It’s coming up to the 40th anniversary of Woody Allen’s seminal piece of cinema Annie Hall. Often dubbed ‘the nervous romance’, it frequently blurs genre boundaries and is considered by most Allen’s best work. Harry Stott investigates just why it’s still so great.
Anhedonia is the clinical term for an inability to experience happiness, and anyone familiar with the work of Woody Allen knows how he has made it his life’s work to explore the seemingly infinite facets of this notion. It should not come as a surprise then, to learn that this was Allen’s working title for his 1977 multi-award winning film Annie Hall, which follows Alvy Singer, a Brooklyn born comedian, as he sifts through his memories, trying to understand why his relationship with the eponymous Miss Hall ended. With stand out performances from Allen as Alvy (the similarities between the two seems to blur the line between fiction and autobiography) and Diane Keaton as Annie, the film tries to resolve the passing of life and love, but ends up more bewildered by the prospect than ever. But this is certainly Allen’s magnum opus, the film where he perfectly brought together the witty irreverence of his earlier more slapstick movies with the subtle delicacy of his later work, and is as relevant to audiences now as it was 40 years ago. At least one of its messages is clear: while life may move on, in matters of love there is an almost indefinable stasis, which Allen treats with a wistful nostalgia.
‘this is certainly Allen’s magnum opus, the film where he perfectly brought together the witty irreverence of his earlier more slapstick movies with the subtle delicacy of his later work’
The film should not be lauded just for its wonderfully relatable grasp on the trials of relationships though, Allen’s writing is too good for merely this. Allen dispenses with a formal narrative, beginning the film with an iconic interview-style speech to give some background and later interspersing it with nods and jokes solely for the audience. However, for a film with such sophisticated artistic intentions, Allen manages to keep it grounded with an almost British self-deprecation and a real detestation of pretentiousness. The best example of this has to be the scene where Alvy and Annie are queuing to watch a film, and have to endure the loud pontifications of a fellow punter, much to Alvy’s ire. Allen resolves this altercation by bringing onto screen the actual director who the man in the queue has just been slating to tell him how wrong he really was, breaking the fourth wall and shattering expectation. The scene ends with Alvy saying ‘Boy, if life were only like this!’, and being immersed in Allen’s world of New York intellectuals, you find yourself saying the same thing.
‘it is at once an ode to New York (as so many of his movies are) and an opportunity for him to lampoon his own liberalism and Jewishness’
The relentless pace of the film allows it to encompass a huge number of themes and motifs; it is at once an ode to New York (as so many of his movies are) and an opportunity for him to lampoon his own liberalism and Jewishness, both products of the city. It is as much a rom com as it is a poignant comment on modernism and the nature of psychoanalysis. It still remains Allen’s masterpiece, a blending of genres with the ability to make you laugh and weep, all at the same time.
(Image courtesy of The Woody Allen Pages)