Uncollected Thoughts: Justice League


The first thing is, getting to East Didsbury from Reddish on a Sunday afternoon. That wasn’t as bad as you might think: the 203 was late, naturally, but I had time to but the paper and more or less get straight onto the 23A. On the other hand, this Cineworld, being newer, bigger, flasher than dear old comfortable Stockport is an arsehole. You can’t buy your tickets from a human being, it’s got to be a machine and mine is fucked up. Still, the one I am led to for a second go, by a human being, coughs up my ticket and doesn’t even ask for proof of ageĀ  over my senior person concession.

Having said that, Screen 4’s bigger than anything I’ve recently been at in Stockport, plus it has banked seats. I’m about two-thirds of the way up, in an aisle seat. The background music is Take That (one of Mark Owen’s: I am very well-trained) to be followed by Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’. No disrespect tp anyone but the leap in quality is immeasurable.

I’m one of five when I sit down, which is a massive improvement on Monday but still a disappointment for a big budget film on a Sunday afternoon on it’s third day. Half an hour of trailers etc. later (yup, Karen Gillan looks just as good and, hey! a new Ardman/Nick Park: one for 2018 already), we have swelled to an unmanageable 28, the unmanageable one being the two-year-old toddler sat almost directly in front of me.

Oddly, for there is literally nothing here to spark such a recollection save the day of the week, I’m transported back to a Sunday morning a great many years ago, when my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema for a non-stop round of Warner Brothers cartoons, all Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. They were on a loop. You came in when you arrived, you left when you recognised when you came in. I had a whale of a time, as you can imagine. What on earth’s brought that back I can’t possibly imagine, but I haven’t found that memory foor a very long time.

The film? Oh yes, this is supposed to be about the film, isn’t it? By my tally, this is the fifth time I’ve been to the cinema this year, and they’ve all been films based on comics. Four superheroes, two each DC and Marvel. Fot the life of me, I don’t know how to respond to this film, nor how to rank it even among this year’s quintet.

It really is strange how much I feel nothing about this film, and I the oldest in the cinema, certainly the only one actually on this planet when Brave & Bold 27 was published, somewhere maybe round the time my Dad took me to the Cartoon Cinema. I’ve waited a lifetime to see this film. But, well, no.

Actually, it started slowly, introducing the cast, one-by-one, with special reference to the newcomers: Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg. It was ponderous to say the least, and in my head i also gad the word ‘portentous’.

But after that, any kind of critical appraisal drained off, and I just sat and watched it. It did not disappoint and it did not enthrall. The performances were decent: no-one stood out as either terribly impressive or terribly awful. It was neither slow-paced nor fast-paced (although the Zack Snyder tradition of ultra-slow motion to show just how clever the CGI stunt is has not merely gotten old, it’s whiskers are completely white).

The story was neither a coherent progression nor a series of disjointed fragments, though it leaned in both directions. It was neither too short nor too long, but that doesn’t mean to imply it was the right length, just that it felt you could have taken scenes out and put other scenes in and the film would have neither suffered nor improved by it.

It was just what it was, a film without any personality whatsoever. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t bored by it, I… got nothing from it, not even the sense of something rotten and malodorous to the core that pervaded Batman vs Superman. It was just bland. And it was still better than Batman vs Superman.

There were a number of things in the film that I could comment upon viz-a-viz their relationship to the original source, but I can’t be bothered, except in one case. The villain, Steppenwolf, was taken from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series’ (there was even a one-off mention of Darkseid, one of the most awesome characters ever created: guys, when you get to the one that brings him in, you gotta be aiming and reaching a galaxy higher than you’ve been doing to date). The film revolved around one of Kirby’s most potent symbols, Mother Box. But it perverted it, reversing its purpose 180 degrees. Don’t do that again.

And so it was. The film ended up not even being ‘Meh!’ or being a waste of time. Stick to TV, DC, when it comes to films, you have no idea.

