NARRATOR: This is the story of girl meets cinema class. The girl, Vinette Gutierrez, of San Francisco, California, grew up believing that she could never truly find inspiration in a movie… You should know up front, this is not a love story.
Ok ok, I tried to rearrange lines from 500 Days Of Summer, to associate with my life. I know, embarrassing, but I did it. I mean, would you rather I try to write a monologue, like Woody Allen’s in the beginning of Annie Hall? Yeah, I thought so. No one wants to read through that. But really, I just wanted to share with you my most recent essay, only because I put a ton of work into it. It might not be in the right structure, I might not get an A, but I did put a ton of passion into it. So there.
Another thing, this is a truly personal essay and post for me. I know it might just seem like a regular comparison essay, but the passion it ignited was something crazy, and the metaphors and meanings behind it are even more complicated. I rarely go into my personal life, only because I feel that it’s something special and sacred that should be kept out of public forums etc. but right now, I’m all about burning borders instead of bridges, if that means anything to you.
Nevertheless, here it is (it turned out to be something like 7 pages in MLA format, so I seriously don’t expect anyone read the entire thing):
Perhaps one of the greatest events for me this year, academically, was having the chance to take a class with Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, movie reviewer for the San Francisco Guardian and host/curator of Midnites for Maniacs at The Historic Castro Theater in San Francisco, California. The class I chose to take with Jesse as the professor, was Post War Cinema, meaning, studying both international and domestic films from the late 1930s up until 1980.
At the beginning of the semester, Jesse asked the class to begin watching film with a critical eye, looking for encrypted messages, unique angles and signs of great story telling. He especially asked us to find a movie that we could feel passionate about; something that related to our own lives, because this would be our topic for our final paper.
It took me quite awhile to find a topic that interested me; one I could personally relate to, that inspired, a sort of, passion. I have always been into cinema, but it has always been hard for me to keep myself engaged in an entire feature film, without having glossy eyes midway through. But then, close to the end of the semester, the class was assigned to watch Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977). Previous to this, I had never watched a Woody Allen movie but upon watching it, I was in love with not just the film, but also Allen’s exceptional directing and writing style.
Annie Hall is a romantic comedy about the relationship between Alvy Singer, played by Woody Allen himself, and Annie Hall, played by actress Diane Keaton. The entire movie is told through the eyes of comedian, Alvy Singer. He is searching for reasons, his relationship with Annie ended one year before the film begins. Allen uses jump cuts to go back and forth between present day and his past with Annie. He also uses a different type of storytelling that was not seen in many movies before this time. Allen decided to tell his romantic comedy in a more sporadic sense, as opposed to showing events in a chronological timeline. Some of the most memorable scenes of the film include present day Alvy in a moment from his past, narrating what is happening within the scene. For example, when Alvy introduces his childhood, he shows his young classmates sitting in the class. Present day Alvy is sitting in the class participating and analyzing the situation. The movie also contains jump cuts of what, in Alvy’s mind, should happen verses what is actually happening.
After watching the entire movie multiple times, I began to see a comparison between Annie Hall and a more modern romantic comedy, (500) Days Of Summer (2009). (500) Days Of Summer chronicles the story of another young man, Tom Hansen, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as he accounts his 500 day relationship with Summer Finn, played by actress Zooey Deschanel. Tom, a recent architecture graduate who has little luck finding a job in his field, finds himself working for a greeting card company in Los Angeles, California. He meets Summer, a new employee to the company, in the elevator on their way out from work. It is the music of The Smith’s that initially brings them together. This film, just like Annie Hall, is told through a bunch of jump cuts moving in and out of present day with Tom, and the past, with both Tom and Summer. Perhaps one of the biggest similarities, within the story telling, is that both films begin at the end of the relationship. As each movie goes on, a viewer is taken through various parts, both good and bad, of each relationship, with the movie ending at present day, as opposed to ending at the beginning of their relationships. There is also a pivotal scene within (500) Days Of Summer in which Tom attends Summer’s party, after their relationship has ended, that shows Tom’s expectations verse reality. The only difference between this scene is that Tom’s ideas are shown side by side, in a split screen, while in Annie Hall, Alvy’s expectations are shown first and then a jump cut to Alvy’s reality.
After analyzing both films, I found that story wise, both are very similar, with the basic theme: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love, but girl does not. Girl leaves boy for a new, head over heals relationship. What is different about the two movies are the ways in which the main character is telling the story. For example, Tom, in (500) Days Of Summer never actually speaks to the camera, while Alvy, in Annie Hall, begins the film by speaking directly to the camera, explaining the circumstances of the movie, including the audience as a character throughout the film.
Seeing that I was intrigued with both Woody Allen’s and Marc Webb’s exceptional story telling and direction within their movies, I began to do even more research on why each director wanted to portray this kind of story. When Webb was asked about the direction and storytelling in his film, he stated, “”We arrive at a different conclusion, for one thing. Plus, most romantic comedies are more loyal to a formula than to emotional truth.” It seems that both writers were looking to do something that was, “out of the ordinary,” in filmmaking, for the time. Both felt they should not follow the romantic story formula, in which a relationship is told from beginning to end but told a the story of a relationship through a series of jump cuts, not necessarily telling in the order events happened. Both stories do not end in a typical way either. Each concludes with a failed relationship as a opposed to one where the two characters decide to reunite, resulting in happiness.
Another main similarity, happening more in the behind the scenes of the film, is the idea that both stories were written by men, for a woman they were once insanely in love with. Woody Allen famously had an affair with Diane Keaton, and has stated in an interview, “…And when I met Diane Keaton, and got friendly with her, and lived with her for a few years, I became so enamored of her, I just fell in love with her. I became so enamored of her as a human being, so in awe of her, that I started to write for her. I wrote Annie Hall for her…” Scott Neustadter, writer of (500) Days Of Summer said something similar to Allen, stating, “Revenge is writing a film about the girl who dumped you. Yes, there is a girl, who may or may not be called Jenny Beckman (The woman Neustadter allegedly wrote the film for). While they didn’t work together at a greeting card company he did fall hard, she didn’t quite feel the same way, and the pair still tried to make a casual relationship out of the deal.” Through these two statements, it is clear both writers wrote a story to honor the beauty and time spent in their relationship. The two seem to agree, although neither has outright stated, that within the relationship, there were both good times and bad, and that it was definitely something they will cherish throughout their lives, although their relationships have turned more platonic. The two writers took a step back, after their relationship had ended to find reasons why he is in the place he is now, much like anyone might after their own relationship has concluded.
For my parents’ generation, Annie Hall might have been the first movie, with a unique storytelling of an entire relationship while (500) Days Of Summer seems to be the movie of my generation that tells the same, but exclusive in it’s own way, story. Woody Allen and Marc Webb have brought characters to screen that I could easily identify with, Tom Hansen and Alvy Singer and then Summer Finn and Annie Hall in other instances of my life. The idea of honoring a relationship, in this way, had never crossed my mind until this movie was assigned to my class. While it may have been my own circumstances at the time, sparking my love for both movies, it may have also been the beautiful story telling and direction of both movies. Either way, I know these two movies; Annie Hall and (500) Days Of Summer are movies that will continue to influence me, as well as generations of audiences.
Thank you Jesse, not just for the wonderful semester, but for inspiring passion! And isn’t that what teaching is all about? I’m taking away so much from one class. THANK YOU. Keep teaching, keep reviewing, and keep sharing films!!!