“What we’ve got on our hands…is a dead shark”
1977’s Annie Hall was a turning point for Woody Allen as a filmmaker, marking as it did the transition between his “early funny films” and the more serious (but often no less funny) later “relationship” movies. (Allen’s previous film was 1975’s Love and Death, a broad satire of 19th-century Russian literature that, among other things, involved a plot to assassinate Napoleon. A more jarring juxtaposition of films there has never been.) Annie Hall was also a turning point in that it was Allen’s first Oscar nod, winning Best Picture, as well as Best Screenplay and Best Director.
Allen’s original title for Annie Hall had been Anhedonia, a psychoanalytic term that means “the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable.” It’s hard to imagine why United Artists had a hard time coming up with a marketing plan for that! Interestingly, what became Annie Hall was originally planned to be a murder mystery, although that element was jettisoned in favor of a straight romantic comedy. It was revived almost 20 years later for Allen’s 1993 film Manhattan Murder Mystery which re-teamed Allen with Diane Keaton (the titular Annie Hall).
Although Annie Hallwould mark a departure for Allen (more fully realized in his next film, 1978’s Bergman homage Interiors), it doesn’t lack for comedy. The Marshall McLuhan cameo, the lobsters, the “spider the size of a Buick,” “a large, vibrating egg”…Annie Hall is still one of the funniest movies ever made. But, like the old joke that ends the film—“two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions’”—there is a more serious message lying below the surface.
See what you think. The Film Forum will be screening Annie Hall Monday night, February 6, at 7:30 in the Spring Street Gallery (110 Spring Street) as part of the Monday night “Countdown to Oscar” Best Picture Winners series.