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Uncollected Thoughts: Thor: Ragnarok


Practically all of my cinema-going, for at least the last two decades, has been to Cineworld, at Grand Central, Stockport, and I’ve got a few memories of trips there, in company and alone. Because I don’t rush out for premieres, and I go to the odd showings, Sundays, or mid-to-late afternoons, I’ve fond myself sitting in small audiences, rarely more than a dozen, of late in single figures. I’ve sat alone in the half-dark, wondering if I might end up being the only one there, until a couple of people wander in, sitting somewhere behind me.

It’s ironic therefore that I’ve finally done it, finally been the one person to pay to go to see a film, when this was the last time I shall ever visit this cinema: it closes on Thursday. A new cinema, in a new complex, even nearer to the centre of Stockport, opens the Thursday after. If I want to see Justice League whilst I’m enjoying a week off, I shall have to go all the way out to Didsbury.

Thor: Ragnarok‘s supposed to be very good, very funny, so it was a pity I was sat alone, in the exact middle of Screen 9, because the occasion and the solitude got to me, and overtook the showing, and the many jokes fell flat without the reinforcement of people laughing around me.

Instead, it felt like watching it in my bedroom, on a massively oversized laptop screen, though for once I didn’t have to put up with my back being knacked because I could shuffle about whenever I wanted without worrying about spoiling the view for others behind me.

To be honest, I didn’t find the film all that funny anyway. Snappy wisecracks in and among the action are Marvel’s speciality, and it’s been given a good dose here, so much that Ragnarok has been reviewed as a superhero sitcom. But whilst some of the jokes – the ones I found funny – arose natural from character and circumstance, too much of the humour was of the knowing kind, finding fun in the story and its tropes, in the way that told you that someone couldn’t take thevstory seriously enough.

And I am old enough to have watched the Sixties Batman TV show in the Sixties, as a result of which I have very sensitive antennae for when we get anywhere near that territory, and I bear too many scars to be properly comfortable over land like that.

I’m not going to try to describe the story because there simply wasn’t one, just a grab-bag of confrontations, fights, clashes and in the case of the Grandmaster, as clear a case of camp as you could ever not wish for: Jeff Goldblum was channeling Lorenzo Semple Jr throughout. All this was was 130 minutes with little underlying progression, which eventually stopped after they ran out of bigger things to CGI.

Mind you, I did enjoy it , whilst it lasted, and this time didn’t look at my watch for a good ninety minutes. I even recognised all the bits they took from Walt Simonson’s magnificent Eighties run, still by far the best work ever done on Thor, in my opinion, and something I was there for, month in, month out.

But if I was to go watch it again, it will be for one reason only, Cate Blanchett as Hela, Goddess of Death, and main villain, because, my oath, she was Hot! in every second she was onscreen. I don’t usually respond that viscerally to any actress, but this time I was metaphorically baying at the moon.

Which was an ironic parallel to the pre-film trailer for the remake of Jumanji, which was loud, ridiculous, hyperactive, stupid and so not the film to take me to unless you are planning to snog my mouth off for the whole length of the film, or else it’s the edited version that only has the scenes Karen Gillan is in.

Speaking of trailers, after years of spoiler-avoiding, I also saw the one for Justice League, about which I can only say, Ohhhh shhhiiiitttttt!!!!!!

But this is my response to Thor: Ragnarok, which clearly didn’t get high marks from me, but like I said, I was blindsided by the occasion and the solitude (and having had very little sleep last night) so I wasn’t the best audience for it. Even though I was the only audience for it.

Uncollected Thoughts: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


Back from the cinema, my third visit in the last two months, and for me that’s prolific. Between the trailers I’d seen, and my recollection of having two, or maybe three of the Valerian graphic novels in the Eighties, when they were first translated into English, I was looking forward to what I got: good, fast-paced space opera, heavy on the CGI, check your brain at the door stuff, and none the worse for that if that’s what you want to see. Usually, I don’t, but so what?

Based on the critical and financial response to the film so far, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like scoring high on both the Turkey List and the Flop List, which is a damned shame because I’d love to see a sequel. With the exception of one sequence that I’ll come to shortly, I loved what I was watching, and the only drawback was that by deciding I was just too knackered to go yesterday, I deprived myself of the chance to see the film in 3D. That would have been brain-stunning.

