Annie Hall: Cultural Context of Allen’s Oscar Winning Comedy

After “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen became a beloved personality in American culture. He was especially popular in the anxiety-ridden big cities of America.
As the “little man” of urban America, Allen stood for all urban American men. In the process, Allen changed Americans’ traditional notions of the comedian. Allen opened the way for many comedians to take on serious roles, including Billy Crystal, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, and Tom Hanks.

A small group of films of recent years which all examine the backstage lives of comedians can all be traced back to “Annie Hall”: Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” (1983), “Punchline” (1988), and “Mr. Saturday Night” (1992). Bob Fosse’s “Lenny” can also be considered as an ancestor to these films.

Real Vs. Reel Life

“Annie Hall” was revolutionary for American comedy because here a major comic was suddenly being autobiographical in a brutally honest, serious way. Allen was presenting a very revealing account of his own off-screen life. The popular press ceaselessly rejoiced that the film mirrored Allen’s private life, and developed an intense interest in Allen’s affairs, which only culminated in 1992 when Allen’s family scandal came to light.

In 1977 and 1978, during “Annie Hall” heyday, many anecdotes about Allen’s real life were published in major magazines and newspapers. For instance, the press emphasized that fact that he had been in analysis for over twenty years. Moreover, he was continuing therapy despite his success.

The press also made a big deal of Allen’s professional practices. It was revealed that advertisements for “Annie Hall” in New York and Los Angeles could not even mention nominations and awards won for the film. This was per Allen’s instructions. Even quotes from glowing reviews were not to be used in advertisements, based on Allen’s demand.

Ignoring the Oscars

Receiving the most publicity of all, however, was Allen’s refusal to attend the Oscars in 1978. During the Academy Awards ceremony, which as usual was held in Los Angeles, Allen was playing clarinet in a Dixieland band at Michael’s Pub in New York City. Allen had to escape from the bar before the awards were announced, apparently very embarrassed, due to the throng of reporters who showed up at Michael’s Pub to record his reaction. Allen once criticized his own film in the press by saying, “it massages the prejudice of the middle class.” He also went so far as to say that Annie Hall was “Nothing special.”

Allen became something of a national hero when the film won four Academy Awards. These included the Oscars for best picture, best director, and best screenplay. Diane Keaton also won the best actress award for her role. Woody Allen was nominated for best actor, but did not win.

Praise for “Annie Hall” was seemingly universal.  This comedy also won the National Society of Film Critics award, the New York Film Critics Circle award, and the Golden Globe award.