FOCUS Auteur

Classical 'auteur' theory ascribes the chief creative force of a film to the director. Thus the director is auteur (author) of the film. He 'writes' in pictures. To be described as an auteur, a director must present his or her world view. In terms of narrative, Allen appears to fit the criteria for auteurship to the point where the films can become a blur, with the angst-ridden, New York,

Jewish, intellectual central character from one film blending almost seamlessly with the angst-ridden, New York, Jewish, intellectual central character from the next. Allen's themes, indeed his films, centre around himself and his neurotic obsessions with sex, death and psychoanalysis amongst the intellectual elite of New York. Annie Hall is no exception to this, but this does not detract from the qualities of the film and its director. In tackling the problems and frustrations of adult relationships he addresses adult anxieties with wit, insight and imagination as well as humour.

The obvious argument against auteur theory is that film is a collaborative art form requiring the creative input of a team of people other than the director. Thus we might wish to consider the creative input of writer, actors and cinematographer, to name but a few. Here Allen sidesteps the issue by taking on these roles too. He is the writer of most of his films. He usually plays the central character and the subject matter is based on himself and his relationships. Taken together these roles make him a very strong candidate for auteurship; as writer, performer and director, he appears to have overall creative control over the themes and content as well as the look of his films.

Perhaps the fact that Allen seems to be the quintessential auteur tells us more about the flaw in the theory than anything else. The idea of authorship is borrowed from literature. Thus applying it to film is always problematic; it can be a useful analytical tool but only if we recognise that pure auteur theory is nonsense. Films are not like novels - they do not have a single author. In Allen's case we come as close as possible to an author and this perhaps reflects his literate and literary background. He began his career writing jokes for Sid Caesar before moving into stand-up and going on to write plays and screenplays - e.g. What's New Pussycat? (Dormer, USA/France, 1965). This theatrical training is ever present in his work, so that the films still rely on character and dialogue for their effect. The humour lies in the words. Perhaps we should best describe him as an 'author' rather than an 'auteur', filming his words rather than writing in pictures. But in this film we are watching the work of a master cinematographer (Gordon Willis). Herein lies the problem. Classic auteur theory requires a visual signature as well as a unifying set of themes. Does Allen have one?

Annie Hall centres around the relationship between Alvie Singer (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). A key to its

Annie Hall

creator is the fact that the film is titled Annie Hall but starts in documentary style (a strategy utilised earlier with Take the Money and Run, 1969) with Alvie (Allen) talking to camera about his feelings on life, 'full of loneliness and misery and suffering', childhood, relationships and psychoanalysis. Already the boundaries between Allen, the man, and Alvie, his character, seem tenuous, and it is clear that this is only a film about Annie Hall in so far as it deals with his feelings for, perception of and relationship with her.

The most striking aspect of the opening sequences of the film and one of the keys to the film's success is the imaginative and comic way in which Allen constructs character and explores identity and repression. For example, the adult Alvie tells us with an absolutely deadpan face, 'I had a reasonably happy childhood in Brooklyn'; the film then cuts to a flashback where the child Alvie is with his mother seeing a psychiatrist. His mother tells us, 'He's been depressed.' This kind of comic irony abounds throughout the film. In a further flashback to childhood we see the young Alvie in school. In a technique borrowed from Bergman's Wild Strawberries (Smultonstallet) (Sweden, 1957), the adult Alvie then appears in the classroom, sits at one of the desks and attempts to defend his youthful self from the criticisms of the teacher. This kind of imaginative narrative device is both comic and illustrative of character, suggesting as it does the forces that influence development. Further examples continue to break the diegesis of the film - for example, when Alvie produces Marshall McLuhan to uphold his argument (about McLuhan's work) in the cinema queue or when Alvie and Annie observe and comment on Annie with her previous lover. It is this kind of (European?) freewheeling through the Hollywood convention of verisimilitude that gives Annie Hall its particular, sophisticated and ironic brand of comedy.

Annie Hall provides us with a funny, touching, accomplished and original examination of relationships. It is an adult film about adult life that succeeds in making the issues facing real people (although from a particular and sophisticated milieu) cinematically interesting. The strengths of Annie Hall without doubt lie in the writing as well as the performances. It is worth noting that Allen's visual style has become more polished with time. Some of the later films - e.g. Manhattan (1979) and Everyone Says I Love You (1996) - are as distinctive in their visual style as their writing.

Some Things to Watch out for and Consider

• Consider the symbiotic (?) relationship between Allen the man - his life and times - and Allen the director and character actor.

• Within his work and within individual films Allen seems uncertain whether to go for broad comedy or psychological complexity. Consider how Annie Hall deals with this dichotomy. Consider if (and if so why) Annie Hall is seen as one of his most successful films.

• Compare the ways in which Allen breaks the diegesis of Annie Hall with those used in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) (including 'The Purple Rose of Cairo'!).

• In some of the later films - e.g. Bullets over Broadway (1994) - Allen has attempted to 'move away' from himself, both as subject and star. How effective has this strategy been?

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