REVIEW 1,000: Annie Hall

8 06 2015

For my thousandth published review on Marshall and the Movies, I thought it would be appropriate to review an all-time favorite rather than just another disposable, forgettable current release. I ultimately settled on what could very well be my #1, Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” I wrote this piece as an application for the Telluride Film Festival’s student symposium last year; the prompt was, “If you were being sent into the distant future, and you could take just one film with you, what would you take, and why?”

If I were sent into the distant future with only one film, there is no question in my mind that I would bring a copy of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” I cannot think of another film that better encapsulates all the potential of cinema. If film had ceased to exist in this hypothetical future society, “Annie Hall” could single-handedly regenerate the art form and produce a remarkable diversity of movies in the process.

As the late Roger Ebert stated, “Every great film should seem new every time you see it,” and “Annie Hall” can be watched through any number of lenses producing wildly different viewing experiences. Allen brilliantly builds in many layers to his film, allowing it to speak to anyone who approaches it.

“Annie Hall” is not so esoteric as to preclude it from functioning as entertainment; someone would have to be quite a stoic not to enjoy the misadventures in love of Allen’s Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall. Watching Annie swerve dangerously through traffic or Alvy sneeze away cocaine is undeniably enjoyable when seeing it for the first or fiftieth time.

Yet “Annie Hall” is most certainly not limited to this dimension of pure diversion. Allen, like many before him, recognizes that the possibilities for film to exist as art are manifold. Rather than confine his film to one narrow definition of what he believes cinema to be, Allen experiments with how they can interact in a brilliant pastiche that serves as a valentine to all the pioneers before him and a template for all those after him. “Annie Hall” explores many different styles of filmmaking, employing each when appropriate to convey his message and somehow maintaining cohesiveness.

Annie Hall (2)

What Allen pieces together in “Annie Hall” is not merely the story of Alvy and Annie but also the story of how cinema can satisfy the creative impulse. To him, film can function as a second draft of history, a way of commenting on the clarity that can be achieved through art but proves unattainable in life itself. Throughout “Annie Hall,” characters literally revisit their past in their present states, both as passive observers and active participants. By employing this technique, Allen explicitly demonstrates the retrospective qualities of film, exposing it as a tool for grappling with our own histories.

He further reveals the abstract qualities of film by visualizing that which is often relegated to the realm of the conceptual. “Annie Hall” subversively undermines the notion that film can only present the visible surface of photographic reality. Rather than telling us that Annie is having an out-of-body experience during sex, Allen shows us by literally having Annie’s “spirit” leave her physical body and observe from outside the act.

Moreover, he transforms the cinematic image of Alvy to represent the Hasidic Jew that he believes Annie’s family sees when they look at him and turns Annie herself into the animated Wicked Queen for whom Alvy subconsciously perceives himself to be falling.

Perhaps most strikingly, Allen presents subtitles that contradict the words uttered by Alvy and Annie, instead expressing their hidden innermost emotions. Film, in the hands of an astute observer like Woody Allen, becomes an incredibly powerful tool to comprehend the complexities of human communication and interaction.

However, for all the technical and intellectual proficiency present in “Annie Hall,” its greatest strength might very well be the simplicity of its story. It wields some of cinema’s greatest artistic weapons dexterously, but the film is also a beautiful tale about two fully realized characters navigating the treacherous straits of life and love. Humans have always told narratives to make sense of the world, and film is just the latest means to express that need. “Annie Hall” is a brilliant manual for grappling with reality, making its case so effectively through creative exploration of film’s capabilities as a medium.

Random Factoid #6

3 08 2009

I have to watch movies from the beginning.  If I don’t, I get stressed out think about what I’ve missed rather than focusing what’s on the screen.  The best way to show the way I can be is a scene from “Annie Hall,” which I am having trouble finding on YouTube, but the dialogue goes like this:

Annie: So do you wanna go into the movie or what?

Alvy: No, I can’t go into a movie that’s already started because I’m anal.

Annie: That’s a polite word for what you are.

But I have never refused to go into a movie that has already started.  I saw “The Iron Giant” twice in theaters; once I missed the first half, the next time, I missed the first ten minutes.