Monday, April 23, 2007

Subtext - Annie Hall

The clip above is a compilation of great moments from the film. (My favorite scenes are the ones with Diane Keaton singing in the nightclub. They slice through the heart and leave you bleeding.)

I share this because Edward Copeland recently posted
a wonderful article celebrating the 30th anniversary of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

Copeland said:

As Roger Ebert once wrote about Citizen Kane, that film's structure is such that no matter how often you've seen it, if you come in after it's started, you are never quite certain what scene comes next. Annie Hall works much the same way. While Annie Hall above all else is a comedy (and one of the rare times the Academy saw fit to honor a comedy), Alvy Singer does, if you look hard enough, share some superficial similarities to Charles Foster Kane. Both men are described as islands unto themselves and both just want to be loved, though Woody Allen got to speak frankly about sex in a way Orson Welles couldn't be allowed. ("Don't knock masturbation — it's sex with someone I love"; "As Balzac said, 'There goes another novel.'"; "That's the most fun I've had without laughing." Alvy also has his sexual prowess described as a "Kafkaesque experience," which the woman played by Shelley Duvall insists is a compliment.)

And all that reminded me of our good friend, Billy Mernit, because he had made a similar comparison as Ebert by calling Annie Hall “the Citizen Kane of modern rom-coms.” Not only that, I watched Annie Hall again last week. It's impossible to NOT love Diane Keaton. And every time I watch that movie, I always laugh at something different. Last week, I coudn't stop laughing about that spider in her apartment. And ya know, I could not watch the scenes of her singing in the nightclub without thinking of Mernit’s memorable
Clouds in My Coffee article about the time he spent a year and a half being Keaton’s vocal coach for an album that, regrettably, never came into fruition.

Of Keaton, Mernit wrote:

It’s hard to imagine anyone not getting along well with Keaton, on account of she’s adorable, period: smart, funny, sexy and above all, refreshingly accessible. With her there's no pretense, not a whiff of “I’m Important.” And in that period, coming off of Annie (and Goodbar and The Godfather), she was luminous with the glow of someone good-becoming-great, of coming into her own and being able to do things she’d always wanted to do. Like, sing some of her favorite songs, if she felt like it. You could feel it was a happy time for her -- there was that Warren guy in the picture, too -- and her giddiness was infectious.

In any case, as many of you know, we did a very popular study on
subtext in dialogue, and it occurred to me that Annie Hall contains the mother of all subtext scenes, and I really didn’t do that film any justice by only briefly mentioning it as an example.

And so I offer you the Annie Hall subtext scene, which occurred on Annie’s balcony on her first date with Alvy, just as it was written in the
script by Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman.

Hope you enjoy it.



They put their glasses together in a toast.

God bless.

Well, uh...
You're what Grammy Hall would call a
real Jew.

(Clearing his throat)
Oh, thank you.

Yeah, well... you- She hates Jews.
She thinks that they just make money,
but let me tell yuh, I mean, she's
the one yeah, is she ever. I'm tellin'

(pointing toward the
apartment after a
short pause)
So, did you do shoot the photographs
in there or what?

(Nodding, her hand on
her hip)
Yeah, yeah, I sorta dabble around,
you know.

Annie's thoughts pop on the screen as she talks: I dabble? Listen to me-what a jerk!

They're... they're... they're
wonderful, you know. They have...
they have, uh... a... a quality.

As do Alvy's: You are a great-looking girl.

Well, I-I-I would-I would like to
take a serious photography course

Again, Annie's thoughts pop on: He probably thinks I'm a yo-yo.

Photography's interesting, 'cause,
you know, it's-it's a new art form,
and a, uh, a set of aesthetic criteria
have not emerged yet.

And Alvy's: I wonder what she looks like naked?

Aesthetic criteria? You mean, whether
it's, uh, good photo or not?

I'm not smart enough for him. Hang in there

The-the medium enters in as a
condition of the art form itself.

I don't know what I'm saying-she senses I'm shallow

Well, well, I... to me-I... I mean,
it's-it's-it's all instinctive, you
know. I mean, I just try to uh, feel
it, you know? I try to get a sense
of it and not think about it so much.

God, I hope he doesn't turn out to be a shmuck like the others

Still, still we- You need a set of
aesthetic guide lines to put it in
social perspective, I think.

Christ, I sound like FM radio. Relax.

They're quiet for a moment, holding wine glasses and sipping.


bob said...

This scene frustrates me a little. The unspoken thoughts are funny, but is it really subtext if we are told what they are thinking? What would that scene play like if those thoughts didn't appear?

It would be two self conscious people trying to have a conversation, and they like each other. So in many respects, it would still be good subtext, but it certainly wouldn't be nearly as funny.

Jeez, I'm sounding like a critic or something. Somebody slap me.

Mystery Man said...

Ohhh... Hey, I could be wrong about this, and I'm open to discussion. Perhaps it would be best to say that this isn't really a scene of subtext as much as it is a satire of subtext?


Mim said...

Satire of subtext. The writer had to come up with two discussions, and pay attention to what they might have really sounded like, so it wasn't something you could just toss off.

bob said...

Yes- I agree about the subtext satire thing. To me it's a great scene because it is so, so typical of what most people feel like on a first date. You are carrying on this internal dialog trying to be so perfect to your date and somehow, someway it doesn't quite come off how you were hoping. Then all that self doubt and criticism creeps in. MM- I'm sure that since you've been hanging with Cameron and Courtney your self doubt is all but missing, but you know for the rest of us - he he.

Anonymous said...

Well, I just saw the scene without subs. This is because the WS version I rented was a fake WS made from 4.3, and cut them off. Fake WS, a modern phenomenon that frustrates me not a little. The scene then wasn't really funny but had a charming (if hypertextual) awkwardness about it; yes, a subtext still does exist, but it has a different mood. Of course, my viewing was informed by knowing that the original subs existed, though not seen. I think it goes beyond satire and achieves a status all its own in terms of comedy.