Classic Movie Review: Annie Hall (1977)/Manhattan (1979)

My effort to watch and review every movie ranked on three lists of greatest films of all time from the American Film Institute, Sight & Sound, and Cahiers du Cinéma offers many challenges.  The biggest one is “Do I really want to watch this movie?”  After all there is no requirement for me to do so beyond my own stubborn pride.  This is the challenge I face with watching Annie Hall (#35 on the AFI list) and Manhattan (#93 on the Cahiers du Cinéma list).

When I was young and my family first got cable tv in 1984, I became a fan of the Woody Allen films played on tv like Bananas, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, Sleeper, and my favorite Love and Death. Later in my college years I became borderline obsessed with watching every Woody Allen movie ever made.  According to my Letterboxd stats, he is my second-most watched director of all time after Alfred Hitchcock. Through the 90s I watched new Woody Allen films as they were released.  But it’s been two decades since I last watched a Woody Allen movie and I never will watch one again.  Because watching a Woody Allen movie means watching the man who sexually assaulted Dylan Farrow.

There is an ongoing argument in our culture about whether or not one can separate the art from the artist. For me, I have to take several factors into consideration, such as:

  • the severity of the artist’s offense
  • what, if any, efforts has the artist made at accepting consequence and reconciliation
  • if the artist is still alive, will supporting their art provide them with material benefits and social account that would allow them to defend against consequences for their offense, or worse, carry out additional offenses
  • in a collaborative work of art, such as a film, can we recognize the contributions of other artists without elevating the offender

Woody’s Allen’s crime was most grievous and he’s made no effort at redemption.  Supporting his art gives him money and fame that allows him to evade legal consequences and possibly assault other women and girls.  And while many other artists made valuable contributions to Woody Allen films, he is the writer, director, and star of most of them, playing a version of himself.  I’ve tried to watch or rewatch every movie before writing a review for my Classic Movie Project but I can’t in good conscience rewatch these movies, so I will review them based on memories from decades ago.  I will also forgo giving these two moves a star rating.

TitleAnnie Hall
Release Date: March 27, 1977
Director: Woody Allen
Production Company: A Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production
Summary/Review: Annie Hall was once among my favorite movies. It is a clever romantic comedy which involves unusual for the time aspects such as breaking the fourth wall, a classic gag involving Marshall McLuhan and even an animated segment. And Diane Keaton as the title character is the rare woman in a Woody Allen film who gets to be funnier and more likable than Woody’s character. As a film, it hits the sweet spot of Allen gaining technical competence as a director but before he became to self-indulgent.

Release Date: April 18, 1979
Director: Woody Allen
Production Company: United Artists
Summary/Review:  Unlike Annie Hall, which I watched several times, I only watched Manhattan once.  I was in college in the early 1990s and learning about filmmaking techniques so it was one of the first movies where I could appreciate the black & white cinematography, montage, and the use of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to score the film.  Since New York City had essentially hit rock bottom in the 1970s, it was nice to have a film tribute to Manhattan at the time, although the world of Isaac Davis (Allen) was entirely upper middle class white people.

Apart from the artistic touches, I didn’t like Manhattan all the much.  Mainly because the plot involves the 42-year-old Davis dating the 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway).  Even if you know nothing about Allen’s real life crimes, this is creepy.  It was creepy in the 1990s and it was creepy in 1979.  Apart from that plot point, the humor in this film lacks the nebbish and self-deprecating qualities of Annie Hall, and Davis’ character seems to be more of someone who insists that you should be on his side without giving a good reason to do so.