Monday, July 23, 2012

"Annie Hall"and My Manhattan Mythology

I saw Annie Hall Sunday afternoon at the Center for Jewish History's Only in New York summer film series.

Now, several hours later, I am freaking out.

I mean really and truly flipping out, complete with dry mouth and sweaty palms and a feeling of surreality.

My freak-out began when I looked the film up on the IMDb and noted that it was released in 1977.

Meaning 35 years ago.

Except that I remember the day I saw Annie Hall as if it were, well, yesterday.

Or more truthfully, I remember the me who first saw the smart, verbal, Freudian-slip-aware, Jewish, groundbreaking cinematic event that was Annie Hall because I slipped back into my 17-year-old self for the duration of the film and only partially emerged afterwards. A kid from Queens, I sat in my seat taking notes, getting a crash course in becoming that thing I so desperately wanted to become: a complicated, neurotic and sexy New York intellectual who would be adored by a brainy, emotionally unstable New York man.

It was the big screen, I think, that sent me hurling backwards yesterday through the portal of time, for I have seen Annie Hall many times on smaller screens in the intervening years.

It was the big screen and the communal experience of the movie theatre that conspired to mess with my mind. The minute the lights went out in the auditorium, I was powerless to resist. The movie -- so well-trod by me that I can recite the dialogue together with the actors -- began and I was pulled inside.

It was utterly overwhelming to behold the vivid depiction of Manhattan -- my personal Manhattan -- before all the new and necessary communication and information devices entered our daily lives. The city was so raw and gritty and magical before it got slick and exclusive and trendy. At one point in the film, Annie Hall complains to Alvy Singer that she is paying a fortune for her adorable apartment -- that fortune being $400 a month -- and everywhere in the auditorium there were audible chuckles. In scene after scene, my heart keened for the long-gone economy, street-scapes and storefronts, for movie theaters now extinct...only to leap with joy in recognition of that which stayed the same.

Thirty-five years ago, Woody Allen was a lovable schmendrick, a fetching nebbish, desirable because he was all about wounded-ness and over-intellectualism, Jewish paranoia and existential despair. He was wise-cracking, earnest, wordy and, yet sincere. Smart, sensitive men related to him. Women admitted to having a crush on this most unlikely of leading men.

He wasn't yet a strange, pervy, sorta-incestuous creepy genius/misogynist who seduced Mia Farrow's adopted Asian daughter and then married her.

And smart, sensitive girls like me aspired to be like Diane Keaton -- cooly stylish, WASPY, adorably flaky -- though we were none of the above.

Thirty-five years have elapsed since I first saw Annie Hall. Through this film, Woody Allen declared neurosis the must-have accessory for Manhattan living and shaped the character of the city for decades to come.

It is now well after midnight and I am no less mind-blown than I was eight hours earlier. Something profound happened to me yesterday in the auditorium of a Jewish cultural center in Manhattan's Flatiron district, surrounded by people who are mostly my parents' age. A terrifying realization: Though elderly now, they were my age when the film first came out. And equally terrifying: I am a lot older than Annie Hall, the character I aspired to be. It was a time warp. It was an existential head trip. It made me ponder who I was then and what I've become. It caused me to examine artifice and aspiration -- in my city and myself.

I am staring through my reflection in the midnight window of my Manhattan apartment, trying to nail down the essence of something true and sustainable.

Revisiting Annie Hall in the summer of 2012 has left me sifting through the layers of my personal mythology, hoping to uncover the bedrock of my city and myself.


Amy Urquhart said...

I came across your post when I searched for an image of Annie Hall, and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it.

Shira Dicker said...

Thank you Amy!!