Study Guide

Annie Hall Production Design

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Production Design

When it comes to cinematic devices in Annie Hall, all bets are off. You want split-screen and subtitles? Annie's got 'em. Animation? No problem. How about some fancy-pants double exposure? This movie's got that, too.

All of these twists and turns aren't there just to drive film students into a frenzy, though. They also reinforce one of the movie's major themes. We're talking about the thin line between reality and fantasy, Shmooper.

Ye Olde Movie Magic

Production-wise, anything's possible in Annie Hall. All that's required is a little movie magic. For example, in the split-screen where Alvy and Annie visit their therapists, cinematographer Gordon Willis relied not on camera tricks, but on an actual split-screen set, with a thin wall separating Alvy and Annie so both halves of the action could be shot at once.

And here's the thing: Whether they're sophisticated or as totally old-school as a carefully deployed plywood wall, all of the unique cinematic techniques dished out in Annie Hall keep viewers on their toes… just like a real relationship does.

The Bergman Effect

Before you run out into the street in your bathrobe shouting "Woody Allen is a genius!" we should probably tell you upfront that he actually nicked several of the visual devices used in Annie Hall from one of his idols, Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

Allen's a huge Bergman fanboy. That opening monologue straight into the camera? That's a nod to Bergman films like Winter Light and Hour of the Wolf. (Of course, if you're Swedish, you'd probably recognize them better by their original titles: Nattvardsgästerna and Vargtimmen. No, those aren't the names of IKEA desks.)

The scene where grown-up Alvy and school-aged Alvy team up in Lil' Alvy's classroom? An homage to Bergman's Smultronstället—er, we mean Wild Strawberries. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Shmooper. Especially if it means winning a wagonfull of Oscars.

Between Your Ears

Less important than where those nifty cinematic devices come from is what they do. Whether it's Alvy explaining his troubles to a police horse or Annie's spirit floating out of her body to search for her drawing pad, all of these production choices reflect the way our brains really work.

They "constitute ingenious filmic means of dramatizing the difference between surface and substance," explains Peter J. Bailey in his book The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen. Or, in layman's terms, they reflect all of the crazy stuff that courses between our ears when we experience something. Our hopes, dreams, and fears take a wide variety of forms.

Lights, Camera, Lols

Annie Hall's inventive production techniques also bring the funny. Comedy's all about observation—specifically, the difference between what happens and how we perceive it.

Take, for example, the scene where Alvy and Annie have a drink on the roof of Annie's building and their nervous inner monologues are revealed via subtitles. Both characters appear cool, calm, and collected on the outside, but the subtitles provide another story.

The glimpses we get into each character's head are telling, and the disparity between what they're thinking and what they're saying is so funny you just might choke on your Sour Patch Kids.

I Get So Emotional, Baby

The swan dives we take into Alvy's psyche are also totally relatable. Relationships aren't all unicorns and fro-yo, and Annie Hall doesn't shy away from the heartbreak, paranoia, or late-night spider-killing that come with the average romance.

More specifically, the cinematic techniques in Annie Hall send Alvy's anxieties to the front and force us to identify with our main man Alvy. "These devices draw the viewer inside Alvy so that his emotional landscape becomes the viewer's as well," Peter J. Bailey explains. They don't just look cool or make us laugh; they're our windows into Alvy's neurotic soul.

Jabber Jaws

The only thing Alvy loves more than the New York Knicks is… talking. About books, about his worldview, about his relationship with Annie, about himself, period. To make room for all of that jaw flapping, the scenes in Annie Hall are super-sized. The run-time of a scene in Annie Hall is more than double that of a scene in the Michael Arbeiter average 1977 flick.

But the XXL scene length in Annie Hall makes a lot of sense. Relationship conversations are never short and sweet… especially when one party might just turn into a cartoon character at a moment's notice.

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