Movie 89: Annie Hall
My first reaction to seeing this movie on our list was a pleasant wave of nostalgia, followed quickly by a discomforting reminder of the Troubles Woody Allen has had in his personal life, and finally the realization that I don’t really know what happened with regards to his daughter Dylan, and will never know, and besides, if I stopped enjoying the work of every artist who also did awful things in his personal life, I would not get to enjoy much art at all. And that last bit feels like an excuse, begging questions like, “is someone was serial rapist, or responsible for genocide, could I still find value in their art?”– because of course the answer is “yes,” because I already have. The trick is to feel guilty, in the sense that I am responsible for acknowledging awful behavior, while setting it aside as I interact with the artwork, and then try to reconcile both sorts of knowledge, both kinds of understanding, in some way that furthers my belief that “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,” that is, “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”
So, the movie is, without doubt, one of the greatest comedies ever filmed. It draws the viewer in so we are all laughing together, all feeling the fear of having Christopher Walken drive us to the airport, all feeling the miniaturist heartbreak that is the failed relationship between Allen and Diane Keaton: just enough pain that it hurts, not enough to overwhelm, a snow globe or automaton of ache. And Allen usually gets most of the credit for this sense of participation, his ur-nebbish character giving us the ok to acknowledge our own faults, but Keaton deserves just as much credit, nebbishy herself but so much more brisk and bouyant that she keeps Allen from dragging the proceedings down, as happens in Stardust Memories, or when Kenneth Branagh only gets part of his Allen impersonation right in Celebrity.
The wave of nostalgia I first felt when preparing to watch the film is also amply rewarded, both in terms of my own memories of the film, and in my more general flickering, childhood memories of the 1970s: aircraft-carrier lapels; silk bell-bottoms; sharp, boxy cars; a marked absence of botox; so much hair; and Paul Simon, fingering the coke spoon around his neck. And, yes, Tony Roberts strapping on his anti-sun suit and complaining about missing a threesome with 16 year old twins. I am often struck by how much of the way we process the world depends on the way we learned to process the world, and movies like this one are part of the landscape I came to recognize as normal–and then tried to unlearn, because one should.
Once the credits started to roll, I felt like I should begin to reconcile Allen the person with the movie I just watched, but I just did not care to, not yet, because I was still abuzz with pleasure at watching a great, funny movie. Now, a few weeks later, I think that sensation was in fact was the act of reconciliation, noting my joy, and the reasons I should, but did not, temper that joy. Any time a work of art can pierce the isolation inherent to human life and make us feel, however briefly, not alone, then it is worthy of experiencing, no matter what kind of person made it. I am human, nothing human is alien to me, no matter how depraved or saintly.
I was interested to see how well this film aged. Especially as it’s got an iconic place in my personal history: the first R rated movie I ever saw in the theater. My mother took me and 1 or 2 others to the theater, bought our tickets, gave verbal permission for us to the see the film without her and then went off to do other things. The seventies were easy like that. 2 hours later, she picked us up and we went home.
I don’t remember who saw the film with me or if we talked about it afterwards. I know my mother would have asked about it and I have tried to remember what I said to her but it’s lost to me. What I do realize is this film influenced a lot of things in my life afterwards.
Diane Keaton’s fashion choices were something I embraced and welcomed. Comfortable and quirky and unexpected. It wasn’t a way I realized you could dress before watching the film, and I was grateful I found it when I did. The romantic relationships depicted in the film also influenced some of my thoughts about how romance worked and how to know when it didn’t. The laughter during the scene with the lobsters and the joking showed the safe spaces relationships could bring and the scenes where Annie told Alvy of his belittlement of her showed some of the darkness.
Personal realizations aside, I still found this to be a great film. Really funny and really poignant as whiny Alvy tried to figure out why the woman who was definitely “not his type” was the one he couldn’t get out of his head and tried to get back if only to figure out where they came apart in the first place.
While the fashion and haircuts are now dated, the dialogue is still how I hear “real” New York City residents when they talk. It’s heartening and sad all at the same time.