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A comedian and an aspiring singer try to overcome their neuroses and find happiness.
For more about Annie Hall and the Annie Hall Blu-ray release, see Annie Hall Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 21, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Diane Keaton, Woody Allen, Tony Roberts, Christopher Walken, Paul Simon, Carol Kane
Director: Woody Allen
» See full cast & crew
Annie Hall Blu-ray Review
Woody Allen at his schlemiel best.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 21, 2012
To a large extent, American humor is Jewish humor--even when we don't always realize it--and Woody Allen, who comes out of a comedy tradition that stretches back to the days of vaudeville and beyond, is still arguably its prime practitioner. In interviews, he consistently downplays his own influence on film and television, but that has to be his characteristic self-deprecation talking. Can you imagine Seinfeld without Woody Allen? What about Curb Your Enthusiasm or Jon Stewart's sarcastic kvetching on The Daily Show? All are fundamentally indebted to the comedic groundwork Allen laid in the 1970s.
Specifically, in 1977's Annie Hall. Allen had a healthy career before this--he'd done stand-up, made several films, and had his own TV special-- but Annie Hall marked the start of his maturation as an artist, an intentional move away from the broader comedy he'd previously done and toward more personal, philosophical, and substantive stuff. It's certainly his most famous film--it won four Academy Awards, sparked women's fashion trends, and paved the way for smarter, more cynical and sexual romantic comedies--and 35 years after its release it's still arguably his best. This is one for the American comedy canon, right up there with Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, and Dr. Strangelove.
By now, we're so familiar with the typical Woody Allen schtick--the insecure, paranoiac egghead neurotic with a cynical outlook and sexual hang-ups galore--that it hardly needs any introduction. Rightly or wrongly, we all assume that the real Allen is basically just a toned-down version of his exaggerated onscreen persona. In Annie Hall, he plays his most archetypal version of this character as Alvy Singer, a stand-up comedian and television writer who seems incapable of experiencing common, unhindered, catch-free pleasure in the sorts of interactions that most people unquestioningly enjoy.
Opening the film by directly addressing the camera--the first of many nods to the techniques of Ingmar Bergman, Allen's favorite director--Alvy regales us with the old joke about the two elderly women visiting a mountain resort. "The food at this place is really terrible," says one, to which the other replies, "Yeah, I know. And such small portions." Alvy presents this as a kind of comedic thesis statement for the film: "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." Spoken like a true Jewish existentialist.
At its simplest, the film follows Alvy though the ups and downs of his psychologically stymied relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), a would-be nightclub singer he meets through an actor friend. Alvy's obsessive and intellectual--a "nervous personality with a hyperactive imagination"--and he's something of an expert in self-sabotage. Annie, on the other hand, is far less serious or smart--Alvy's always foisting heavy-handed books about death on her--and when her initial attraction to him wanes, she gradually becomes sexually remote. Both are going through psychoanalysis, and where Annie has "breakthroughs" early and often, Alvy has spent fifteen years doing little more than whining to his therapist. They're ultimately not right for each other--and Woody seems to be saying that people are rarely really meant for one another, in any permanent sense--but it takes them years to come to this mutual conclusion.
On paper, this might not sound particularly funny or romantic, but Annie Hall is both non-stop hilarious and weirdly touching, a collection of cleverly ridiculous vignettes and a sadly accepting rumination on the fact that most relationships just don't work over the long haul. In fact, this film is so funny precisely because it's depressingly clear-eyed about how futile love and life can be. In one of the film's many Ghost of Christmas Past- style flashbacks--where Alvy and Annie revisit earlier points in their lives with the benefit of hindsight--we see young Alvy as a schoolboy in a parent/teacher conference, begrudgingly explaining that he refuses to do his homework because the universe is expanding and it's all so pointless. One definition of existential comedy is that it makes the meaningful absurd and the absurd meaningful, and that applies perfectly to Allen's shrugging, what can be done philosophy.
