La Di Da!!: Criterion to finally release Woody Allen’s “Anhedonia”

By on April 1, 2016

Criterion announced today that the director’s cut of Woody Allen’s previously unreleased Anhedonia — a much shorter version of which was later retitled Annie Hall and released into theaters in 1977 — will be released on a special 2-DVD deluxe package sometime later this year.

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We are beyond excited about this one, having read about Woody Allen’s fabled two hour and twenty-minute movie (some sources say it was actually closer to three hours) that was quite a bit different before Allen and editor Ralph Rosenblum made substantial cuts in the editing process, changing the movie from what originally had been the philosophical odyssey of a middle-aged stand-up comedian to what the film’s tagline called a “nervous romance.”

Anhedonia is the scientific term for the “psychological state where nothing gives a person pleasure,” Allen told the New York Times in 1977, talking about the film’s original title when the movie had not yet been released. “The word hedonism is in it. We diagnosed that as Alvy’s problem; nothing gives him any pleasure.’ Asked if that were his problem as well as his hero’s, he said, ‘I think everyone suffers from it, just as everyone is a little paranoid. I don’t develop big enthusiasms. I find filmmaking laborious and tedious. I try to mitigate it by working with Diane, who I like a lot. This time I gave myself a very big treat by working in New York. I think I will try to make off my films here.'”

One anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, has it that the then-head of United Artists, Arthur Krim, walked over to his penthouse office window and threatened to jump when he heard the title Allen wanted to use. The studio fought against it — they were unable to come up with an ad campaign that explained the meaning of the word — and Allen compromised on renaming the film after the central character just three weeks before the film’s premiere. Other titles Allen apparently suggested were It Had to Be Jew, A Rollercoaster Named Desire, and Me and My Goy.

Woody Allen During 'Annie Hall' Editing

Originally, Anhedonia was to be a Bergman-esque — or perhaps Fellini-esque (think 8 1/2) is more accurate — existential exploration of midlife as Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, who searches for meaning after turning 40 years old. Allen himself had just turned 40 when he and Marshall Brickman wrote the sceenplay in 1975.

Through a series of flashbacks and animation sequences, Singer was to be shown as he appeared in Annie Hall, as a neurotic 40-year-old comedian hilariously assessing his life from the age of six, living with his parents under a roller coaster and obsessed with kissing girls, all the way up to the present day. The house under the rollercoaster where Alvy grows up is actually the Kensington Hotel in Coney Island, Brooklyn which was located underneath the Thunderbolt rollercoaster (both the hotel and rollercoaster were demolished in 2000).

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The romantic sub-plot — that is, the love story between Singer and Annie, played by a luminous Diane Keaton — was originally just that, a minor part of the larger overall story, and one of many subplots in Anhedonia. In fact, the character of Annie Hall wasn’t supposed to appear in the film until about halfway through. Asked about it at the time, Allen said: “It was originally a picture about me, exclusively, not about a relationship.”

In the end, Annie Hall ended up being the central focus of the movie, because, unlike Alvy Singer — who, as the original title suggests, is suffering from depression and having a string of unsuccessful romantic relationships in an attempt to fill the emptiness in his life, without ever coming to terms with the reasons why — she is able to improve herself and comes to terms with her own issues, which enables her to experience pleasure. Her increasing sense of comfort and growing self-worth threatens Alvy, and it ultimately dooms their stalled relationship, which is referred to in one celebrated scene as a “dead shark.”

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Incidentally, here’s a few bits of trivia about the character of Annie: Kay Lenz (of Breezy fame) was actually who Allen wanted for the part, but her boyfriend at the time, actor/singer David Cassidy, convinced her to turn it down. Perhaps it was inevitable that Keaton — who ended up winning an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Annie — would get the role; after all, her real name, after all, is Diane Hall, and her nickname is Annie. Additional trivia: Keaton wore her own clothes in the movie, inspiring a late 70s fashion craze.

