All this week, inspired by Cinema-Fanatic.com’s Woody Allen Blogathon, I’ve decided to showcase my favorite moments from what I consider his magnum opus, Annie Hall (1977). Each day at noon, check back for more of Allen’s comic genius (and utter narcissism) as he fights for (and loses) Diane Keaton’s heart, wrangles lobsters, and ponders the subtle phonetic difference between “Jew” and “D’you.” To kick off this orgy of Annie-philia, I begin at the beginning. With Allen’s joke-laden, fourth-wall-breaking monologue:
There’s an old joke. Um, two elderly women are a Catskill Mountain resort, and one of them says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know, and such small portions!” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life: full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly!
If viewers weren’t aware of Allen’s Borscht-Belt-meets-Bergman schtick going in, they are now. Although it’s essentially a glorified stand-up routine, this opening really gives the film a “postmodern masterpiece” aura, self-consciously framing its non-chronological love story within the context of Allen’s career and pet philosophical obsessions. However, this head-on quality isn’t what sticks with me most about the opening. No, it’s the background.
That beige background is just part of the scene’s absolute visual minimalism. But I’ve always wondered at the choice of beige. It looks slightly dated, but also more distinctive than white or black. It also detracts from the likelihood that the scene’s just, oh, in an empty comedy club or against a random wall. The beige has always given me an otherworldly sci-fi vibe, as if Allen’s floating in some ambiguous space outside of Annie Hall’s diegetic reality. It might be only an arbitrary set decoration choice, but it really colors my perception of the ensuing film. It’s self-indulgent and occasionally grating, yes, but Annie Hall’s still a work to be reckoned with.