The film started off perfectly. Over a soundtrack of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, we were treated to a sequence that mixed CGI construction and real footage, showing the building of the International Space Station and that first handshake in space as Russian docked with American, and built on that by upping the ante, as the station grew, as the greetings became easier and more direct, as more and more nations expanded into space, before switching to humanity greeting ever more exotic aliens, with everyone bringing more and more pieces to bolt on, until the ISS became Alpha, grew too big for Earth’s atmosphere and was moved out into the cosmos: a centre for an unbelievably shapeless construction that was home to millions of races, species, cultures, all mingling, sharing, interacting.

Bloody hell, it was quite emotional.

But within all apples,there must usually be a worm. There was a planet, of lean, graceful humanoids, a plant of oceans and beaches and peace, destroyed as the bi-product of a war between cultures that didn’t even care that these people existed. One, a Princess, dies and her telepathic emanation takes root on Valerian, en route with Laureline to a mission, but in the meantime relaxing on a holographic beach. Laureline, played by Cara Delivingne, is in a bikini: in fact, she spends much of the film relatively unclad, though the film doesn’t noticably linger on her (I’d have noticed, trust me, I’d have noticed). Valerian, unsurprisingly, is trying to get off with her: they’re partners (Major and Sergeant) not lovers.

I’ve decided not to dwell on the plot because this is not the kind of film where that’s essential, and anyway it’s more of a one-thing-after-another plot rather than a carefully constructed story. Basically, it’s a series of excuses to go wild with the CGI which, being European rather than American, constructs a completely different appearance. There’s no attempt to be shiny, or new, or natural: it’s all metallics, and lived-in griminess, dark corridors and such, and a colour scheme that applies bright, steely shades rather than anything naturalistic, which I found incredibly effective. It’s a space station: it’s supposed to be artificial.

There is a villain and for those who haven’t yet seen the film, he spends a lot of time offscreen, and he’s a pretty evil bastard at the end of it, and he doesn’t seem to be the only one who thinks that way. A lot of people have complained about the absence of a clearly-identified Big Bad that everyone’s conspicuously working against, but that would have been too much of a cliche: finding out what’s going on is a large part of the momentum of the film.

And the relationship between the two heroes has been substantially retained from the comics. True, Valerian is not quite the square-jawed dum-dum leading man, but Laureline is every bit as sceptical, independent and sarcastic as I could hope. True, she needs rescuing by Valerian from one of the more imaginative scrapes I’ve seen in a long time, but that’s only after she’s gone out and rescued him. People criticise Cara Delivingne’s acting, but it was plenty good enough for me.

As I said, there was one sequence that I didn’t like and that was when Rihanna played a cameo as a shape-shifting dancer. All very clever effects, seamless of course, but, come on, it’s bloody Rihanna, and that’s going to date worse that a corded telephone and besides it stopped the film dead. And I mean dead. It’s an intrusion, an insertion, two minutes in the same spot when all the time the film is moving, moving, moving.

At least she got killed off, but that stopped the story again.

So, I liked it. I got what I wanted and expected (except for the 3D). I’ve mentally ordered the DVD already. And I’m wondering where on earth I can put the books as I start collecting them. From the beginning, this time.

 

Uncollected Thoughts: Suicide Squad


I debated doing one with Margot Robbie alone but decided that would be sexist

They warned me, but I had to see for myself, and now I have and they were right. DC’s Suicide Squad movie is crap, for all the reasons everybody has already said, but at least it’s not Batman vs Superman crap, though it wouldn’t have to cross a very wide street to be so.

I’m not going to go into expansive detail, which makes a change from the film. Actually, the film doesn’t so much go into infinite detail, dragging things out at every possible turn, as to slide very slowly across the surface of things, dragging it out at every possible turn.

This is the third time out of four DC Universe films (the fourth of which I have not seen and will not see) that I have been checking my watch inside the first thirty minutes (18 minutes and 23 seconds here, a new personal best). This was because the film was doing everything it could to avoid actually portraying a story, and boring the arse off me.