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The restored edits, trimmed from the final cut, are rumored to include entire scenes and characters that run the gamut in terms of film genre styles and plots, including a murder mystery sub-plot (this occurred early in the film, where Annie shows up late at the movie theater — they then return to their apartment to find that a neighbor has been murdered; Allen later reused the same storyline in his film Manhattan Murder Mystery, in 1993).

Another cut scene featured Singer and his friend Rob, who are walking down a New York street when they happen upon Satan, wearing a suit, who takes them on a guided elevator tour through the bowels of Hell. At each level there are different evils – fast food servers, etc. At the final level, they meet Richard Nixon. Allen actually later re-used this idea in his film Deconstructing Harry, which came out in 2002.

Another scene (the ending of which survives in the final cut of Annie Hall) shows Alvy Singer, in jail after smashing up a few cars, including his rental car, in the parking lot of the Source health food restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, and then tearing up his driver’s license in front of a motorcycle cop because he has “a terrific problem with authority,” shows Singer and his fellow inmates improvising a sing-along prison blues song, complete with harmonica accompaniment. Criterion have used this scene for the cover of the new deluxe packaging.

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Other cuts include: a fantasy sequence in which Singer and players on the New York Knicks are playing a basketball game at Madison Square Garden against five renown philosophers, including Kierkegaard and Nietzsche:

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Allen, quoted in the January 6, 2002 edition of The Observer Sport Monthly:

“In 1971, I wrote and shot a scene for Annie Hall involving the Knicks and Earl The Pearl. I was extolling the concept of the physical over the cerebral, so I wrote a fantasy basketball game in which all the great thinkers of history – Kant and Nietzsche and Kierkegaard – played against the Knicks. I cast actors who looked like those philosophers to play those roles and they played against the real Knicks. We used the players on the team at that time including Earl, Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier, and we shot it inside Madison Square Garden after the last game of the season. Of course the Knicks were smooth and beat the philosophers easily; all their cerebration was impotent against the Knicks. But I cut the scene from the picture, not because it didn’t come out, but because I had to keep the picture moving and it was too much of a digression. It didn’t break my heart not to use it in the film. I always feel that anything I cut out of a film is always a mercy killing.”

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Other mercy killing cuts included in the original Anhedonia:  a trip to Nazi Germany; a scene showing Singer as a teenager working in a “junk food” restaurant, where Danny Aiello ends up getting into a brawl (Aiello was completely cut from the film, as was Harvey Fierstein); extensive additional scenes featuring actresses Carol Kane, Janet Margolin, Colleen Dewhurst and Shelley Duvall, including a Garden Of Eden sequence with Singer and Duvall’s character; and a black & white 50s-style science fiction-esque parody called “Invasion Of The Element,” with Singer’s parents acting nervous about a black family moving into their neighborhood.

There were also additional segments showing Alvy’s former classmates all grown up in the present day — Brooke Shields even appeared in a deleted scene in which she played a schoolgirl crush of young Alvy’s.

The Annie Hall Shoot

Apparently Rosenblum made one negative from the first cut and stowed it away for posterity because he knew the director would one day want to revisit the film as he’d first envisioned it. Allen, who has long had a reputation for being as merciless as Stanley Kubrick with deleted footage, famously never kept outtakes and deleted scenes. He either incinerated or destroyed them in some fashion, which is why none of Allen’s movies on DVD have any extras, other than a trailer.

Rosenblum — who wrote about the cutting process in his excellent film memoir, When The Shooting Stops..The Cutting Begins — claims that there was one scene in which Singer looks at a traffic advisory sigh that actually urges him to go to California to reunite with Annie, but after seeing it, Allen was so appalled by how cute the scene was, that he took the footage and through it into the East River (the traffic-sign motif was later used in Steve Martin’s L.A. Story, in 1991).

Rosenblum’s memoir claims that it took the two of them six weeks to come up with a long first cut. “I felt that the film was running off in nine different directions,” he writes. “The film never got going.” He calls the first cut “nondramatic and ultimately uninteresting, a kind of cerebral exercise.”

