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Annie Hall or George Lucas Can Kindly Suck My Dick

The Best Movie of 1977 & The Best Romantic Comedy Ever Made!

At the tender age of 5 years I saw Star Wars for the first time and to say it blew my mind doesn’t even comprehend what it did to affect me (1). The whole reason I fell in love with the movies was because I was taken to the theater by my parents for a movie whose TV ads terrified me (2). So imagine my horror 10 months later when I am now 6 years of age and watching the 1978 Academy Awards broadcast and Annie Hall was named Best Picture for 1977. As a child, there was no doubt in my mind that Star Wars wasn’t just winning the Oscar for the Best Picture but that no movie was remotely close to being as great as it could be. I mean what the hell was Annie Hall anyway? Who the hell was Woody Allen and why wasn’t George Lucas on the podium getting his little golden statuette? I was utterly crestfallen, as were my friends at school the next day. We lived, ate and breathed Star Wars everyday for almost a year and for every day after we first saw it. We waited with anticipation for 3 years for The Empire Strikes Back to surface. How could anything but Star Wars possibly be the greatest movie ever made?

I harbored a grudge against Woody Allen and Annie Hall for quite sometime after that. It was difficult for my developing mind to accept anything but Star Wars being simply the greatest thing since fire. A whole decade had expired before my grudge against Woody Allen was laid to rest when I was taken to see Radio Days. I thoroughly enjoyed that movie, way more than I expected to. I didn’t find out until weeks later when Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel reviewed it that Woody Allen directed it. I had to put aside my bias and probably took my first attempt at being objective when dealing with criticising the work of others. So I made it a point to go to my local video store and rent a few of Woody Allen movies every now and then. So since the age of 15 I’ve managed to sit and watch most of Woody Allen’s film work and let me tell you, that is one large body of film. That is also a large body of one man’s neuroses that are on display for all to see in a good number of them. If most Americans, who have never been anywhere near New York or, if possible a Jewish person, have an image in their head of what a New York Jew looks like then Woody Allen would be that image. Of course Allen has done nothing but cultivate that image since his days doing stand-up comedy. If anything Allen used his stand-up act and television appearances in the 1960’s to groom the image of himself as he saw fit. He then parlayed that image into a successful film career as a director and lesser extent actor. Before there was viral marketing there was Woody Allen.

So what was it about Annie Hall that made it not only win the Oscar for Best Picture but also make me change my position on Star Wars?

It is a case of tastes developing, of evolving not only physically from boy to man, but in terms of what one may look for as their own awareness and consciousness expands. Put more simply, just because I hated spinach as a child does not mean I will hate spinach as an adult. Annie Hall is a movie I finally saw when I was 20 years old. I was hooked from the opening moment when Woody Allen playing Alvy Singer, tells an old Borscht Belt joke. The movie establishes a personal relationship with the audience right out of the gate by having Alvy Singer narrate his tale of his failed relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) and how it helped him grow as a person.

What I like is that Woody Allen, as a director and a writer, uses the framework of film being a visual medium to jump around in the timeline of the story. He doesn’t start with Annie and Alvy meeting and building their relationship. The first scene the characters have onscreen together is Alvy waiting for Annie to arrive at a movie theater. This isn’t their first date, we are dropped In Media Res to their relationship. In fact they are at that point of the relationship where, by how they converse, the viewer is able to determine that the relationship is not going well.

Allen is also unafraid of breaking the Fourth Wall to directly address the audience while still in the same scene. Not breaking the flow of an argument between Annie and Alvy, to show what is happening as well as what Alvy wishes would happen at the same time. The first scene with Alvy and Annie flows into the second scene. Having missed the start time for the first movie they wanted to see, the couple have to go see a different movie at a completely different theater (3). They end up standing in line, listening to a man drone on and on about a film by Bernardo Bertolucci. After the man goes further to misinterpret the writings of Marshall McLuhan, Alvy has had enough and tells the man he is wrong. The man responds by noting he is more qualified than Alvy on the subject since he is a Professor of Media and Popular culture at Columbia University. Alvy’s response is simple “Well Marshall McLuhan is right over there, let’s ask him”. The punchline is so brilliant and deft, as McLuhan himself starts telling the man how wrong he is, as Alvy just shrugs at the camera and says “Boy, if life were only like this!”. It is the first scene where fantasy is played out in the reality of the movie and it isn’t the last.

The movie traces not just the history of Annie and Alvy’s relationship but also uses flashback to show both characters previous dating histories or in Alvy’s case, his more disastrous marriage (4). Allen inserts the modern versions of characters into the flashbacks to give perspective on what their frame of mind or point of references are. The brilliance of these scenes is that Alvy usually ends up talking with his younger self and the 2 spend time analyzing each other. Its this self-psychoanalysis that provides a look into not just the character of Alvy Singer but the personality of Woody Allen himself.

Allen has been very open about his 30 year long relationship with psychoanalysis. Much of that carries over to his films and I think it is obvious he used his own experience of not just his own personal self-discovery, but also he uses Annie Hall to re-examine his relationship with Diane Keaton in real life (5). Of course the movie itself is one large 90 minute psychotherapy session not just for Alvy and Annie but for the viewer as well. Putting one relationship under a microscope it becomes very hard for any viewer of Annie Hall to not see some reflections of their own life.