When the ‘story’ actually began, the film had forfeited all goodwill by being so clunky. It then went to to be not so much clunky in its development of the story as non-existent. There isn’t a story, just a series of events, through which we move at a funereal pace, occasionally upping the tempo for ill-directed, confusing fight scenes, in which you can barely see anything anyway because this is all taking place at night (DC films don’t do daylight, it’s far too light-hearted and Marvel).

I recall that a lot of reshooting took place before release in order to add a more light-hearted and comedic tone, but I assume all that stuff got left out of the final print, because I didn’t see any of it. Sure, Harley Quinn is constantly quipping, and snarking, and being generally absurd, but despite a vigorous performance by Margot Robbie, she isn’t actually funny.

Ms Robbie is, indeed, the highlight of the film, but only because her body gets flaunted over and over again, and it’s a nice body. Then again, Cara Delivingne, as June Moone/The Enchantress, also has a nice body, most of which is largely uncovered for 90% of her screen-time, and the film manages to make her look thoroughly unattractive.

I’ll say no more, as others have already said all of this, in more detail, and i am merely recording that they’re right.

I grew up on DC Comics. By temperament, I always preferred their less-frenetic, less-hysterical approach to superheroes. I have a half century’s emotional investment in these characters. I would just like to go and see a film about such characters that is at least half as enjoyable as those featuring Marvel characters for whom I don’t have anything like the innate sympathy. I’m beginning to suspect that I should stick to my boxset of the Christopher Reeve Superman films (maybe not no. 4…)

Uncollected Thoughts – Wonder Woman


Superman only lifts cars

The benchmark is still Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. That, as you may recall, was the first and still only film where I have wanted to get up and walk out, bored, after only thirty minutes. Wonder Woman is nothing like that. True, I looked at my watch for the first of many times only twenty minutes in, but I did not feel the urge to walk out at any time. To have the film over a good hour before it finally stopped, yes, but not to leave before the end.

Because it’s dull, unstructured, painfully slow and if this is the best the DC Expanded Cinematic Universe can do, then I am already considering whether I do actually want to go see Justice League of America.

Perhaps some of it has to do with not being a woman and therefore not being capable of the kind of identification there must be to seeing a woman lead a major film, display superpowers, be so effortlessly superior to everyone about her with the exception of Ares, the God of War, or Truth, if you believe him. At least it manages this without any self-congratulationary stops to pat itself on its back over it’s women’s strength, the way Supergirl does.

Perhaps it has something to do with my not really having read that much Wonder Woman: the George Perez post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot was the only time I collected the title. But dammit, she’s part of DC’s Trinity, the Big Three, and she’s a bloody good character.

But DC still don’t know how to make successful films. There’s plenty of spectacle, seriously good CGI and battles galore, but they’re so widely spaced you could fall asleep in between, it’s all so bloody portentous and grim and foreboding, and despite what other people have said, I really don’t think Gal Gadot is that good an actress. Nor that beautiful a face (hey, I never fancied Linda Carter either: do you think it’s me?)

Yes, she’s an excellent action actress, but for everything else I found just just a bit on the wooden side.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor was decent, whilst the comedy sidekicks were good but but wasted through not having anything of substance to do. For instance, Charlie the Scottish sniper was set up as being disturbed by his experiences: seeing ghosts, can’t actually shoot straight, know what I mean, all good character stuff and then it just gets forgotten, so why did we bother?

The only unalloyed glory about this film is David Thewliss, as Ares. Is this man capable of giving a performance that is less than superb, even when he’s dealing with material that’s beneath his talents? Only in the closing stages, when he’s CGIed into a metal helmet that you can barely make him out through does he lose the way, but by that point, acting is superfluous and nobody could make anything of that.

So, there you have it. It’s a massive success, it didn’t annoy the living hell out of me like Batman v Superman, and I didn’t want to walk out. In the DC World, this counts as a success to me. I just wish I could have enjoyed a DC film more than I did the trailer for the latest Spider-Man.

Uncollected Thoughts: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


You know what to expect when you go to see a Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie: just leave your brain behind and settle back to enjoy furious, breathless pace, a barrage of high-quality CGI and, if it’s the Guardians of the Galaxy, a barrel of laughs. So I had a great time this afternoon, hiding from the stifling heat in a cinema in which there were about a dozen people and I, in row D, the most advanced.

