I will forever associate “Annie Hall” with my first kiss - a dreadfully awkward and nausea-inducing moment that sent me fleeing to the bathroom to free myself from the trammels of his embrace and questionable breath. Was it what he said just before he kissed me or the kiss itself that brought my peanut-butter and jelly sandwich from lunch surging back? Maybe both. It took years before I could watch the film without suffering any unfortunate bouts of queasiness.
With time, I learned to laugh, not gag, at the memory of Diane Keaton serenading our wretched kiss with It Seems Like Old Times and the movie became one of my all-time favorites. The film is iconic on many levels for many reasons but can be largely attributed to the endearing performance and fashionable quirkiness of its leading lady. Without her waspy naiveté to offset Woody Allen’s neuroses, it would have been just like watching any self-deprecating Jewish man battle his guilt and identity crises - if I wanted to see that, I’d just go to synagogue. The casting was right, the dialogue was right and the directing was right. All of these pieces were accounted for to create, in my opinion, Woody Allen’s greatest film. The leading female role is instrumental in the success of all his films, though the actresses he chooses are not always worth any merit.
Since the beginning of July, Woody’s been in Paris filming his forthcoming film, Midnight in Paris, about a family that travels to Paris for business and is subsequently confronted with the illusions that a life different from their own is better. Already, the film is off to a great start because it doesn't feature the egregiously overrated Scarlet Johansson who has, for me, ruined every single Woody Allen picture in which she's been involved. Unless you consider imitating Woody Allen's own idiosyncrasies in speech and expression a testimony to remarkable acting (see Scoop), I have trouble seeing why she's been put on a pedestal. But it would appear that after one too many films with the buxom blonde, Woody has moved on to another batch of high profile actresses to replace his former muse.
Despite only a small role in the film, the media have been riveted by Allen's casting of first-time actress and French first lady Carla Bruni. Add to that French it-girl Marion Cotillard, girl next door Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson & Adrien Brody, and you have yourself a blockbuster. His more recent films are applauded and ever-popular but I can't help but wax nostalgic for the small-budget, indie feel of his earlier work like “Bananas”, “Annie Hall” and “Mighty Aphrodite”. Even his film “Everyone Says I Love You”, with big name actors like Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore and a young Natalie Portman, still managed to exude the quintessential Woody Allen charm and mastery of labyrinthine love narratives with a sprinkle of moroseness. Now it seems his films are more of big-budget actor show-and-tell than a real showcasing of artists culled for their ability to tell his story.
Is it another case of a brilliant director selling out to sell movie tickets or a necessary strategy to stay relevant in a struggling industry saturated with up-and-coming talent? I’ll probably still see his new film, just as I’ve seen his others, but I will always hold the existential love story between Annie and Alvy far above the rest.
Photo courtesy of the Aura983