Well that last sentence isn’t necessarily true for everyone, as Woody Allen’s work does not translate to every demographic. I mean not everyone is a neurotic, sex-crazed Jew from New York City. In my experience one does not have to be all of the above to comprehend Annie Hall. It certainly helps mind you, but for the average person 2 out 4 will help in understanding much of Woody Allen’s work. I mean all of his good movies tend to use New York City as more than just a setting, it almost a gateway into understanding both the characters in the films and to understanding Woody Allen himself. A New Yorker’s mindset definitely helps in this understanding. I am now 20 years removed from living in NYC proper and in my mind I remain a New Yorker. New York is still a part of me as much as it is a part of Woody Allen and his character Alvy Singer. Such is the case for any New Yorker. Put simply, The New Yorker’s mindset is “New York is the center of the Universe and the rest of the world needs to pick-up the pace and realize how great New York City and its people are”.

Alvy can barely stand to be away from NYC. As much as he loves Annie, the hidden theme of the movie is that Alvy loves New York more. The last 20 minutes of the movie demonstrate that Alvy would rather be miserable in New York without Annie Hall in his life than have Annie Hall in his life and leave New York. All that the psychoanalysis for Alvy reveals is that his perfect world is a New York City that has Annie Hall in it. Once she leaves New York for California she isn’t the Annie Hall he wants. That’s why the epilogue is a mixed blessing. He can be friends with Annie now because once she left New York, she was no longer the Annie he wanted, the perfect New York version of Annie. Annie has moved on and so has Alvy. They are both changed people for their relationship. Alvy may not seem changed, but if anything, Annie allowed Alvy to look inside himself without becoming self-obsessed to finally know true love (6).

Hold on, all this pontificating on some the themes of Annie Hall doesn’t necessarily explain why it is a better movie than Star Wars. Does it?

Well no, it doesn’t. In the end the real reason why Annie Hall ends up being better is due to the depth of emotion one gets from it. Star Wars, as great as it is and as important as it remains to proving a genre movie can come as close to “Film” as one might find, suffers from being overly simplistic. How much more basic can a story be than good versus evil? Oh sure George Lucas can try and drag Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth out as much as he wants to say Star Wars is more complex than that, but he really isn’t fooling anyone (7). Annie Hall isn’t nearly that simplistic. Hell, go back and read the previous 5 paragraphs. Does any of that sound simplistic to you?

That is what I’m taking away from Annie Hall just from the viewing I did of it to write this article. If I sat and re-watched it again I’d probably end up writing 2 paragraphs on Tony Robert’s character, 3 more on the theme of New York City as a character and another 3 paragraphs on how the dinner scene with Annie’s parents is a perfect example of Mid-West WASP thinking versus New York Jewish mentality. If I re-watched Star Wars right now I’d come away with exactly the same thing I’ve come away with the previous 294 times I’ve watched it (8). It is a story of good versus evil.

The moral of this story is rather simple, you should watch Annie Hall , even if you don’t like Woody Allen. Watch it and you’ll at least be able to say it is your favorite Woody Allen movie (9). You don’t have to have any sort of revelation about it. Just watch it, laugh and enjoy a sweet, funny and a sometimes little dark love story and appreciate the charm and wit of one of America’s finest comic minds and directors.

(1)For the record, to me it is just Star Wars, George Lucas can slap a number on it and insist that it be referred to as “A New Hope” all he wants, it will always be Star Wars.

(2) Using the shot of a Tusken Raider to close out a TV ad would terrify any 5 year old. Can you imagine the cost in therapy bills my parents would’ve hung over my head if I had not liked the movie?

(3) There was actually a time in America that there were no such things as multiplexes. If you missed the start time of your movie then you were shit out of luck, unless you wanted walk in during the middle of it. Especially in New York City, where it used to mean you might have to traverse clear across Midtown to a different theater. These were movie houses, actual theaters the kind of which just don’t get made anymore. Going to the movies used to be an exciting thing where they wouldn’t seat people until 15 minutes before the show. Today, any schlub can walk into a Cineplex and go to any one of multiple screenings of the same film. I hate the modern movie going experience no end.

(4) Honestly, any marriage that where one member obsesses over the findings of The Warren Commission is doomed to failure.

(5) Much of that carries over to his films and I think it is obvious he used his own experience of not just his own personal self-discovery, but also he uses Annie Hall to re-examine his relationship with Diane Keaton in real life. Allen has denied in the past that the fictitious Alvy/Annie relationship is anything like his year long romance with Keaton. This means either Allen is lying or the best storyteller since Mark Twain.

(6) Don’t let the neurotic nature of Woody Allen/Alvy Singer fool you. The neurotic personality is the outer shell for a man who is painfully self-obsessed. Whenever Annie tries to talk about her problems, or a problem that affects both of them, Alvy makes it solely about himself at every turn.

(7) If George Lucas could take Joseph Campbell’s corpse on the road to narrate The Power of Myth to a John Williams penned score, he’d do it in a heartbeat. The only reason he hasn’t made a CGI Joseph Campbell is because there aren’t enough computer animators living that can make a CGI model that old and craggy.

(8) This is not an exaggeration. I’ve watched Star Wars EXACTLY 294 times in the 35 years since I first watched it. At least 30 of those were in the theater too and doesn’t include the 1997 Special Edition.

(9) You’re damn right I pinched Roger Ebert’s quote about Annie Hall!

Until Next Time...

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