Actually, the best bit of the film was the opening scene, by which I don’t intend to slate any of the rest of it, but it had me laughing my head off. We open on a planet known as The Sovereign, populated by gold-skinned, gold-haired, very religious and self-satisfied douchebags, led by Ayesha the High Priestess (played by Elizabeth Debicki, of whom I was not previously aware, who made a serious impression on my, er, sensibilities).

The Guardians have been hired to prevent an incredibly large space squid from stealing certain valuable McGuffins, I’m sorry, batteries. Everyone’s getting prepared, including Rocket Raccoon, who’s hooking up the sound system for some more Seventies tunes, when Drax the Destroyer protests. For once, Peter Quill, Star-Lord, agrees, at which point the monster arrives and the battle commences.

But we don’t get to see it. Instead, the camera focuses on Baby Groot, the living tree whose sole line of dialogue is the Librarian-like, “I am Groot”. Little Groot fiddles with the plugs, connects them at the third attempt and, with the battle raging above, around but mostly behind him, proceeds to dance, adorably, laughably, obliviously, to The Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mister Blue Sky’.

Now ELO are far from my favourite Seventies band, and indeed ‘Mister Blue Sky’ is the very song that saw Jeff Lynne and I part musical company irrevocably, but here is little Groot lost in the music whilst bits of the fight fly, crash and blast past him, and all he does is dance on, and the camera never pans out and it’s all so ridiculously silly that you can’t help but be in a good mood for the rest of the film, none of which quite comes up to that but hey, you can’t be sublime all the time.

It’s a high speed, slambang affair, hopping like mad, during which Quill discovers that his missing father is actually Kurt Russell, no actually Ego, the Living Planet, an immortal Celestial. Quill’s immortal too, as long as he doesn’t quibble with Daddy’s plan to expanding himself so that he isn’t just this planet anymore but the whole goddam universe. Which, naturally, he does. Quibble, I mean.

It’s save the Galaxy time, folks! After they’ve done it twice, Rocket reckons they can put their price up.

As for the rest, there’s plenty of colourful character, patented quipping, genuinely funny interactions and lines, the wringing dry of every piece of fun possible, and all of both highly professional and highly effective. If you go in expecting to be entertained , along with being run through the odd emotional gamut every now and then, you’ll be fine. Expect great significance or moral ambiguity, and you’re better off going to see the film next door.

There’s more room for Karen Gillan this time, as Nebula, though she’s still blue and bald, though after a sisterly chat with Gamora, the Galaxy’s Greatest Assassin, not quite to psychopathic. And Pom Klementieff puts in a fine turn as the naive empath, Mantis, though the latter’s creator, Steve Engelhart, is righteously distraught that, except visually, this Mantis has no resemblance to his character.

And I’ve already mentioned Elizabeth Debicki, haven’t I? Seriously, she’s Eddie Cochran levels of Somethin’ Else.

I’m glad to see she’s going to be back for Vol. 3, in respect of which she appears to be growing a monster and a killer she plans to call Adam. Oh-ho! say all the fans simultaneously: Warlock, we presume.

I’m not going to go into this film in any greater depth because it doesn’t require it. It’s been criticised for not being as ‘fresh’ as the first one, and sure it’s a whole heap of ‘more of the same only different’, but I watched the first one three years ago and I can happily sit down to something like that every three years or so.

And having seen the trailer for it, I am so going to go see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and not just because it’s got Cara Delivigne in it. Super space opera on a budget fit to match the original French comics, which were Star Wars long before Star Wars. I think that’s going to be fun, like this.

