Friday, May 24, 2013


"Most of us need the eggs."

I spent the summer of 1977, between my junior and senior year in college, working as a house painter. The days were long and hot and filled with hard work, the drudgery and monotony broken only by noontime broadcasts of "Paul Harvey News and Comment." Nights and weekends were spent reading (mostly comic books and science fiction novels) and going to the movies. I saw a lot of movies that summer, many of them the same one. 

That was the year that STAR WARS was released and before the summer was over, I had seen it six times. I did manage to see other films in between my visits to a galaxy far, far away, films such as Martin Scorsese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK, the Roger Moore James Bond epic THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (both at the long gone and dearly remembered Americana Theater) and several classic films on the University of Texas campus including Howard Hawks's AIR FORCE (1943) and CITIZEN KANE (1941) for the second (or was it the third? the fourth?) time. I saw another film at the Americana Theater that summer, a film that became one of my all time personal favorites.

I'd seen all of Woody Allen's films prior to ANNIE HALL, so I thought I knew what to expect going in: lots of laugh. The laughs I got, but there was more at work in this endearing film that was marketed as "a nervous romance". There was a bittersweet love story in addition to the hilarious one-liners. I fell in love with the film and have lost count of the number of times I've seen it over the years. Watching ANNIE HALL was practically an annual ritual with me for many years and I know that I sought refuge and solace in the film many times upon the occasions of failed romances of my own. ANNIE HALL became my cinematic comfort food whenever I needed to laugh or shed a tear (often both).

I watched ANNIE HALL again this afternoon. It's been several years since I saw it last and it still holds up. I don't think it's Woody Allen's funniest film. That honor goes to his debut effort, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, and I don't think it's his best film, which is, in my opinion MANHATTAN (a film that oddly enough, I didn't much care for the first time I saw it). But ANNIE HALL is by far Allen's most accessible, popular and well known work and it is a very, very good film. 

I've seen it so many times that I know the dialogue by heart (thanks also to having read the screenplay several times) but familiarity hasn't diminished my respect and admiration for this gem. In ANNIE HALL, Woody Allen came of age as a filmmaker, using a variety of cinematic tricks to tell the story of his failed relationship with Annie Hall, who is wonderfully played by Diane Keaton. Was Keaton ever more delightful than in this film? 

ANNIE HALL works as the memory of Alvy Singer (Allen), a paranoid and neurotic comedian, as he recounts his life, his romances and his relationship with Annie. As director, Allen fragments time and space to tell the story and he uses such devices as breaking the fourth wall (several times), an animated sequence, spilt screens in which characters separated by time and space converse with other, past scenes in which adult characters interact with their younger selves, a hilarious sub-titled sequence which reveals Alvy and Annie's real thoughts, a surprise appearance by Marshall McLuan (a brilliant and memorable scene) and on and on. And yet, with all of these tricks, the film is never confusing, never hard to follow or understand. We understand that this a story being told by Alvy and, like most remembrances, it's not related in a strictly linear sequence. The jumping around in time and place is the way our memories work and Allen captures this beautifully.

But beside the cinematic bravura on display here, there are some hilarious scenes and lines that I still quote to this day. Of all of the films I saw during that long ago summer of 1977, ANNIE HALL has stayed with me the longest. I loved it then and I enjoyed watching it again today. 

I've seen many Woody Allen movies over the years but I have yet to see them all. I've missed many of his most recent works so I have some catching up to do. However, I did see Woody Allen on stage at the Paramount Theatre a couple of years ago when he performed with his jazz combo. To see one of my heroes live on the stage of my favorite theater was a once-in-a-lifetime event that I'll never forget.  

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