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Pivotal Film: Annie Hall

Woody Allen’s 1977 classic Annie Hall is widely considered to be one of Allen’s best films, along with Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Sleeper (1973).  The film is semi-autobiographical, based on the real life relationship between Allen and his leading lady, Diane Keaton, which ended in 1975.  That same year, Allen turned 40, prompting him to evaluate his life, and he began to write Annie Hall.  The film was critically acclaimed, and Allen’s top grossing film until the 2011 release of Midnight in Paris.  The American Film Institute put it at #35 on its 2007 list of Top 100 Films, and at #4 on their list of funniest films of all time.  Finally, it was given the Best Picture, Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Director (Allen), and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman) Oscars at the 1978 Academy Award ceremony.  In addition to these accolades, Annie Hall marks an important shift in the American perceptions of gender following the feminist movement of the late 1960s, a point thatannie hall poster.jpeg is reflected in Alvy Singer and Annie Hall’s modern romance.

Annie Hall tells the love story of Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), which is a reflection of both the new 1970s relationship, as well as the actual romance between Allen and Keaton during the early 1970s.  The film addresses new sexual attitudes, new perceptions of gender, and increased equality in relationships.  Although the film ends with Annie and Alvy breaking up (something that is stated in the first minutes of the film), it is still considered by many to be one of the best romantic comedies in American film.  

The women of Allen’s films tend to be of the modern and liberated variety, and Annie is certainly the archetype   She and Alvy (played by Allen) meet on the tennis court, and after a terrifying car ride back to Annie’s apartment, she invites him up for a glass of wine.  She is educated, intellectual, and very much her own person.  While the relationship has its peaks and valleys, Annie becomes dissatisfied when she realizes that Alvy is holding her back, and they break up so she can pursue a career in music.  Alvy encourages her to sing, take college classes, and pursue her other interests, but his neuroses keep him from being as supportive as he could be.  He tries to get her back, but she stands her ground.  
Alvy is also indicative of the “new man,” who is free to be more sensitive and in touch with his emotions.  With the rise of the feminist movement, men could feel free to be liberated from the social construct of masculinity.  They no longer felt the pressure to have a dissatisfying career in order to be the breadwinner, especially since their wives could just as easily support the family while the husband found a more satisfying job.
alvy with lobster.jpeg
On a more personal note, Annie Hall has been one of the pivotal films of my life.  It introduced me to the genius that is Woody Allen.  The film was one of the three featured in my Masters thesis, and I believe there are so many levels to his films.  While gender is a hot topic in American studies, as well as general films studies, I took a different approach to Annie Hall in my Masters thesis.  New York is unique in that many New Yorkers live without the use of a personal car.  They rely on the subway, cabs, or just their legs.  New York is a city that is incredibly walkable, and during the years leading up to Allen’s film career, that trait was under attack.  Robert Moses’ goal to make New York City a city for cars was moving forward at a frightening pace.  He had cut the Bronx in two with the Cross Bronx Expressway; the Rockefellers had dismantled Lower Manhattan through the creation of the World Trade Center and its “superblock;” and the financial crisis was shutting down public transit in all five boroughs.  Allen speaks out against these changes throughout Annie Hall (as well as his other New York films).  
First, Allen uses the “walk and talk” in numerous scenes.  The first time we see Alvy in the narrative setting (he has spent the first part of the movie doing a talking head scene and flashbacks) as he is walking with his friend Max through Manhattan.  He and Annie have many meaningful conversations while briskly moving along New York’s sidewalks.  He emphasizes the importances of foot travel in the city through these scenes.
Secondly, driving becomes a running joke throughout the film.  Alvy first talks about how he got his anger out as a child at his father’s bumper car ride in Coney Island, and as a result does not drive.  Annie herself is a TERRIBLE driver, mirroring the stereotypical contemporary distracted driver.  She doesn’t have a cell phone, but she is searching for discarded food, trash, gum, and basically doing everything but keeping her eyes on the road.  When Alvy and Annie visit her family in Wisconsin, we discover that Annie has an emotionally disturbed brother, Dwayne.  Dwayne confesses to Alvy that he has a fantasy of crashing his car.  Cut to Dwayne driving Annie and Alvy to the airport, which is one of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the movie.  Finally, when Alvy travels to Los Angeles to find Annie, he is forced to rent a car, and promptly crashes it, and finds himself in jail.
Annie Hall addresses a few of the most important issues of the 1970s, both on nationwide and city-wide levels.  Woody Allen is considered a “New York” director, along with Martin Scorsese and Sydney Lumet.  The issues of New York tend to be the issues of the nation, and therefore Annie Hall is definitely a pivotal American film.    


Tradition: Summers at the Jersey Shore

Belmar.  Ocean City.  Wildwood.  Cape May.  Spring Lake.  Ocean Grove.  Long Branch.  

