Being a young, healthy, human male in his early 20s, I never had much of an interest in romance movies. As a result, there has been a gold mine of excellent film I unintentionally missed. That’s until I began writing this series. In this series of posts, I seek to understand love through romance films from the last 70 years. And in turn I am beginning to understand and appreciate this unfamiliar romance genre. The film I will be looking at today is a romantic comedy called Annie Hall(1977) directed by Woody Allen.
Annie Hall (1977), Love is Everyday
Annie Hall is a romance, comedy, drama which potentially could be described as “scenes from a relationship” film. Throughout the entire movie, nothing much ever happens. The film follows the comedian Alvy Stinger and his reflection on what happened between him and his ex girlfriend, Annie. The plot is loosely structures, and consists of is a collage of segemented memories from Stinger’s life.
The film starts with an argument Annie and Alvy have in a theatre queue, to a scene where we see Alvy reflecting on his last relationships, and describing the difficulties Alvy had with them regarding sex.
We then learn of how Alvy and Annie met, how they fell in love, how Alvy is facinated with books on death, how they laugh together, as well as the small frictions between them. After an awkard break up, Alvy attempts to date again, only to be called to Annie’s apartment because there’s a spider in her bathroom. However, while they appears to have reconciled on the surface, there’s still obvious tension between them.
Eventually, the relationship do fall apart, Annie found a record producer and moves from New York to Los Angeles. Alvy attempts to get her back with a marriage proposal which she rejects. And now, Alvy is working as a writer for a play based on his relationship with Annie. The only difference is that he altered the ending so Annie from the play accepts the marriage proposal. The film ends with one last meeting of the two many years later when they both moved on to someone else.
Annie Hall doesn’t have quite have the charm of The Philadelphia Story, nor does it have the drama of Casablanca, neither does it have the sentiment of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, but it is especially memorable in it’s own ways.
To fully appreciate this film, we need to first understand the bigger picture. If the 1940s is the Renaissance of film industry, then the 1970s is the industrial revolution. From many well known classics were made in this time, for example Rocky, Patton, and of course The Godfathers. With the coming off age of special effects, there was also numerous visual extraveganza like the original Jaws, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Star Wars. In a decade filled with wars films, actions sequences, and philosophical rationalities, Annie Hall stands as a rebellion against the oversaturation of man-flick in this era, and single handedly defended the Romance genre.
In term of advertising, Annie Hall was also extremly low key. The plot was kept completely secret until the first public showing. Unlike most films of the time, where the trailers were essentially a summary of the whole plot, Annie Hall made sure everyone who went to see it did not really know what to expect. The lack of publicity gave an air of uncertainty and a certain freshness.
Unlike his contemporaries who wanted to take the viewer into a new world, Allens was almost obssessed with the portrayal of reality. Be it the awkard exchange where Annie ended up giving Alvy a lift, or the fun Annie and Alvy had when cooking lobster, all seem like things any couple could have gone through. There was no poetic lines that makes girls go “aww~~~~”. There was no great conflict, bursts of tears and a dramatic resolution. And there certainly wasn’t any slow motions and dream like music during the sex scenes. The fact Annie Hall is heavily based on the actual life experience of Woody Allen also contributed to the realism of the all too ordinary plot.
With that said, Annie Hall is anything but ordinary by today’s standard and by the standard of the 1970s. The plot completely ignores the 5 act narrative structure. There are also characters speaking through the 4th wall directly at the audience, there are random conversations with strangers on the street, there’s also a ghost which metaphorically represents how Alvy’s wife is mentally distancing herself from him. The film breaks nearly all conventions of a “normal” film and by doing so, it managed to highlight the artificiality of all films in general.
Does the incoherent structure and lack of events detracts from the film? Certainly not. Through the minor encouters, I have come to care for the characters in this fim. The film is not trying to present itself as the newest, hottest thing. It is down to earth with extremly three dimensional characterization and a solid respect for reality. In many ways, this is the key aspect of any loving relationship; an acceptance of reality.
The reality is that most people’s partner will not be some one as suave as Cary Grant, or as beautiful as Igrid Bergman. The reality is that there won’t be a war going on as the back drop. More often than not, what love will be dealing with is not 2 long years of separation as the guy goes to war, or fighting against another suitor for the love of one’s life. Instead, what love will have to deal with is the strange some strange obsession with death, or the lack of appreciation for history one’s partner might have.
In my last few posts, I put lot of my emphasis on the grandeur of Love; Love is Patience, it will wait, it will endure. Love is sacrifice, the sacrifice of life and even love itself, Love is fragile, it demands responsibility and nurturing. But the film Annie Hall shows that love isn’t always nearly as dramatic, and can be found in the most ordinary places. In reality, love is so common that it’s almost mundane. It is the love that deals with the everyday peace and conflicts, the love that experiences the everyday joys and sadness. This is the love that is real.