Now In his interview with Stig Bjorkman, Woody describes his motivation for making Annie Hall thus:
“I really feel it was a major turning point for me. I had the courage to abandon … just clowning around and the safety of complete broad comedy. I said to myself, ‘I think I will try and make some deeper film and not be as funny in the same way. And maybe there will be other values that will emerge, that will be interesting or nourshing for the audience. And it worked out well.”It certainly did, with the film attracting six Oscar nominations, winning five (beating Star Wars, which was, for the benefit of younger readers that year’s Avatar) -- best picture, best director, best screenplay and best actress for Diane Keaton. Woody lost out in the acting category to Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl. Arguably it was his career high – there would be further nominations and awards (Hannah and Her Sister was nominated for best picture in 1989), but never again would he attract both critical and popular support in quite that same way.
Previously I suggested that watching these films in order was like seeing an embryo develop into something more recognisable. Actually on reflection these early pictures are like a symphony with Annie Hall as the completing crescendo. From Take The Money And Run we have the anarchic approach to continuity, from Bananas the post-modernity of pulling in real people, Alvy is arguably a close cousin in temperament to Allen from Play It Again, Sam and there’s the surrealism of Sex*, Sleeper and the philosophical underpinnings of Love & Death, capped off with the New York sensibilities of The Front. There's some wonderfully perceptive material here about the style.
How much of this is down to his collaborator Marshall Brickman is open to conjecture. I’ve speculated previously that Brickman (fittingly considering his surname) pulls the structure of these collaborations together and certainly Annie Hall has the strongest story of any of the previous Allen authored films.
It’s also extremely participatory, expecting the audience to be able to follow the ins and outs of a relationship with they’re often selecting the beats often ignored in other films, such as the division of possessions after a break up and dissatisfaction of the post-relationship one night stand demonstrated in the simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking repetition of the lobster scene where Alvy realises that he’ll never recreate the chemistry he had with Annie.
Apparently some of that was to do with the original cut of the film reaching two and a half hours and a lot of subplots and other material being cut out, including more fantasy sequences, but I think the point stands. We're trusted to fill in the gaps.
The result is a film which has been strip-mined for homages and references across the years and influenced dozens of romantic comedies and still does. From Jack Black saying “Those who can teach…” in School of Rock to Danny Baker appropriating “Boy if only life were like this” as his radio catchphrase, as with the best of classic films it has seeped into culture. What is Family Guy if not an extension of the moment when Annie turns into the Wicked Queen from Snow White over and over again? The young Woody confronting his sexuality even turns up again near the beginning of Cameron Crowe’s Singles (“Spam!” “Uuuuh!”) Arguably it also defined the careers of Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum, both of whom would spend the rest of their lives playing versions of these characters:
My favourite scene this time around was the other foyer scene in which Alvy is forced to listen to the pop academia of the man standing in the queue behind him critiquing Fellini. Partly it's because I know I’ve been on both sides of that event but mostly because before I took a module about Science in Entertainment Media on my post-graduate film course I didn’t know who Marshall McLuhan was. So when Woody wheels the scholar out to defend his work I finally understood what the director was trying to do here and the significance of his choice of academic. Annie Hall is a film which risks alienating its audience by sometimes expecting even rewarding it for having a post-graduate education. How gloriously pretentious! More please.