Annie Hall is a cinematic classic that will survive the test of time, perhaps unlike its controversial creator. A romantic comedy-drama, the film is one of Woody Allen’s best-loved works. Regardless of the perverse nature of the director and all the subsequent allegations aimed at him, you cannot deny that the film is a monumental cinematic achievement. Some would go as far as to call it a masterpiece, but I am not in that camp. It’s close, but for me, doesn’t quite fit into that category.
Nevertheless, the film’s script is Allen at his finest, and the picture is brimming with stellar individual performances. Diane Keaton, in the eponymous lead role, delivers what might be the performance of her career. Allen also shines as proto-soft-boi Alvy Singer, who recounts his relationship with Annie Hall as the film progresses and attempts to understand why their connection fell apart.
Together, the pair portrayed a very organic, candid couple, and the emotional confusion that their acting and the script conveyed was unlike anything the world had seen before. To many academics, it’s been regarded as a turning point in cinema.
Other stars include Tony Roberts as Rob, Carol Kane as Allison Portchnik, Paul Simon as Tony Lacey, Janet Margolin as Robin and Shelley Duvall as Pam. Iconic writer, Truman Capote, even makes a cameo as himself. However, apart from the two leads, the standout performance has to be Christopher Walken, or Christopher Wlaken as he is credited, as Duane Hall. It is said that Duane was based on Keaton’s brother Randy, who suffered from serious mental health issues.
For a number of reasons, Duane Hall is the most memorable character from Annie Hall. He is the antithesis to Singer and the protagonist cannot cope with his stark personality. The famous scene where he welcomes Alvy into his room and asks him, “Can I confess something?”, is the most intense and thought-provoking of the whole film.
He says to Singer: “I tell you this, because, as an artist, I think you’ll understand. Sometimes when I’m driving, on the road at night, I see two headlights coming towards me. Fast, I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion, the sound of shattering glass, the flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.”
Singer obviously thinks Hall is a madman, batting off his morbid dream in the most facetious of ways. However, Singer’s bluff is quickly called a couple of scenes later as we see him cowering while accompanying Hall in his car. The bedroom scene is one of the most nihilistic yet poetic ever filmed.
The appeal of this one scene was widespread, including punks, for obvious reasons. D.C. post-hardcore legends Fugazi, for example, directly referenced the scene in their 1993 cut ‘Walken’s Syndrome’ from In on the Kill Taker. A fan favourite, featuring some of Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye’s dovetailing guitars, a portion of the lyrics read: “Lay down your arms and then / Steer into the headlights like the dead light of the last sun you’ll see… Steering into headlights and you’re gone.”
A giant track, you can’t help but think of Duane Hall speeding in his car when listening to this breakneck classic. The atonality of the guitars in the verses, as well as the speed, are as unhinged as Duane is. It sends you spinning as if you yourself have been in a collision.
Interestingly, Fugazi were not the only legendary punk band to have referenced the scene in one of their songs. If you know it already, very well done. We’ll leave you to figure it out yourself, but all we’ll say is: “You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone”.
Listen to ‘Walken’s Syndrome’ below.