January 31, 2006
Prior to Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen was known as a comic, cutting his teeth in stand-up comedy and paying his dues as a comedy writer. When he started making films, his early efforts were flat-out comedies and farces like Bananas (1971). It wasn’t until Annie Hall that he demonstrated a capacity for something deeper and poignant while still being very funny. Based loosely on his relationship with Diane Keaton, the film features Allen’s protagonist reflecting on a past relationship that he still hasn’t gotten over. With this film, he took the romantic comedy to another level by breaking down the fourth wall and even mixing in animation to create a film so influential that for years after (and still today) other films of its kind would be judged by its high standards.
Alvy Singer (Allen) is a successful comedian that gets involved with an unsuccessful actress Annie Hall (Keaton). He’s a raging neurotic and she’s incredibly insecure and together they make a great couple because they are willing to put up with each other’s many idiosyncrasies – he obsesses about death and she says inappropriate things. Over the course of the film, we see them fall in love and then break up when she moves to Los Angeles, wooed there by a record producer (Simon) who is attracted to her. Throughout it all, New York City serves as the backdrop to their romantic escapades.
Unlike most romantic comedies, Annie Hall draws attention to itself as a film with Allen addressing the camera or stopping a scene to make a point, like when he and Annie are waiting in line for a film and he complains about some pretentious boob pontificating endlessly nearby. Allen then produces famous academic Marshall McLuhan to refute the man’s incorrect theorizing. Allen also employs split screens and subtitles for ironic effect as well as appearing in flashbacks to comment on his past self. What also sets Annie Hall apart from Allen’s earlier work is his decision to hire legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis to shoot his film. Willis gives it a definite cinematic look occasionally incorporating hand-held camera to create a more intimate feel.
None of these clever techniques would mean anything if Annie Hall wasn’t anchored by the strong performances by Allen and Keaton and the undeniable chemistry they have. Already a seasoned pro, he spouts funny one-liners with excellent comic timing and Keaton matches him beat for beat as his ideal foil. They also both have the chops to handle the semi-serious stuff like when Alvy and Annie’s relationship sours. Of course, they have fantastic material to work with thanks to the well-written screenplay by Allen and Marshall Brickman, which is so much more than a collection of one-liners. It also features all kinds of wonderful observations about love and relationships, like how Alvy is unable to enjoy life and Annie calls him on it, which forces him to examine his own life. Alvy realizes that he still loves Annie and regrets breaking up with her.
Annie Hall was a big breakthrough for Allen, winning four Academy Awards and influencing countless romantic comedies, from When Harry Met Sally… (1989) to Singles (1992) to High Fidelity (2000). Arguably, only Allen has been able to top Annie Hall when, two years later, he released Manhattan (1979), which managed to be an even greater artistic achievement.
I think it’s safe to say that Annie Hall has never looked better with an excellent-looking transfer. It’s time to throw away your DVD and upgrade to this Blu Ray version.
Sadly, in keeping with other Allen home video releases there are no extra features save for a theatrical trailer.