Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) has just met Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) for a double match at a tennis club in Manhattan and now she is getting ready to engage him in their first conversation. They’re back in street clothes, which, for Annie, means a white men’s shirt and loose wrinkled beige trousers, black vest and wide white polka-dot navy tie, and a black men’s fedora with her hair mostly swept under it. She enters the scene laughing and waving: “Hi, hi.”
The funniest, most awkward small talk ensues, mostly thanks to Annie, that leads to her offering Alvy a ride up town and a glass of wine on her balcony. It is not the first scene she appears in, we’ve already seen her in two previous sequences, and this is a flashback to how Annie and Alvy had met. But it is the moment we are truly introduced to Annie Hall. That clumsy attempt to have a casual yet smart conversation and that girl-dressed-as-boy look that on Keaton was so impossibly feminine and cool were what sealed the fascination with Annie Hall and with the Annie Hall style. People had a love affair with Annie Hall in 1977. Everyone watching or re-watching the film today might still do.
“I love what you’re wearing,” Alvy tells Annie soon after they meet.
Annie Hall set the stylistic template for what many people would mean by “a Woody Allen film”: the long takes; the shots of people walking on a sidewalk taken from a camera running parallel on the opposite side of the street; the breaking of the fourth wall; the sight, or rather the sound, of two people talking off screen, a technique developed by cinematographer Gordon Willis and which Allen would continue to use in all his films in honour of Willis. Annie Hall was the starting point of Willis and Allen’s collaboration (they would make seven more films together, including Interiors and Manhattan) and the director accounts their teaming-up as the first step toward maturity in some way in making films, towards more realistic and deeper movies.
But the film belongs to Keaton. “She is all over the film the way Anna Karina is in Vivre sa vie, or Jeanne Moreau is in Jules et Jim – like a fragrance”, says Tom Shone in the book Woody Allen: A Retrospective. I couldn’t agree more, and if I think in regard to the costumes, Shone’s words make even more sense. The approach to costumes very much reminds me of the French New Wave films, which, among all the other cinema conventions they played with, were “the chance of a lifetime to escape the ‘star’ style,” as Jeanne Moreau described her experience on Jules et Jim. All of a sudden they were filming in the street, the actresses had very little makeup on, they wore their own clothes or costumes they found themselves; it was like a slice of life. A slice of life. Just like Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall. “The biggest worry I had making Annie Hall was whether or not I would get in my own way,” Keaton confessed. “I was afraid that unconsciously I might stop myself of showing the truth because it made me uncomfortable. I wanted to do Annie Hall fully, without worrying what I did wrong in real life.”
Therein lies Annie Hall’s charm. That’s Diane Keaton. That’s her personality. Her way of talking, dressing, ordering food. “She’s like all very smart people; extremely modest, extremely self-effacing. She’s got that quality,” Woody Allen would say about Keaton. And he let her play herself and captured her persona, her flavour, that rare quality. When the camera hits Keaton, that’s what you want to see. Here was something new: a modern woman, carving out a new identity, insecure, but brainy and self-conscious, a little neurotic and clumsy but endlessly funny, free and original.
Part of Annie’s charm lay in her unusual dress sense. It was very much Diane Keaton’s dress sense. The quirky layering of tailored separates, ties and hats and a man’s jacket over everything was inspired by Keaton’s own personal style. Woody Allen had to fight the costume department over some of the outfits Keaton wanted (and he wanted Keaton) to wear. When Ruth Morley, the costume designer, protested over one of Diane’s outfits on set – the pants, the scarf, the shirt buttoned up to the collar (“Don’t let her wear that. She can’t wear that. It’s so crazy”), Allen intervened. “Leave her. She’s a genius. Let’s just leave her alone, let her wear what she wants. If I really hate something, I’ll tell her. Otherwise she can choose for herself,” he told Stig Björkman in an interview.
The alternative to the evening dress: unbuttoned white shirt and palazzo pants or the tuxedo, naturally
So Diane Keaton wore what she wanted to wear, “or, rather, I stole what I wanted to wear from cool-looking women on the streets of New York,” she wrote in her autobiography, Then Again. That’s where Annie’s khaki pants, vests, and tie came from them. And the hat, the finishing-touch on the Annie Hall look, came from Aurore Clément, who had showed up on the set of The Godfather: Part II one day wearing a man’s slouchy bolero pulled down low over her forehead. Men’s hats have been one of Diane’s trademarks ever since.
How to layer the grey t-shirt: on top of another t-shirt (top photo above) / underneath a tank top (bottom photo above).
Setting the template for future fashion trends.
There has been much attributed to Ralph Lauren regarding Diane Keaton’s wardrobe in the film, and to this day, the brand still benefits from the connection with Annie Hall. Indeed, the tie and vest and a few other clothing items, like the shirts and the tuxedo she wears when performing in the nightclub, as well as some of Woody’s clothes came from the designer, and, truth be told, I have always had an affinity for his designs and style, because I believe nobody has perfected the equal-parts-tomboy-confidence-and-feminine-sensibility look quite like Ralph Lauren.
But when it comes to the look of Annie Hall, Ralph Lauren himself gave much of the credit to Diane: “I knew Woody and Diane. They wore my clothes, and Diane used to come to my fashion shows with Woody when no one knew her. Annie’s style was Diane’s style – very eclectic. Oversized jacket and vests, floppy men’s hats, and cowboy boots. Around the same time, I did a women’s show with Frye boots and oversized jackets and the big hats. We shared a sensibility, but she had a style that was all her own. Annie Hall was pure Diane Keaton.”
Diane Keaton concurred: “Annie Hall was a combined effort really. Woody gave me carte blanche. Ruth and I went shopping. We borrowed and bought from Ralph Lauren because I loved what he did. But in the end it was the way I normally dressed, and we didn’t want to change that,” giving special credit to her own main source of inspiration, “all the street-chic women livening up SoHo in the mid-seventies. They were the real costume designers of Annie Hall.” The look of Annie Hall is so unique, personal, tender and effortless that there is no doubt it is Diane’s own vision behind it. A slice of life.
Classic American style at its best (photos above): buttoned-up checked shirt with blazer and khakis / white shirt, grey tweed waistcoat and checked wool scarf / plaid shirt over black turtleneck, blue jeans and high boots
And because the Oscars are a little over a month away and there is much room for debate regarding this year’s nominations, like in any other year really, I need to say this. Annie Hall is better than it winning Best Picture (which it did in 1978). It’s the kind of romantic film that still makes Hollywood nervous because the sweetness and sadness it evokes are very much real. It’s nothing fabricated or smirky happy. Hollywood can’t handle that.
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editorial sources: Woody Allen: A Retrospective, by Tom Shone / Woody Allen interview with Stig Björkman in the booklet Woody Allen Collection Volume One, part of the Woody Allen: Six Films – 1971-1978 collection of blu-rays released by Arrow Academy / “Then Again” by Diane Keaton / “Ralph Lauren” by Ralph Lauren
photos: movie stills captured by me from the “Woody Allen: Six Films – 1971-1978” collection of blu-rays released by Arrow Academy | Rollins-Joffe Productions