Well, maybe we should just call the police” a panicked Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) intones. “Dial nine-one-one, it's the lobster squad.
In an unforgettable scene in Allen’s masterpiece Annie Hall, the diminutive actor plays out a ramshackle preparation of a lobster dinner in which a pod of crustaceans manage to escape from their fate and run amok across the kitchen. Whilst Singer becomes shrill and bamboozled by the runaway lunch, an amused Annie (Diane Keaton) observes with wry detachment. It’s a bonding episode of which the two lovers will be able to recall, and laugh at together, for years to come.
If only love ran so smoothly.
In Annie Hall, widely considered to be Allen’s masterpiece, we experience the highs and lows of love in a manner which is simultaneously bittersweet, euphoric and often hilarious. Released in 1977, the movie catches Allen perfectly in the midst of his transition from the scattershot comedy of his earlier features and the quasi-Bergman-esque philosophising of his erratic later output. Never again would the writer-director be able to so perfectly balance humour and pathos in his films.
Annie Hall tells the tale of a comedian attempting to come to terms with the break-up of his relationship with the film’s title character one year previously. In flashback, Singer regales us with the idiosyncrasies of their romance, their immutable and indefinable entwinement and how, despite all of this, their love story was never due a happy ending.
In many ways, Annie Hall proved to be a ground-breaking movie. Since its release Allen has come to be recognised as something more than a prolific gag-smith; critics have since widely praised him for the emotional and philosophical sincerity he brings to his films as well as his impeccable punchlines. Diane Keaton, in the title role, helped to create the archetype of “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl” from which most modern romantic comedies take their basis. Screenwriters began to pepper their tales equally with melodramatic laments and throwaway zingers in tribute to an instantly iconic movie.
Perhaps the most startling moments in the entire tale, however, comes with Singer – deeply heartbroken – attempting to recreate the lobster scene with a new romantic interest. The chemistry of two souls and the spark of spontaneity are missing; his attempts at humour fall flat as Singer fails to recapture a moment that was once so pure and true.
Since Annie Hall, we have seen Allen himself attempt to recapture the magic of his most iconic feature on a number of occasions with re-treads and re-workings of the movie which cemented his name. With features such as Anything Else, we see Allen try to recreate his most famous work in the same manner in which Singer attempted to recapture the electricity of his and Annie’s moment with the escaped lobsters.
Time and again, it fails. Yet, approaching four decades later, film critics and fans of the 1977 movie trip over themselves each time Allen releases a new film to gleefully proclaim his newest endeavour is a “return to form” (a turn of phrase which means “of comparable quality to Annie Hall”). Even though we know he’ll never reach those sublime heights again, we stick with him and persevere only to be disappointed time and again. And we do so through hope – hope that we’ll feel the way we did the first time we saw Annie Hall; like Singer, we pray to recapture a fleeting moment of euphoria we experienced before. We hope Allen can recapture lightning in a bottle, in the same way Singer hoped to recreate lobsters in a kitchen.
The reason for the movie’s enduring appeal is that Annie Hall, like Annie Hall, is one of a kind.
A film which joins the pantheon of iconic Hollywood romances – like Casablanca, Groundhog Day, Rushmore and The Apartment, Allen’s classic balances wry humour with profound, earnest honesty. It’s a movie which is impossible to forget or recreate. Like Singer we need to realise that another Annie Hall (or Annie Hall) isn't so easy to come across.
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