 

We never have sex…


The year I moved to Nottingham, to start my Articles, Woody Allen released his first masterpiece, Annie Hall. Co-starring Diane Keaton in the title role, critics all over hailed the film as the first complete integration of Allen’s comedic style with a consistent and coherent story.
I went to see it, a few weeks into my life in Nottingham. I think it was the first Woody Allen film I’d seen at all. It was followed by a number of re-releases in the cinema, in double-bills, each of which I watched, though I had to wait for Take the Money and Run and Play it Again, Sam on TV.
Despite the critics’ approbation, I didn’t find Annie Hall particularly funny. Indeed, given the expectations built up, it was actually disappointing, and his older films were much funnier (I had near hysterics at the opening shot of Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) when it dissolved from a pure white screen into a couple of dozen white rabbits hopping around.)
Time passed, as it does. That long ago, given that three years had to elapse before feature films could be shown on television and that videos were still a pipe dream by a man whose wife was typing up my files for me (didn’t know that until some years later), it was common for popular films to get a second release about six months later, and thus Annie Hall came round again in the November of 1978, and I watched it again.
The circumstances were unusual. I was back in Manchester for the weekend, to watch Droylsden in the FA Cup First Round proper, drawn away to Rochdale. The Bloods won the match and I came out of the ground feeling like I could run all the way back to Manchester, though practicality reasserted itself and I took the bus instead.
Back in the City Centre about six o’clock, I didn’t feel like just heading back for a quiet evening in so, being on my own, I decided to stop off for a film. There was nothing current that appealed to me, but Annie Hall was back, and I knew I could at least sit through it, so I bought myself a ticket.
This time round, I loved it.
What was the difference? Some of it was that I was in an elevated mood to start with, but most of it was that I understood it all this time. Between April and November, I had fallen in love.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened to me. My first love had been a half decade earlier, when I had been 17: naive, immature, inexperienced, terrified of making mistakes and making the fundamental mistake of doing nothing out of fear. I had denied it to myself for years, trying to wipe the embarrassment from my memory.
And then I’d fallen in love again, equally unrequitedly, though this time it was due to external factors. But I was in love, enough so that I had been able to relax myself, to admit that my earlier feelings had been genuine and not some kind of dismissible puppy love (the amount of emotional energy I’d been using to repress that had been incredible, and I felt literally transformed by accepting the truth).
And watching Annie Hall whilst being in love, whilst having experienced those feelings, made the whole film understandable, gave me insight that opened up both story and jokes, made me laugh where previously ignorance had kept me silent.
The film is about the relationship between comedian Alvy (Allen) and the eponymous Annie (Keaton), who were then a real-life couple. It covers the beginning, the middle and the slow but inevitable end, when she goes off with Paul Simon. From the point of view of an unrequited lover, whose inamorata wasn’t interested in him as anything but a friend, there may have been nuances of which I wasn’t aware, but at the time I felt like I got pretty much everything, right down the middle.
And, with the exception of the serious one that nobody likes (not even the aliens in it) I was a regular for Woody Allen’s films in the cinema for most of the next decade. My last one was The Purple Rose of Cairo in respect of which I remember most the sober and serious atmosphere of the first twenty minutes or so of the film, until Jeff Bridges turns away from the plot of the film in the Depression-era cinema and speaks directly to Mia Farrow, in the audience, saying that she sure must love this film she’s always watching it. And he walks out of the screen and the cinema I was in erupted in a glorious gale of laughter which the film sustained from that point on.
Allen’s next film after this was the new one to be acclaimed his absolute masterpiece, Hannah and Her Sisters. For reasons I can’t recall, I didn’t fancy this one, and didn’t go to the cinema to see it. I have never seen a Woody Allen film in the cinema since, and when I did see Hannah on TV, I was by no means impressed by it. It fell even flatter with me than did Annie Hall, first time.
I haven’t seen any Woody Allen film, in any format, for a long time. Annie Hall belongs to my long ago novel in more ways than just the relationship inspiring understanding. I downloaded the film last year, but circumstances have prevented me from watching it until now.
Two scenes in particular stood out in my memory. One is the split screen scene that gives this post its title: Alvy and Annie’s relationship is slowly but certainly stumbling towards its conclusion and the mean time, each one is discussing the matter with their therapist. Alvy complains that they never have sex: three times a week. Annie complains that they are always having sex: three times a week. I have never actually had this as a direct problem (this is not a boast, just a reflection on incredible good luck) but the joke is simple but incredibly deep.