But let's not get too serious. Even without the awkward existential malaise, Annie Hall is a riot, with a razor-sharp script that lets Allen riff on every topic imaginable, from anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to Sylvia Plath, exercising his "New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y'know, strike-oriented kind of red diaper...stop me if I'm making a complete imbecile of myself" brand of verbal diarrhea. But he can be pithy too, and few films are this quotable. Who can forget "Don't knock masturbation, it's sex with someone I love"?
This was Allen's fourth film with Keaton, and as usual, they're wonderful together, a kind of Spencer and Tracy for the age of self-medication and psychoanalysis. They're lovably dysfunctional, and you want their characters to stay together, but you're definitely relieved when they decide to give up the ghost of a healthy relationship. The film also has a brilliant supporting cast of bit players, including Christopher Walken as Annie's mentally disturbed brother, Shelley Duvall as a spaced-out rock journalist who has a brief fling with Alvy--"Sex with you is a Kafka-esque experience," she says as a compliment--and Paul Simon as a sleazy west coast music producer who lures Annie to L.A. And look out for walk-on cameos by Sigourney Weaver, Truman Capote--playing a Truman Capote impersonator, no less--and a young Jeff Goldblum as a California partygoer who places a telephone call to his guru that sums up Woody Allen's well-documented annoyance with all-things Hollywood: "Hello? I forgot my mantra."
Annie Hall Blu-ray, Video Quality
Don't be fooled when you boot up this disc and see the horribly muddled and ridiculously grainy image on the title screen. It's far from representative. MGM has given Annie Hall a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that makes for a satisfying upgrade over previous standard definition releases. This isn't one of those transfers that makes you gasp at how good the film now looks, but it does seem faithful to source and free from unnecessary digital meddling. I didn't spot any signs of excessive noise reduction or edge enhancement, and the print is in fantastic condition, with only a few errant white specks over the entire duration of the film. There are no scratches, stains, hairs, or heavy debris whatsoever, and the grain structure looks completely natural. (Although, be aware, grain is quite heavy even during many bright daytime scenes, and spikes considerably in darker sequences.) Any so-called flaws in the visual presentation seem to have been inherited from the original footage. No, the film isn't exceptionally sharp-- it's actually quite soft most of the time--but there's never any doubt that you're viewing a high definition image. And while the picture seems to lack punch at times, color is at least realistic and balanced. Could the film look any better in 1080p? It's hard to say, conclusively, but I'm pretty happy with this transfer. I do wish MGM could've put more effort into a decent menu page, though.
Annie Hall Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Instead of trying to wrangle some kind of half-assed 5.1 surround mix out of the film's original single-channel soundtrack, MGM has wisely stuck with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono presentation. And it simply does what it needs to do. If you've seen the film before, you know it's all dialogue. Almost every scene consists of the characters talking. Talking while driving. While walking. While lying in bed. While having dinner. Always talking. Fortunately, this track broadcasts the vocals clearly and cleanly, with no volume issues, no muffling, no crackles or pops. You'll also remember--if you're familiar with the movie--that there's hardly any music in the film at all, so I can't even comment on a score. The best I can say is this--the track is as full and clear and balanced as it needs to be. On a marginally related note, the disc includes several Dolby Digital mono dubs-- Spanish, French, Italian, German, Catalan, and Portuguese--and it's quite fun to flip between them and listen to the foreign language voice actors doing their own takes on Woody. There are numerous subtitle options too.
Annie Hall Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Woody Allen is notoriously anti-bonus features--he's especially against audio commentaries--so it's no surprise that you'll find nothing here but a high definition theatrical trailer.
Annie Hall Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Annie Hall is one of the great American comedies--a masterpiece of neurosis, existential absurdity, and relationships gone wrong--and as far as I'm concerned, it belongs in every Blu-ray collection. MGM has made this easy with a new high definition transfer that makes for a satisfying upgrade over earlier DVD releases. There aren't any special features--Woody has never been fond of them-- but if you're a fan you'll certainly want to pick this one up. Highly Recommended!
Annie Hall: Other Editions
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