friends and relationships. He is punctilious- a season seven episode entitled The Seven comes to mind. After the suspicion that Jerry’s girlfriend wears only one outfit, he finds an early photo of her, consequently in the same outfit. He breaks up with her and yet he still cannot handle not knowing the reason behind her fashion choice, bothered to the point of idiocy.
Alvy himself is such a character. A lack of happiness, entwined into a state of an idealistically constructed childhood and a complex existence, Alvy has need to inflict upon others, a way of thinking, or at least his way of thinking. Through montages and constructed realities, Alvy is able to be left stuck in a cinema queue, only to have to hear the opinion of a seemingly intellectual man behind him, but he cannot be right, and thus, Alvy effortlessly and somewhat acceptably, brings forward, the man in question- Marshall Mcluhan.
We accept any montage, any fabrication of Alvy Singer’s life, because after all, is cinema not one bug fantasy? We accept the opening dialogue and the written subtext of a conversation, because in all its nervousness, fantastical elements and pondering of life’s greatest dilemmas, Woody Allen’s piece of cinema is thought provoking. It’s both a heart-warming what and a comedic escape.
Intellectuality, fragility, Truman Capote and little one-liners, are woven together in dialogue and action. No word is unnecessary and no action is unnoticed or accidental. As early as when we first meet Annie Hall, nobody exchanges a mandatory, banal welcoming, instead, we are straight in there:
Jesus, what'd you do, come by way of the Panama Canal?
ANNIE Alright, alright, I'm in a bad mood, okay?
ALVY Bad mood? I'm standing with the cast of "The Godfather."
A plot revolving around one neurotic, sexually engaged, emphatic man, seems far from romanticised, and yet the film is one romanticised story of complexities against a New York backdrop. There is filtering and fluttering and dancing of the tongue. Enriched with loves tribulations, philosophy and foolishness, the concerns are that which remain today and maybe forever. You are taken on a journey through time, yet with the clarity that never leaves one asking where in Alvy’s life we’re stopped at now.
A strong piece of cinema with a voice and opinion and its serious, yet full of humour. Is that not what Woody Allen has become notorious for? Are his works not an endless stream of intellectually compelling, humorous but serious works, that sometimes, unbeknown to the viewer, poses questions we only dream of asking, or shy away from answering?