September 12th, 2020


Whoniversaries 12 September: Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Reign of Terror #6

i) births and deaths

12 September 2005: death of Ronald Leigh-Hunt, who played Commander Julian Radnor in The Seeds of Death (Second Doctor, 1969) and Commander Stevenson in Revenge of the Cybermen (Fourth Doctor, 1975).

12 September 2014: death of Christopher Wray, who played PC Groom in The Dæmons (Third Doctor, 1972) and Leading Seaman Lovell in The Sea Devils (Third Doctor, 1973).

ii) broadcast anniversary

12 September 1964: broadcast of "Prisoners of the Conciergerie", sixth and final episode of the story we now call The Reign of Terror, ending the original first season of Doctor Who. Ian and Barbara encounter Napoleon; Robespierre is overthrown; the Tardis crew escape, musing on destiny and history. A pretty hefty burden for the team, after nine months of solid performance to turn out the weekly show!

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Annie Hall

Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1977, and won three others, Best Director (Woody Allen), Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton in the title role). Woody Allen lost Best Actor to Richard Dreyfus in The Goodbye Girl. Star Wars won six Oscars to Annie Hall's four.

Star Wars and The Goodbye Girl were also up for Best Pictures; so were Julia and The Turning Point. I have only seen one of those. Star Wars of course won the Hugo and a special Nebula, and is top of both IMDB rankings, with Annie Hall second on one system and seventh on the other. I have seen twelve other films made in 1977, which beats last year's record. They are: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Rescuers, Pete's Dragon, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (many many times), Capricorn One, Jabberwocky (which has a particular romantic association for me), Candleshoe, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, ABBA: The Movie and The Year of the Hare, this last being a lovely Finnish film which I caught once on late night TV and was absolutely captivated by. To be honest, I would not rank Annie Hall as high up that list as some (Star Wars defintiely belongs at the top). Here's a trailer.

Annie Hall is the story of the love life of New Yorker Alvy Singer, played by writer/director Woody Allen, in particular his on/off relationship with Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton. I had seen it years ago and found it mildly funny. I'm afraid this time I rather bounced off it, and it's going three quarters of the way down my table, between two other New York films, ahead of Gentleman's Agreement (which also tackles anti-semitism, but is even less subtle) and Going My Way (which has better music). Incidentally, this is roughly the 15th of the 50 Oscar-winning films set in and around New York, far more than any other location, or indeed continent.

Returning actors from previous Oscar and Hugo-winning films: well, we start at the top, as both Woody Allen and Diane Keaton starred in the Hugo-winning Sleeper four years earlier.

Diane Keaton was also in both The Godfather and The Godfather II:

A welcome reappearance from an earlier Oscar-winning film is "It Had to Be You", sung early on by Keaton as Annie Hall, somewhat for laughs:

We had this before in Casablanca:

But in general I found the film falling rather flat. It's a film about a Jewish guy in which almost all the speaking characters are white. (Allen doesn't cast black actors.) It really doesn't pass the Bechdel Test - there is no scene in which two named women talk to each other (Mom Hall and Alvy's mother are not named, and anyway what we can make out of the conversations over the dinner table seems to be about men.)

Fundamentally, I found Alvy, who we understand to be Allen's interpretation of himself, just not a very engaging character. There are some funny lines - a few very funny lines - but this is someone who thinks he is much more interesting than he really is, and whose failed relationships are largely his own fault because in the end he cares more about himself than about the other people in his life. We are supposed to find this sympathetic and interesting, but I just found it sad and rather boring.

Fair play to Diane Keaton, who, given the chance to re-enact her own relationship with Allen in a fictionalised way, takes it and runs with it and is much the most sympathetic character in the film. I am glad that she got away.

Also on the plus side, the camerawork is very good, and evokes the different settings of New York and California well (except, as noted above, that there seem to be no black people in either), and it's fun to see cameos from before-they-were-famous Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken and (blink and you'll miss her) Sigourney Weaver.

The elephant in the room, of course, are the allegations about Allen's private life which inevitably affect how we now look at all of his work. My stomach turned at the scene where young schoolboy Alvy goes to the girl at the next desk and kisses her against her will, so that she jumps up in distress; the film then cuts back to an adult Alvy sitting in the middle of the class. Sorry to be brutal, but this is nothing other than the central character sexually harassing a six-year-old and the film playing it for laughs.

I'll give the McLuhan moment significant points for being one of the very funny moments in the film, and indeed one of the funnest moments in all of cinema. Unfortunately McLuhan himself muffs the line (or else it was badly written, but I think he mre likely misremembered it): what on earth is meant by "You mean my whole fallacy is wrong"? Surely the one defining thing of a fallacy is that it is, in fact, wrong?

OK, that was not as bad as Patton, but it didn't work as well for me as it did for the voters of 1978.

So, that's half a century of Oscar-winning films, three years after I started this project with Wings in September 2017. Here is my official and definitive ranking, the most recent ten in red - half of them in the top half, half in the bottom half, two in the top ten, which I guess is a relatively even distribution.

50) The Great Ziegfeld (Oscar for 1936)
49) Cimarron (1930/31)
48) Cavalcade (1932/33)
47) Wings (1927/28)
46) Broadway Melody (1928/29)
45) All The King’s Men (1949)
44) Patton (1970)
43) Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
42) The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
41) Tom Jones (1963)
40) Gone With the Wind (1939)
39) Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
38) Annie Hall (1977)
37) Going My Way (1944)
36) The French Connection (1971)
35) My Fair Lady (1964)
34) How Green Was My Valley (1941)
33) Mrs Miniver (1942)
32) On The Waterfront (1954)
31) The Godfather Part II (1974)
30) In the Heat of the Night (1967)
29) Grand Hotel (1931/32)
28) The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
27) Marty (1955)
26) Rocky (1976)
25) Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
24) Gigi (1958)
23) It Happened One Night (1934)
22) You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
21) The Lost Weekend (1945)
20) Hamlet (1948)
19) From Here To Eternity (1953)
18) Around The World In Eighty Days (1956)
17) Ben-Hur (1959)
16) The Sting (1973)
The Godfather (1972)
Oliver! (1968)
13) The Apartment (1960)
12) All About Eve (1950)
11) The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
10) West Side Story (1961)
9) A Man for all Seasons (1966)
8) Midnight Cowboy (1969)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
6) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
5) All Quiet on the Western Front (1929/30)
4) Rebecca (1940)
3) An American in Paris (1951)
2) The Sound of Music (1965)
1) Casablanca (1943)

Next up: The Deer Hunter (Oscar) and Superman (Hugo), both of which I have seen.