The other scene holds even more meaning for me.
Alvy and Annie have their final conversation as a couple, things slowly going wrong, the two heading in different directions even as they speak. The film goes on, showing Alvy not taking it very well. Suddenly, the scene switches to an artificial setting, two younger people, each superficially resembling younger Alvy and Annie. They speak the same dialogue as the early part of the scene we’ve just watched, a little stiffly, a little awkwardly. But, at the crucial instance, where the breach happens, ‘Annie’s dialogue changes. She gives in to him, does what he wants, preserves the relationship.
Before this, we know that we’re in a rehearsal room, that Alvy is sat over to one side, watching this performance, that it’s a play he’s written. Breaking the fourth wall, as he often does in this film, he addresses the audience, candidly confessing that he obviously wasn’t too proud to make things work in art where they didn’t work in real life.
But the real sting is that, from the moment the conversation goes in the ‘right’ direction, it ceases to be convincing, to be real or natural in any way. We don’t need to have seen the original to instantly realise that, from the moment Alvy forces his ‘Annie’ surrogate to respond against her natural instincts, she ceases to function as a believable person. For me, it’s the most impressive moment in the film, indeed in Woody Allen’s film career.
I’d like to credit Allen with all the layers I discern in that scene. There are many critics who, especially in later films, would argue strenuously that it was not intentional, but then that was the great thing about Woody Allen in those years. To me it was fully understood, inside and out, and it’s a lesson I took to heart.
When I came to write The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel, years later but dealing with the feelings that affected me when I saw Annie Hall that second time, I was too proud. I could have made things work for my character Steve, could have awarded him his Lesley in return for his being in love with her, but that’s not what happened.
Lesley wasn’t the woman I fell for but she was close enough in enough ways for it to matter inside, and it would have been false to have concluded the novel in any way different to how life had concluded things. I learned that from Woody Allen, which is why I hold Annie Hall in high esteem, even if I haven’t watched it in easily twenty years, or maybe more.
Rewatching the film after twenty years or however long it’s been, halfway back to when it was made, I only laughed occasionally, like the first time. Some of it is impossible not to laugh at: I knew it was coming but the sneezing the coke bit still had me roaring out loud. The scenes I’ve outlined above weren’t quite as I remembered them, but their essence was intact in my head.
But this time round, though I recognised the love in the relationship, how Allen made Alvy and Annie into a pair that you could understand loving each other’s presence, what I was most aware of was the incompatibility, the mismatch of this two that was always going to last longer than the things that brought them together. I’ve just had too much experience of seeing that to remain unaware.
In a way, it makes the film even greater, that Allen can show these two opposing forces blended into one relationship, so smoothly, that he can illustrate how great it is to be together with the only one you want to share things with, but that the places where the wavelength is not right, does not mesh, are the places that will endure. The sand and the rocks make an idyllic beach, but when the wide comes in, it’s not the rocks that wash out.
And I think, in a world where I have become sometimes unbearably negative that I no longer find Alvy’s negativity, Allen’s negativity towards everything to be as funny as I used to find it. They couldn’t have stayed that way, the targets in this film have been swept away by those forty years, the argument rendered invalid by time, but I’m only too aware of the utter self-centredness of Alvy’s running commentary, the ego that stipulates that only what I approve is worthwhile.
It’s still Diane Keaton’s film, though. It’s a wonderful performance, in every respect, and Annie Hall rightly made her a star. And she was ideal: an attractive woman who wasn’t unbelievably, film-star gorgeous. You believed that you could meet Annies playing tennis, and that they could fall for you. And you can get incredibly sad at the distance that grows between people when they stop being in love with each other. Which is worse, loathing or indifference? The final scene makes me think it’s the latter.
In the end, it comes back to that scene, when Alvy rewrites what wasn’t perfect for his own benefit and it doesn’t work. I’m working on the second draft now, having realised so many things that lie under the surface. I could make a plausible case, in psychological terms, for giving ‘myself’ more than I had, but I’d still know that it was wish-fulfilment. And wish-fulfilment doesn’t work: Woody Allen taught me that forty years ago, one November Saturday when I was young.