Tag Archives: Manhattan

Great Annie Hall Gag Dumbed-Down to Near Extinction

Back in 1979, Woody Allen inadvertently helped invent the Home Theatre Experience when he insisted that his film Manhattan be transferred to VHS only in the letterboxed format.



So, instead of this aesthetically compromising pan-and-scan version…





                        …we got this:


And since there were no “rules” in place yet, Allen and cinematographer Gordon Willis settled on a neutral gray matte for the letterboxing.

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Ever since then, however, Woody Allen has been less concerned with how his body of work is preserved for the home market, which is sad since that’s where it will be seen most from now on.


The first thing I noticed is that when Manhattan went to DVD in 2000, the gray bars were gone:

This is hardly cause for alarm. Certainly, Woody’s allowed to change his mind, and I know some people thought the gray was a little twee. As for me, I’ve seen Manhattan with the gray bars dozens of times, so it’s disconcerting to see it otherwise. The sad truth is that I don’t think MGM (who released the DVD) asked Woody Allen for his opinion, and I don’t think he cared one way or another.

Still, that’s small potatoes compared to this…

Twenty-five minutes into Woody Allen’s 1977 Annie Hall, his character Alvy Singer and Annie have their first meeting. This extended sequence of memorable lines (“That’s OK. We can walk to the curb from here”) and 70s urban mating ritual culminates with the Balcony Scene, which plays more like a year of therapy than a scene in a comedy. In it, while Alvy and Annie try to impress each other with intellectual observations, we see their insecure thoughts as subtitles. For those who need a refresher, here’s the scene. For the rest, here’s a sample of how it once looked on film, TV and VHS:

And yet, now, when you watch the only version on DVD available in the US, here’s an idea of what you see…

HuhI? Someone at MGM really thinks I need to be told that the words on the screen aren’t the ones coming from Annie and Alvy’s mouths? If they think I’m that dumb, then why not do these subtitles as well…

Or…

Sadly, I can easily imagine a first time viewer of the film (and my generation has to accept the fact that not everybody has seen Annie Hall) being confused by the inclusion of “[thinking]” in the subtitles, assuming that that’s what Woody Allen had intended. (God, what a dreadful thought.)

I can accept and respect the fact that Woody doesn’t do commentaries or ‘making of’ docs (more in a later post on my feelings about that), but I hope he’d at least protect one of his most brilliant and enduring gags. (And I mean that, too; it might not be the funniest joke in Annie Hall, but, my God, does it stick with you.)

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And just for the Hell of it, what if Woody Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman decided to limit their insights to just Woody’s character (perhaps calling the film Alvy Singer). Then maybe the Balcony Scene would look a little something like this…

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Filed under Film, Gripes