Sunday, 15 February 2009

You're incapable of enjoying life, you know that? I mean you're like New York City. You're just this person. You're like this island unto yourself

No 68 - Annie Hall
Director - Woody Allen

I woke up this morning, the day after valentines and I wandered downstairs only to find someone had entered my house since I'd fallen asleep at 1:30, and was subsequently asleep on my sofa.
So, rather than roll things up into giant balls I thought I would take my tea upstairs and go back to bed. So I did. And I thought I would watch the birth, life and death of (and finally recovery from) a relationship. A suitable choice for this valentines weekend.

I have never really watched any Woody Allen films, but knew a little bit what to expect: neuroses, therapy and lots of girls with women. And yes, it is all there. But this film is brilliant. It is not just a simple love story - it is an intelligent and topsy turvy film that uses dozens of cinematic tricks and quirks in order to make the story come to life.

The film begins with Allen's character, Alvy Singer, speaking directly to the camera and essentially delivering a stand up comedy routine. This happens a lot in the film which is (in the crudest most basic of descriptions) a series of scenes joined together with nervous little monologues. In the film Alvy is discussing his life and how it influenced and affected his relationship with Diane Keaton's Annie Hall. So the film is a collection of flashbacks, his childhood, past relationships, plus the actual relationship between him and Annie Hall. What makes it interesting is that Alvy 'The Narrator' is always present and often interacts with his flashback.

It is first seen when he discusses that even at an early age he was interested in women and sexuality. 6 year old Alvy is brought out to the front of the class to be punished, whilst adult Alvy defends his case from the seat in class. What makes this scene even stranger is that the children speak with adult tones (not literally - as in freaky over dubbing, but that what they're saying is very adult) discussing Freudian development and latency periods in child development. It is very strange.

But the strangeness continues through beautifully clever thoughts and moments. As Alvy and Annie have sex, a shimmering ghost like Annie is visible sat in a chair next to the bed. This is her mind, wandering. Alvy starts to argue that whilst sex is a physical thing he'd quite like her to be thinking about him as well. Woody Allen is a deeply unsexy man (physically) but this film (and indeed Allen's life) shows how useful confidence and wit are. Because Allen's confidence with women means he is able to portray an inner sexiness (I suppose) which has attracted many beautiful ladies to his side.

The film feels like a long (and funny) therapy session. Woody Allen is clearly playing a fictionalised version of himself (although he has never denied that very fact). Alvy singer is a neurotic Jewish stand up comedian. If you compair the jokes made in Allen's stand up with Alvy Singer's stand up you'll see the same character but just with different names.

Luckily the film is not just about Woody Allen's hang ups and neuroses. That would be too self indulgent even for me! the film uses the same tricks in order to portray the rise and fall of a relationship. Simple moments from when Singer and Hall visit flashbacks of their past relationships and offer commentaries on their old partners. Or the first time that they meet, and the slightly awkward social small talk also comes with subtitles explaining what is running through their minds as they speak (Annie being worried about looking like an idiot, Alvy lusting after her). The touches are always very subtle but add a sense of reality to the characters and to the proceedings. Which is odd, because the touches are usually somewhat postmodern and out of the ordinary.

When the couple are happy, it really is lovely to see. It is just the decline where you start to see what an infuriatingly high maintenance partner Singer really is. Little moments of genuine niceness and beauty. Such as when the couple buy lobster only for them to escape. I especially like this scene for the cracking line:
"We should have just got steaks because they don't have legs. They don't run around."
The awkward chasing and picking up of lobsters is part of the small amount of physical comedy in the film. The most famous moment of physical comedy probably being the cocaine scene.

Ooooh and look out for Christopher Walken as Annie's brother. Showing that he has always been able to do the mildly psychotic show stealing cameo.

However, it is the writing and the characterisation which makes this film special. Whilst Alvy Singer may just be Woody Allen, Annie Hall is a beautiful character. Especially when you first meet her. All nervous sidling, and beaming smiles and awkward moments. She is very endearing. Woody Allen is an excellent writer and that translates to brilliant dialogue. This is a film with dozens of many quoted lines ("Hey, don't knock masturbation! It's sex with someone I love.") but also surreally funny moments. My personal favourite being Alvy's parents arguing over the firing of their cleaner. Alvy's mum saying she had to fire the cleaner because she stole. Alvy's father delivering the amazing defence of "Of course she steals from us. She is coloured. She lives in Harlem. She has a right to steal from us"

However Allen also writes wonderfully concisely and wonderfully romantically. So I wish to leave you with this final analogy. Which is said after Alvy and Annie have broken up, but finally meet up again.
"It was great seeing Annie again. I... I realized what a terrific person she was, and... and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I... I, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."

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