Oscar: Annie Hall (1977)–Woody Allen’s First Masterpiece

Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning comedy “Annie Hall,” arguably his first masterpiece, stands as one of the greatest comedies about male-female relationships in Hollywood’s history.

Read about Annie Hall’s Reel Impact:

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“Annie Hall” chronicles the doomed romance of Alvy Singer (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), detailing with great humor their incompatibilities. The great critic Andrew Sarris called Alvy and Annie the “Romeo and Juliet of the analysands.” Alvy and Annie are in fact the Adam and Eve of the Me Decade.

o8jksgg7otgIn 1977, “Annie Hall” expressed viewers’ feelings about relationships perfectly, by questioning the value of traditional relationships in the face of changing lifestyles.

As Diane Keaton, who became a major star after this picture, later commented: “Some people have come up to me and said, there’s so much of what we feel in Annie Hall. It’s about relationships now, and what it’s like for us. I mean, obviously, there’s been a change (in society at large). There are many more people who are single and not actually ready to get married. Women who are 30 and not ready and not knowing if they want to get married and who are still finding out about themselves.”

Beyond the plentiful jokes and witty one-liners, the film represents Allen’s candid, bittersweet assessment of human relationships in modern society. There was a large audience in America ready to see such an assessment. Time magazine reported that, “Annie Hall addicts have been returning to theaters three and four times.” Interest in the romance of Alvy and Annie was so strong that the Sunset Boulevard health-food restaurant where they split up became a popular stop for Hollywood tour buses.

6t5gw73z6ajOne of the film’s most talked-about scenes during its initial run shows Alvy and Annie on a split screen talking to their respective shrinks. The subject of conversation in both cases is the frequency with which the couple has sex. Alvy complains, “Hardly ever, maybe three times a week.” Annie, on the other hand, is frustrated that they make love “All the time, at least three times a week.”

To represent the male view of things, through the character of Alvy, Allen updated the familiar stock character of the “little man,” who is at bay in an increasingly complex world.  In a way, Alvy Singer was like a Charlie Brown grown up. The role of Alvy Singer became forever synonymous with Americans’ perceptions of Woody Allen.

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: it also won the National Society of Film Critics award, the New York Film Critics Circle award, and the Golden Globe award.

Memorable Lines

At the end, Alvy tells Annie: “A relationship is like a shark–it has to move forward or it dies.  What we’ve got here is a dead shark.”

Cast

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen)

Annie Hall (Diane Keaton)

Rob (Tony Roberts)

Robin (Janet Margolin)

Pam (Shelley Duvall)

Tony Lacey (Paul Simon)

Mom Hall (Colleen Dewhurst)

Dad Hall (Donald Symington)

Duane Hall (Christopher Walken)

Credits

Produced by Charles H. Joffe

Directed By Woody Allen

Screenplay: Allen and Marshall Brickman

Camera: Gordon Willis

Editing: Ralph Rosenblum, Wendy Greene Bricomont

Art direction: Mel Bourne

Costumes: Ruth Morley, George Newman, Marilyn Putnam, Ralph Lauren, Nancy McArdle

Runnning Time: 93 Minutes 

 

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