"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

critical distance: how woody allen's fear of getting close draws us closer


hello hello.

i've decided: i am going into film! it's the only thing that brings joy to my life now. i love watching and critiquing and thinking about film. i want to write and direct. maybe even act.

until i get there, i am content to write about films and film technique.

and here's one of those now: a review of woody allen's ANNIE HALL...

(this appeared previously as an assignment for my satiric film class, but what the hell. the internet can stand one more review by a non-authority (yet) on the subject...)


ANNIE HALL (Woody Allen, 1977)

Voice-over is a frequent satirical device, in that it creates a critical distance between the viewer and the subject matter. With this distance comes the freedom for critique, and the opportunity to consider the follies or foibles of the characters depicted.
This critical distance is perhaps especially important when dealing with matters of the heart, and particularly, love. We are, as Woody Allen might say, schmaltzy to a fault. We too easily lose ourselves in romantic narratives and find ourselves hoping for happy endings, wishing the two main characters would just give in to Romantic conventions and fall in love. Unfortunately, relationships don’t always work out, and life is miserable and short.
And in ANNIE HALL, Allen doesn’t try to convince us otherwise. Rather, Allen would have us believe that we are witnessing the most miserable of individuals, Allen’s on-screen persona Alvy. He is unlucky in love and unluckily in love. Endearingly neurotic, self-deprecatingly funny, and irritatingly brilliant, Alvy is at once so idiosyncratic that he pushes everyone around him away.
What results is a film of dissonance and distance, removal and remoteness. Not only are the characters alienated from one another, they exude their isolation outwardly, such that the audience is removed from the narrative just enough to appreciate Allen’s satirical view of human relationships. While the characters Annie and Alvy are falling in and out of love, the audience is being drawn in and pushed away by Allen’s unconventional style.
As the audience soon sees, Annie and Alvy’s relationship begins to fall apart as they fall away from each other. When Annie is denied her ritualistic grass before going to bed, she becomes removed. We watch as her inner self floats out of her body and takes a bedside seat, literally, physically, and visibly apart from the Annie with whom Alvy is in bed. Interestingly, Allen’s Alvy is then aware enough to look up and notice what has happened, to point at Annie’s inner self across the room and remark, “now that’s what I call removed,” and then proceed to ask her to give herself in her entirety, rather than just her body. It is a poignant scene, and a familiar one to most waning love stories, the acknowledgement that your significant other is merely going through the motions, while you believe you are in love. In reality, such a realization would bring cause for remorse, but in ANNIE HALL, it draws laughter, the impossibility of the situation (the physical impossibility of Annie’s split self) underscoring the impossibility of the relationship itself.
It further reinforces critical distancing. While Annie literally splits and removes herself from the bed, we are forced to remove ourselves as well and take a critical glance back at the two characters and their relationship. Allen’s use of innovative film techniques (switching to cartoon, incongruent and distracting subtitles, split screens, and direct address, to name a few) are so jarring to the film’s flow that the audience is forced to suspend their complete immersion into the story. Rather than become lost and invested in the characters and their relationship, the audience is consistently reminded that they are watching characters on a screen. Allen’s use of innovation in the visual medium has the effect of spectacle, resulting in surreality, separateness from the reality on which Allen comments.
This creates a detachment of the viewer, enabling us to enter into the narrative only so far as to criticize the characters and to turn our attention to satiric elements. Whereas a romantic film would allow for a happy ending with an escapist/idealist resolution, the characters’ awareness and interactions with the viewer create commentary on Allen’s subjects without becoming lost in the narrative and lost to Allen’s message: that life is miserable and short. And love is no exception.

1 comment:

alice from wonderland or not said...

Cool film, not a film major myself but my best friend is a in Film ; it was because of him I saw Annie Hall.

I arrived here from the Zenpro site where I viewed you You Tube video.

Nice.

I'll stop by again.

kudos to you for maintaining some individuality at the Miami U. ;0