Program Notes: Annie Hall (1977)
The movie we now know as Annie Hall originally was but a small part of a much bigger, messier movie called “Anhedonia.”
We’ll save you a trip to the dictionary. “Anhedonia” is a state in which one is unable to feel pleasure.
Probably not the best title for a romantic comedy.
The original idea was for Woody Allen and his co-writer, Marshall Brickman, to make a movie about a Woody-ish character’s life and failed relationships. This was supposed to be wrapped around a murder mystery, but that element was dropped.
Allen would play the protagonist, comic Alvy Singer.
Diane Keaton (a former girlfriend) was cast as one of his Alvy’s girlfriends, the ditzy Annie Hall.
But she was just one of several love interests. Shelly Duvall played a vacuous rock critic who, after meditating with the Maharishi, engages in a tantric fantasy with Alvy. Carol Kane has a segment as Alvy’s first wife, a social activist. Janet Margolin played his second wife, a New York intellectual.
There would be flashbacks to Alvy’s Brooklyn childhood.
The film was supposed to be Allen’s graduation to the big leagues of “serious” filmmaking after his early success with goofy comedies like Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.
Problem was, “Anhedonia” was terrible. Editor Ralph Rosenblum was appalled by the raw footage he was given. There were funny scenes, sure, but the story was all over the place, jumping back and forth in time, from “reality” to fantasy.
Rosenblum did his best to make sense of the material, then screened his first cut for Allen and Brickman.
“I thought it terrible, completely unsalvageable,” Brickman said. “It was two and a half hours long, and rambled and was tangential and just endless.”
According to his book When the Shooting Stops, Rosenblum was largely responsible for giving Annie Hall its final form. Poring over hours of footage he realized that the Alvy/Annie relationship was by far the most compelling and interesting part of the film. He suggested whittling it all down to make that love affair the story’s center.
(The abandoned segments were not entirely wasted. Many of the ideas – even some of the footage – was recycled in in Allen pictures like Radio Days, Manhattan, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Deconstructing Harry.)
Rosenblum also suggested to Allen what scenes needed to be reshot or created from whole cloth.
The film was all but finished before Allen decided how to end it. In a taxi on the way to a soundstage to shoot scenes of Alvy directly addressing the audience, Allen jotted down a monologue about relationships. It became the final moments of Annie Hall and one of the most quoted passages in American movies.
Alvy talks about running into Annie on the street and being reminded of how important she is to him.
“It reminds me of that old joke. You know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist's office and says, ‘Hey, Doc, my brother's crazy! He thinks he's a chicken.’
“Then the doc says, ‘Why don't you turn him in?’
“Then the guy says, ‘I would but I need the eggs.’
“I guess that's how I feel about relationships. They're totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.”
For a film that even its makers were sure was headed for disaster, Annie Hall did just fine. The movie won the Oscar for best picture, while Keaton was named best actress. Allen won statuettes for direction and screenplay.
Annie Hall ranks 31st on the American Film Institute’s list of the top feature films in American cinema, fourth on its list of top comedy films, and No. 28 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies."
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About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.