The Narrational Modes of Annie Hall
November 11th 2008 @ 4:16 pm Bordwell,Uncategorized

In class today, we discussed Annie Hall in relation to the modes of art cinema, classical Hollywood and a touch of parametric narration. At the time I had a half-baked sort of though about historical-materialism, but couldn’t formulate it enough to possibly warrant mentioning it in class. But now that I’ve had a chance to marinate, here it is for your consideration:

Annie Hall can be considered with respect to the historical materialist mode. Not in terms of editing, obviously. In fact, not in terms of most of the salient features of historical materialism, but stick with me for a minute here. 

A few features of historical materialism, as laid out by Bordwell:

1. The syuzhet is both a narrative, and an argument.

Alvy is clearly presenting an argument about his actions over the course of the film. 

2. Typage defines characters as belonging/representing a prototype of an entire social group. 

Could Alvy Singer be more of a prototypical neurotic jew? His very appearance and physical mannerisms define him as such.

3. The end of the film is pre-determined, so the film is interested in how history unfolds.

From the get-go, we know that Alvy and Annie will break up. The film is interested in meditating on how this occurred. 

4. Overt-narration is used to identify the filmmaker, including defamiliarizing classical notions of time and space, self-conscious use of formal elements, and frontal staging of action, where characters directly address the camera.

I’m sure none of us would argue that Woody Allen, the filmmaker and authorial presence, has no bearing on Annie Hall. But more than that, the film does do it’s best to disrupt classical norms of “film reality.” Alvy will interrupt a scene to directly address the camera. Time and space are fluid concepts. Woody Allen self-consciously uses film form, including animation and subtitles, to further confuse classical notions of narrative. 

I’m not arguing that Annie Hall and October are genetically related. Annie Hall follows some of the generalized conventions of historical-materialism, but certainly not in the way the Soviet’s intended. I guess my point is, it is easy to write off the historical-materialist tradition as a discrete, and specifically historical (as in “in the past”) film movement localized to the Soviet Movement and solely concerned with films about the success of the socialist revolution. But looking at the movement as a mode, and as one including, but not limited to, Soviet notions of montage, opens the historical-materialist tradition and allows it to apply to such Hollywood creations as Annie Hall

-Leslie Stonebraker
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