New York (1975)
Annie Hall is director and star Woody Allen's love letter to his hometown, New York City. Allen and New York are as inextricably linked as peanut butter and jelly, as chips and salsa, or—since we're talking about the Big Apple—as pizza and pizza-rats.
Case in point: Allen is notoriously shy when it comes to award shows. The director and his films have been nominated for dozens of Academy Awards, but he has only attended the Big Show once, in 2002, after the September 11th attacks on Manhattan.
On stage, introducing a package of New York film clips, Allen urged filmmakers to come back to The Big Apple and keep making movies. "You know, for New York City, you know, I'll do anything," Allen said of the rare appearance. "I got my tux. I came out here."
Want Realism? Ask Spike Lee
Just as Alvy is prone to fantasies, Allen's the first to admit that the New York of Annie Hall, and of many of the director's movies, is a romanticized version of the city. "My memories of New York are unrealistic," he told reporters in a 2009 interview. "[…] I never knew New York as it really existed. For that, you have to speak to Spike Lee or Martin Scorsese."
It's that idealized version of New York that Alvy's equally in love—nay, lurve—with. The city is essentially a character in the film. For Alvy, it is without faults. When Annie rejects Alvy's plea that she return with him to New York at the end of the movie, he's flummoxed and takes it as a personal rejection. He simply can't understand why anybody would want to live anywhere other than New York, which he sees as the cultural capital of the universe.
The Unbearable Lightness of Los Angeles
Annie Hall's New York is a city where anything can happen. It's the sandbox for Alvy's fantastical adventures. It's also the total opposite of Los Angeles. Only in New York's crowded streets can he solicit advice on his love life from random people walking down the street… as well as a police horse. Only in New York's cramped, pulsating intellectual climate can Alvy's neuroses run rampant.
L.A.? No way!
The way the film is shot reflects these contrasting attitudes about the two cities. According to film critic Mel Gussow, "The New York scenes, Annie and Alvy's love story, were filmed only on gray, overcast days or at sundown. […] California, which [Alvy] hates, is shot right into the sun. Everybody is so white that they seem to vaporize." Given the way Alvy constantly hates on Los Angeles, we're pretty sure he'd be okay with the city vaporizing right off of the map. (No offense, Angelenos.)
Alvy hates everything about Los Angeles: its superficiality, its dumbing-down of culture, the freedom it gives Annie, and, perhaps most of all, the fact that it's not New York.
Alvy + NYC 4Eva
New York isn't just Alvy's home base; it's also his identity. Take, for example, when Alvy and Annie hit Tony's party in Los Angeles. Tony says he actually used to live in New York, but he thinks it's gotten so dirty now. Alvy retorts:
ALVY: I'm into garbage. It's my thing.
New York City is Alvy's #1 gal, and he'll defend her 'til the end—garbage and all. Annie Hall simply couldn't be set anyplace else.
Thoroughly Modern Annie
Annie Hall was released in 1977, but it's set in 1975. Although 1975 is by now the distant past, it's modern by 1977 standards, and Annie Hall's modern setting is just as important to the story as its New York backdrop. It's a grown-up love story. The movie reflects mid-70s attitudes about dating, love, and, especially, women's rights and freedoms.
Let's set the scene just a little bit: In 1975, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was just nine years old. The United Nations declared 1975 International Women's Year and put together the first World Conference on Women. The United States Congress passed legislation that finally allowed women into military academies. In 1975, for women, the fight for equality—socially, politically, economically, you name it—was officially on like Donkey Kong.
So for Annie to be more than just Alvy's affable gal pal (and to ultimately choose her career and independence in Los Angeles over Alvy and his neuroses) was kind of a big deal, Shmoopers. Ditto for her attitudes about sex. Annie operates on her own terms. She has her own wants and needs, independent of Alvy. He wants her to move back to New York? Tough. Annie's got to do Annie.
With its modern, urban setting, Annie Hall the movie reflects contemporary American attitudes about relationships. And Annie Hall the character not only illustrates women's evolving attitudes and rights when it comes to love, sex, men, and careers, but also how many more battles were in store.