I Lurve You, I Luff You….I Loathe You? Or, How To Tragedize A Perfectly Good Comedy

In the years since Annie Hall hit theaters and swept the Oscars, we’ve learned that the film we saw is not the one Allen initially intended to make. Early on in the writing process, he envisioned a New York murder mystery with a little romance on the side. Later, he envisioned it as  a free-floating approximation of “what happens in a guy’s mind…you were supposed to see a stream of consciousness” (Eisenberg, 2012). What Allen probably never expected his movie to be was a turgid sex drama, a dark, sordid tale of lies, self-loathing, and infidelity. But, then again, he didn’t count on me.

I chose Annie Hall for my recut trailer project for a handful of reasons. Firstly, unlike a lot of Allen’s recent work, it is fairly light on music, making it very easy to recontextualize the dialogue. Secondly, I thought it would be an interesting experience to tease out some of the very moments of loneliness, longing, and despair that sharpen the edges of Annie Hall and make them the picture’s center. Finally, I chose to dramatize this picture because, visually speaking, it was damn near begging me to do so. For a romantic comedy, the film contains an exceptionally high number of facial close-ups. As film scholar Bernard Dick notes, “the close-up was invented for tragedy…a close-up can reveal a particular emotion for which, under the circumstances, a long shot would have been inappropriate” (Dick, 2002, p. 1). Annie Hall is jam-packed with such close-ups, which makes it easier to mold into a sobering drama than, say, a Pink Panther movie.

Allen, right after being shown my trailer.

That said, the film didn’t exactly dramatize itself–I created that sense of drama through my editing choices, employing potent and time-tested tricks to inject this side-splitting comedy with a dose or two of sobriety. Firstly, I decided that I’d open the trailer by taking on of the film’s more upbeat scenes–Alvy’s “I love you” declaration–and draining it of color midway through. When used in predominantly colorful films, black and white is indicative of a certain grimness and dullness–of a life drained of variety and purpose. Just ask Dorothy Gale. This is what semioitican Marcel Danesi calls a symbolic signifier, designed to “encode a referent by convention or agreement” (Danesi 27). Black and white doesn’t innately stand for these things, but it often does, because we as a society agree that it can. I almost intentionally used another signifier of sadness in the trailer’s final shot–the rain that pours down upon the car. Finally, I attempted to literalize the feeling of oncoming darkness and despair by actually enveloping the audience in blackness through the use of fade-ins and fade-outs. This approach admittedly makes certain scenes a little difficult to see, though ultimately I found the cost to be more than worth the stylistic benefit.

If I could, I’d edit and re-edit this trailer until the oncoming apocalypse arrives–as an author, I have difficulty letting go of my work. But, ultimately, I’m happy with it. A few words of advice to future students, so that you’ll also be happy with yours:
1) Do not go into the studio on Day One expecting to edit.-Premiere isn’t impossible, but it’s no cakewalk either. It’s often complex, occasionally confusing, and more than a little temperamental. Don’t assume that putting together a slideshow on your iPhone or spending some time with Windows Movie Maker has prepared you for this. As an iMovie enthusiast, I thought I knew it all. I was wrong. Heed Dr. Delwiche’s advice–give yourself a night to just mess around with the program. Pick a few clips to use as a guinea pigs and spend an hour or two learning the ropes. It’ll make the following editing sessions much, much easier.

2) Even after that, don’t get cocky. I’m the king of doing assignments the night before. You can’t do this one the night before. When I went to edit my movie clips, I found that Premiere had bumped my video about eight frames ahead of my audio, making the whole enterprise look like a bad kung-fu movie from the 70’s. This took a whole night to rectify–and, were this the night before the project was due, I’d be paying for it heavily. As it was, I fixed the problem and moved on.

3) Speak up!–Use the class mailing list!! Also, don’t be afraid to voice your difficulties to fellow classmates in the lab. When I mentioned that I was having difficulty with my recently imported audio, I found out that two other students were having a similar problem.

Finally,

4) Imagine–This project doesn’t just test your knowledge of Premiere, or of the course readings. It allows you to create a new universe–one that’s part of what graphic novelist Grant Morrison calls “the multiverse”–“an infinite number of alternate Earths (that occupy) the same space as our own, each vibrating out of phase with the others so that they…never meet” (Morrison, 2011, p. 1) If you buy Morrison’s concept, then your re-cut trailer isn’t a lie, it’s a different reality. In one reality, your main character is a charmer; in another, he’s a murderous creep. In Woody Allen’s version of the Annie Hall trailer, Alvy is a lovable, albeit mixed-up, mensch; in mine, he’s a serial philanderer. By making different aesthetic and narrative choices, you can have your characters fulfill any number of potential possibilities. So in between asking yourself “How do I get a good grade” and “What does this button do?”, take the opportunity to ask a liberating question that academic assignments rarely encourage–“What if?” In other words, take the advice of William Faulkner: “Wonder. Go on and wonder.”

Works Cited:

Marcel Danesi (2004). “What Is Semiotics,” excerpt from Messages, Signs, and Meanings: A Basic Textbook in Semiotics and Communication Theory. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.

Dernard Dick (2002) “Film, space, and image,” excerpt from Anatomy of Film. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Grant Morrison (2011). Supergods: What masked vigilantes, miraculous mutants, and a sun god from Smallville can teach us about being human. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

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