ANNIE HALL: Relationships (and Films) That Can Be Like a Dead Shark

This 1976 film from Director and Star Woody Allen surprisingly won the Academy Award for Best Picture, somehow beating out “Star Wars” and some other great films.

I don’t think it was deserving of that award, but the film does have its moments.   Allen, himself a self-deprecating, Jewish comedian basically portrays himself as Alvy SInger, a self-deprecating, neurotic, Jewish comedian, a real New York snob who loves to read books about Death.    Here is his opening monologue, where he looks straight into the camera:

Alvy Singer: [addressing the camera] There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. The… the other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,” and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.

Diane Keaton, who had a brief relationship in real life with Allen, portrays Annie, a likeable and equally neurotic space cadet who likes to say “La di da” when she can’t get her thoughts together.    She also has to get stoned every time before they have sex.

[Annie wants to smoke marijuana before sex]

Alvy Singer: Yeah, grass, right? The illusion that it will make a white woman more like Billie Holiday.

Annie Hall: Well, have you ever made love high?

Alvy Singer: Me? No. I – I, you know, If I have grass or alcohol or anything, I get unbearably wonderful. I get too, too wonderful for words. I don’t know why you have to get high every time we make love.

Annie Hall: It relaxes me.

Alvy Singer: You have to be artificially relaxed before we can go to bed?

Annie Hall: Well, what’s the difference anyway?

Alvy Singer: Well, I’ll give you a shot of sodium pentathol. You can sleep through it.

Annie Hall: Oh come on. Look who’s talking. You’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for 15 years. You should smoke some of this. You’d be off the couch in no time

It’s the 1970’s in New York City; everybody who is anybody  is seeing a therapist, trying new drugs like cocaine, and standing in line at the art house cinemas to see films from Federico Fellini, Max Ophuls, or Ingmar Bergman.   One of the funniest scenes in the film comes when Alvy and Annie are standing in line to see Ophuls’ “The Sorrow and The Pity” for the umpteenth time; behind them is a blowhard trying to loudly impress his date with his intellectual depth.

Woody Allen meets Marshall McCluhan

This next link is to a compilation of some of the other funny scenes from the film, including the famous scene in a kitchen where Alvy is terrified of the lobsters who have escaped, and a scene where Alvy and Annie exchange intellectual banalities, as subtitles on the screen tell you what both of them are really thinking.   There are also scenes of Alvy as a child, being humiliated by his teacher after he gives a classmate a kiss on her cheek, and a side by side scene with Annie and Alvy simultaneously talking to their individual therapists.

Best scenes

The film is another mid-life crisis for Allen; he was approaching 40 at the time, and reminiscing about all of his failed relationships, particularly with Annie.   As was his standard fare, he worked a lot of “Jewish Jokes” into the film.  In fact, Allen originally wanted to call this film “It Had to be Jew”, and he works in arrangements of that and some of the other songs from “Casablanca”.   But that comparison comes off flat, because the relationship between Alvy and Annie is frankly pretty shallow. 

They realize this themselves, and eventually break up after this memorable line of dialogue.

Alvy Singer: A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.

This film sometimes feels like a dead shark, partly because the audience finds it difficult to root for the relationship between these two to succeed.   But as I said, it does have its moments, particularly when the focus is on something else than their own pas de deux.  

About The Film Professor

Thomas J. Anderson develops and teaches online film classes at Perimeter College/Georgia State University. He started making Super 8MM films as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and made documentary and experimental films while getting his MS in Film from Boston University. He helped start the Atlanta Film Festival in 1976 and worked in the A/V Rental and Staging Industry for 10 years as the President of CAV, a company he founded in 1981. He and wife Maggie owned The Production Shop and produced award winning corporate videos in the 1990's before he got involved in higher education as an AVID editing teacher and the longtime Department Chair of Media Production at AIU-Buckhead. Since then he has taught not only at Perimeter College/Georgia State University, but also at Reinhardt University, Kennesaw State University, and Le Cordon Bleu.
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