Annie Hall is the film that put Woody Allen on the map, sweeping up the Oscars in 1978, winning Best Picture, Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Allen even received a nomination himself for Best Actor! This film was released during a productive early period in Allen’s oeuvre, being his third of five films starring his then-romantic partner, Keaton.
The story is simple. Alvy Singer (Allen) falls for Annie Hall (Keaton). We then follow these two neurotic characters as they fall apart and try to pick up the pieces of their relationship.
The action is therefore in the dialogue: between the lovers, between the lovers and their psychiatrist, and between Singer and the new lovers he finds when the romance dissipates with Hall. But the dialogue doesn’t need comic relief or the mere set-up to some punch line.
The intelligence of Allen’s writing stood out for film critic, Roger Ebert.
“Watching even the more creative recent movies, one becomes aware of a subtle censorship being imposed, in which the characters cannot talk about anything the audience might not be familiar with. This generates characters driven by plot and emotion rather than by ideas; they use catch-phrases rather than witticisms,” Ebert observed.
Annie Hall is different from the contemporary comedy film, although Allen has certainly influenced much of the genre today.
Take for instance the most famous scene of the film. Singer, standing in line for a movie, is impatient, listening to a professor’s pretentious musings on media.
When confronted by him, the professor claims he teaches the great media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, and is thus an expert. Unannounced, completely outside the world inhabited by Singer, McLuhan appears out of nowhere and tells the professor that he knows nothing about his work.
Trent Film Society has paired this film with Barbet Schroeder and Charles Bukowski’s Barfly (1988) to show how dialogue is a key, if not essential, component of a great film.
In both Annie Hall and Barfly we see and hear witty characters that, by virtue of their language skills, drive the narrative forward and entertain us.
We also get two very different classes: an upper-middle class in Allen’s feature, and the very bottom of the lower class in Barfly. It will be up to us to decide whether we enjoy and identify with Allen’s or Bukowski’s philosophizing. Check back next week for a review of Barfly.
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