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Whenever the movie returned to the present day from whatever tangents it had gone on, the love story between Annie and Alvy began to emerge, and Rosenblum says “It was clear to Woody and me that the film started moving whenever present-tense material with him and Keaton dominated the screen.”

He and Allen began to cut around that relationship, losing the scenes that slowed down the immediacy of the love story.

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More than twenty minutes from the beginning of the film were trimmed out, and Brickman, who had already seen the long first cut, was astonished at the way the film looked after a second attempt to shorten it, apparently saying he felt “as if my ‘flesh had been ripped off.”

With all of the footage cut that didn’t work, Allen found that he had to shoot a few transitional scenes to make the new edit work, and there were some happy accidents that came along in that process too. The opening of the film, in fact, where comedian Alvy Singer talks directly to the audience — telling them a few jokes and ending with one where he proclaims that life is “full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness—and it’s all over much too quickly” — was one of those scenes.

Another scene that was filmed much later was the now iconic scene in which Singer sneezes into $2,000 worth of cocaine. It was added primarily to have Alvy announce that he and Annie were going out to California for an awards show presentation, but it ended up getting the film’s biggest laugh. In fact, the sneeze worked so well with test audiences that Allen and Rosenblum had to add additional shots immediately afterwards because the audience were laughing so hard that they were missing the dialogue from the next scene.

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Allen spent weeks fretting over reshoots for the end of the movie, trying to show that Alvy missed Annie. In the end, Rosenblum suggested that a single line would do: “I miss Annie.” A final montage was a late addition, and it all came together in the end, winning Allen an Oscar in the process for Best Director, and Allen and Brinkman would later both bring home Oscars for Best Original Screenplay.

Rosenblum says that much of what got cut from Anhedonia was classically brilliant Woody Allen material: “Some of the freest, funniest, most sophisticated material Woody had ever created.”

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In his book, Rosenblum presents Allen as retrospectively proud of what they did to save the film, but a few years ago, in a 2012 press conference for his film To Rome With Love, Allen said:

“Nobody understood anything that went on, and the relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about. That was not what I cared about. That was one small part of another big canvas that I had. In the end, I had to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton and that relationship, so I was quite disappointed in the end of that movie, as I was with other films of mine that were very popular.”

Allen was so unhappy with Annie Hall that he reportedly even offered to direct a movie for United Artists for free if they would shelve the film, but the studio wisely decided to release it against his objections anyway. Good thing they did.

Strangely, Allen has never exactly hidden the fact that there were scenes and characters that existed in a longer version — the complete set of lobby cards issued for Annie Hall even contain some of the shots from his first cut. One photo looks like it takes place during Alvy and Annie’s first break-up, when Alvy is randomly questioning people on the street about their love life.

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Annie Hall was a remarkable film for a number of reasons, not the least being that the final cut was the second shortest to win the Oscar for Best Picture: at 93 minutes, the only other Best Picture winner shorter in length than Annie Hall is Marty (1955). It is also pretty rare for a comedy to be nominated for Best Picture, let alone win the award outright.

It was heralded for its non-linear structure, cutting between Alvy’s different relationships, starting in the middle of Alvy and Annie’s relationship and doubling back, and critics praised Allen’s use of split-screens (popular in 70s films at the time) to compare and contrast Alvy’s rambunctious Jewish family with Annie’s staid Protestant family, or for showing Alvy and Annie meeting with their psychiatrists (which was actually shot simultaneously on one set with an adjoining wall). Very few films up to then were breaking the fourth wall, either, showing the main character addressing the audience directly as a framing technique at both the head and tail of the film.

It was also remarkable for its blended use of fantasy sequences, both animated and live-action, including having Marshall McLuhan stepping in to argue a point for Alvy Singer at the movie theater, or when Annie floats out of her body to look for art supplies while making love with Singer, or even incorporating an animated sequence ripping off Snow White.

For more information about the forthcoming Criterion set, go here:

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Albert Ross

    Well done.

  • Munkiman

    Thanks, Albert!