Doodad Kind of Town

Reelin’ in the Years: "Annie Hall"
November 10, 2007, 3:46 am
Filed under: 70s Films Revisited, Woody Allen

There are movie geeks of a certain age who will always remember the summer of 1977 as the summer of “Star Wars.”

I’m not one of them.

For me, the seminal film event of that summer was “Annie Hall.”

I say that even though I didn’t actually get to see it until January of 1978. In the summer of ’77, I had just graduated from high school and was anxiously awaiting my escape from small town life to Indiana University. “Annie Hall” didn’t play anywhere within 50 miles of my hometown, let alone at the local theater. Only as a college freshman did I finally get to glimpse Woody Allen’s masterpiece. I remember it well. My friend, Jill, and I saw it at the student union building, and then we returned to the dorm to watch Chevy Chase host “Saturday Night Live.” The song “Seems Like Old Times,” sung by Diane Keaton in one of Annie’s nightclub scenes, lingered in my head the whole weekend. I know I’d seen an important film that night. I couldn’t wait to see it again.

Unlike other films I’ve written about this week, I’ve seen “Annie Hall” many times since 1978. I own it on DVD; before that, I owned the VHS tape. But sometimes a movie comes back into your life at a certain time and it takes on a whole new resonance.

This past summer, I was nursing a broken heart, and sometimes I would be doing that alone in front of my TV. As it happened, “Annie Hall” was in heavy rotation on cable at the time. I could find it at least once a week on one or the other of the Encore movie channels, and I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many times I watched it in the course of just a few weeks. (And yes, I know I could have watched my DVD at anytime, but somehow, just happening upon a movie that I had always loved made the watching a bit more special.)

At this particular juncture in my life, I found I could appreciate the film on three levels.

On the simplest level, it was just plain fun to re-experience classic moments that had always made me laugh: Alvy sneezing away about a thousand bucks worth of cocaine. His first grade classmates telling us where they end up as adults, culminating with the badly bespectacled little girl who solemnly intones “I’m into leather.” (I remember reading somewhere that Brooke Shields is one of the kids in that classroom, but I’ve never been able to spot her.) Alvy pulling Marshall McLuhan out of nowhere to reprimand the blowhard in the movie line for knowing “nothing about my work.” Annie’s crazy brother, Duane, confessing to Alvy his desire to drive head on into oncoming traffic “because I think, as an artist, you’ll understand.” (Not to mention Alvy’s memorable look of terror as Duane drives them back to the airport.) Jeff Goldblum in the Hollywood party scene making a phone call because “I forgot my mantra.”

These scenes have another layer of meaning for me when I watch them now – they’re funny in their own right, but re-experiencing them also gives me the chance to re-experience who I was when I first saw them. It’s a pure nostalgia thing – every time I watch “Annie Hall,” I have the experience of enjoying the movie, plus the parallel experience of remembering what it was like to be in college in the late 1970s, at a time and a place when Woody Allen was like a God to us. (To my college roommate and I, anyway.) A time when my favorite outfits in my closet were combinations of vest, shirt and suspendered trousers that I referred to as my “Annie Hall” clothes. A time when I actually believed that I was going to go out to a world populated with the kinds of smart, sophisticated witty people that populated Allen’s films. Was I naive? Sure! But I was young.

But now in 2007, I was also contending with my broken heart. Like Alvy, I had loved and recently lost someone. I loved him still, and wanted him back, even as I acknowledged that we drove each other crazy. A line as simple as “Annie and I broke up, and I still can’t get my mind around it.” resonated strongly with me. The scene on the airplane back from LA – where Alvy and Annie muse separately about how their relationship isn’t working – and then Alvy observes that “A relationship is like a shark. It has to keep moving forward. And I think what we’ve got here is a dead shark.” – well, that scene cut way too close to home. I had been trying to resurrect a dead shark for months. It was time to let it go. This time, seeing “Annie” was cathartic for me.

“Annie Hall” to me is classic, and yet very much of its time. There’s a level of appreciation for this film that I don’t think can be fully reached by anyone under the age of, say, 45 or so, because otherwise you can’t comprehend how fresh and revolutionary this film felt in 1977. Its non-linear structure, startling at the time, is commonplace today; its cultural references more dated and obscure. Along with “Manhattan” and (for me, anyway) “Love and Death” it represents a certain apex in Woody Allen’s career that I don’t think he ever reached – or will reach – again. But I keep going back to see his films, even though I’m often bitterly disappointed. Why? Well, to paraphrase Alvy Singer, it’s totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess I keep going through it because I need the eggs.
(photo from wikipedia)

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