Sunday, 5 February 2012

Scene on a Sunday: Annie Hall

I was having something of a difficult time deciding on a scene to take a look at from Annie Hall. The film is after all a series of great scenes, and there’s an abundance of them to choose from. Ergo, it’s a bit strange that I went for this sliver of a scene – quite short, but it’s one of my favourites (well, in a bowlful of other favourites). Much of the scenes between Woody and Diane in this are precise studies in romantic awkwardness, and there’s an array of them I could choose – but their first one after the tennis game is a particular gem.

Annie Hall is presented to us in nonlinear format so we’re almost at the end of the first act when we reach this scene, but it’s immediately after a tennis match where the two meet for the first time. Alvy is packing up to go when…

            Annie (OS): “Hi.”


            Annie: “Hi, hi.”
               
Much has been said about the awkwardness which epitomises Diane’s performance, but I’ll say it again – it’s completely enchanting. I often worry that people who’re new to the film would watch Diane’s performance now and would miss the sweet oddness of it now that the specific type of ingĂ©nue has been copied and parodied and whatnot. But, then, I watch the film and realise that the beauty of Diane’s performance here is that it could never lose its lustre.

For example, look at that '77 Actress lineup (Bancroft, Fonda, MacLaine, Mason), they're all excellent and it would have been so easy for voters to reward any of them next to Keaton's awkward characterisation. The beauty of the performance is how delightfully low-key it is. The film's crux rests on the painful realness of the love story at its heart, and both Keaton and Allen play up the discomfiting, unromantic nature of their characters.
            
            Alvy: “Oh, hi.”
                       
It’s weird how the slightest words from Alvy could sound so judgemental.


             Annie (sighs): “Well. Bye.”
                 

Her awkwardness here is just delightful. Woody’s film tend to be notable for their lulls which so effectively mirror the same lulls of awkwardness which happen in real life. So, even as Annie’s affectations are funny, they are also very true.
       

Alvy: “You, you play very well.”
                   
It’s worth noting, too, that even though Annie’s weirdness is more obvious here Alvy is as much an acclamation of nervous tics. For example, he spends such a long time getting his things together allowing him the chance to not have to put his all into the conversation. Alvy is notable for his habit of avoiding emotional connections, even here not completely turning to Annie has he talks to her strikes me as significant.


Annie: “Oh, yeah? So do you.”
               
I love how she comes back immediately. That’s another movie conceit that’s not particularly fresh now, but is still charming to watch – the way they both want to connect, but are so nervous about it. Leading to my favourite bit from Diane in this scene.

            Annie: “Oh, god! Uh, what a dumb thing to say, right? I mean, you say you play well and then right away I have to say you play well. Oh, oh god. Annie. Well, oh well. La-de-da, la-de-da, la la. Yeah.”

Absolutely one of the most effective parts of the film when it comes to being funny, being completely charming in grasping Annie’s issues. Despite its focus on Alvy, Annie Hall could logically be seen as a story of growing apart. Annie is such a nervous mass when we meet her and she manages to grow older, grow wiser and away from Annie. We couldn’t imagine the Annie we leave at the film’s end (or even the Annie we meet at the beginning – remember it’s nonlinear) with this Annie in the middle here who is so nervous.

As  a possible aside, Keaton's cadence has always reminded me of Annette Bening (the voice, in particular) and Katharine Hepburn. And, it is perhaps just me, but there are such strident qualities of Annette's Sydney Ellen Wade and Kate's Linda Seton. The physicality, the nervousness touched by a femininity that's just the slightest bit androgynous.

Alvy: “You, you want a lift?”

            Annie: “Oh, why? You, you got a car?”
                         
            Alvy: “Me? No. I was gonna take a cab.”

I rather think that Alvy feels rather embarrassed there. For one, Alvy doesn’t drive well which becomes a nice bit towards the end of the film, and the general disposition to weigh a man’s worth by the car he drives must work on him feeling just the slightest bit tetchy. But, what’s so good about Woody’s Alvy (and, incidentally something that’s easy to miss – this is an excellent performance) is how he plays everything in a small register.

The quality in the way he delivers his line is one of perpetual tetchiness, he's constantly giving off this prickly air which is both intriguing and off putting.
                
           Annie: “Oh, no I have a car.”
         
            Alvy: “You have a car? So I don’t understand. If you have a car, so then, why did you say you have a car like you wanted a lift?”
            
An aside: notice how Alvy is still standing by the bag, even though it’s already packed. It’s a nervous tic I think everyone has, staying still as a confidence booster.


            Annie: “I don’t – I don’t – uh, I don’t know. Geez. I wasn’t…pfffbtt. It’s… I got this VW out there. What a jerk, yeah.”

How lovely is that sequence? It's acting, yes, but Diane is just so uninhibited here, and natural. Could anyone else have pulled this off so precisely without being precise?
           
             Annie (OS): “Would you like a lift?”
             

            Alvy: “Sure, which way you going?”


           Annie (OS): “Me? I’m going downtown.”
                        

           Alvy: “I – I’m going uptown.”
              
           Annie: “Well, you know I’m going uptown too.”
              
           Alvy: “Well, you just said you were going downtown.”
                     

           Annie: “Yeah, but I can go uptown, too. I live uptown. What the hell, it’d be nice having company, you know? I hate driving alone.”
                   


           Alvy: “Yeah?”
Immediately after we'll switch to Annie's disastrous driving, but I can't analyse everything. But, this scene - though short - is just a perfect encapsulation of the awkward beauty that is Annie Hall (and Diane Keaton).

(previously, this season: All About Eve; Howards End)
           
This scene is ____________? Annie Hall is at its best when ___________? Diane Keaton is just ___________. Fill in the blank.

3 comments:

Dave Enkosky said...

Great post. I loved the thorough analysis of one of my favorite movie scenes.

Nick Prigge said...

1.) An illustration of the horrific awkwardness of dating. 2.) People are talking. 3.) Mellifluous.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

dave thank you, kindly.

nick horrific awkwardness indeed!