These towns are just some of the places that my family has spent their summers.  Today, it involves full weeks or long weekends getting away from work.  For my father and grandmother, it meant weeks upon weeks with cousins and aunts, soaking up the sun, while the fathers and uncles came down on the weekends.  
Belmar, 1957.
It’s the place where I spent the last fleeting week of undergraduate life with my best friends.  It’s the place my husband and I had our first date.  It’s where I spent time waiting for my son to finally decide to be born.
Belmar, 1953.
There are many sub-traditions within the broader context of “the Jersey Shore.”  Food ways are a big part of our summers at the shore.  If it’s OCNJ, it’s Mack and Manco’s pizza at lunch with a Stewart’s Black Cherry or Cream soda.  A night on the boardwalk ends with a Kohr’s Brother’s custard (chocolate and banana twist for me, if you were curious).  When we’re back at whatever house or apartment we are staying at, it’s home-cooked family meals.  Spaghetti, steaks, seafood.  Other times we order hoagies or pizza.  To remember our times at the shore, we take Johnson’s Popcorn or Steele’s fudge with us back into reality. It’s all just about being together.  
Summers at the shore is a tradition that both sides of my family partake in.  My father’s family, who hails from Newark, NJ and its surrounding communities, spent their summers at Belmar and Wildwood.  It started generations ago, although the story is not totally clear as the years have passed.  In 1888, my great-great grandmother, Helen White, and her sisters, Mary and Kate, came from Ireland by way of England and arrived in the United States.  At some point after, the sisters purchased a piece of property together in Belmar and split it into three parts.  In the middle, Helen never developed her property, as she claimed later “where would everyone park?”  On one side, Mary put up a rustic bungalow.  On the other, Kate constructed a house.  As the years passed, Helen sold her property to her sisters, again for parking purposes.  Kate’s nephew, Tom Cunniff, bought her house, and Mary’s only child, Michael, inherited the bungalow.  Mike, a U.S. Olympian in the steeplechase, kept the bungalow and opened it up to the family.  This location is where my father remembers spending the summer.  Later, after “Uncle Mike” passed away, my grandmother’s friends, the Barrett’s, bought the bungalow.  As my father tells the story, they “ruined it.”  How?  By putting up more walls, heat, and hot water.  The bungalow’s charm came from how rustic it was. 
On my paternal grandfather’s side, they spent many summers at Wildwood, where my great-Uncle Eddie still has a house, which is fortunately still standing after Hurricane Sandy.  Other cousins live in Cape May.   
My mother’s family came to the shore much later.  My aunt and uncle have been fans of the shore, and drawn us there time and time again.  They even own a condo in Ocean City.  Ocean City has become the shore of choice for my little family, and we hope to take our son, Elliott, there next summer.  
After watching the coverage of the superstorm, it’s difficult to think about summer and if our traditions will continue.  Hopefully our favorite places will rebuild, stronger than ever, and generations of McGee’s can spend their summers at the Jersey shore.
Ocean City NJ Boardwalk
Photo Captions: 1. Credit, Rosemary McGee Smith.  Edward Handville, Marc and John McGee, Belmar, 1957; 2. Credit, Rosemary McGee Smith.  Helen Cunniffe Lee and Maureen Bell McGee with their children, 1953; 3. Credit, Megan McGee  Yinger.  The boardwalk at Ocean City New Jersey around 8th Street, April 2009.

Pivotal Text: Gone With the Wind


In Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s Lighting Out For the Territory, she dissects the various, and sometimes troubling, representations of Mark Twain’s life and work.  While Twain is certainly a unique character, the phenomenon of tweaking the works of American authors to create a mythology is not specific to him.  Margaret Mitchell, through her only novel Gone With the Wind, draws an easy comparison to Twain, from her Southern roots to the issues of race and slavery. However, by remaining true to the novel’s text, it has enabled Atlanta and it’s countryside to continue its worship of a civilization that is literally “gone with the wind.”

Margaret Mitchell hailed from Atlanta, which would come to be one of the major settings of Gone With the Wind.  The city, as well as neighboring Clayton County, have embraced both the book and the film’s popularity as a major draw to tourists.  In Atlanta, one can visit the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum, which allows fans to see where she wrote the novel and interact with some movie memorabilia, including the front door of Tara.  Mitchell’s untimely death in 1949 also lends some backstory to the Atlanta setting.  She was struck by a car on Peachtree Street and killed.  She was working on a second novel, but the unfinished work begs the question “What if…?”  
Clayton County, which is a few miles outside of downtown Atlanta, was declared the official home of Tara by Mitchell’s descendants.  In both locations, one can get guided tours of the sites from women in hoop skirts and period attire, but there is scant reference to the slave culture that Mitchell illustrates in her novel.
Thematically, the novel taps into a number of ideas that run through the American fabric.  First, the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War lead to the South looking at its past in a mythological way.  The “great” South had been literally burned to the ground, and many southerners sought to glorify the region’s past.  Gone With the Wind is a part of that tradition.  The O’Haras and the Wilkes reflect the qualities of the Old South that many wanted to preserve.  The fictional families had cultivated spacious and successful plantations, and their only downfall came with the War and Sherman’s March to the Sea.  Extending from this idea is the idea of the frontier.  Scarlett’s father says at the beginning of the novel and film that the only important thing is land, as “it is the only thing that lasts.”  The American Dream of owning land and a home is something that the O’Haras struggle with throughout the novel.  Scarlett’s final proclamation is that she will return to Tara, which represents her past, present, and future. 
Gone With the Wind has certainly inspired a number of conversations concerning the role of blacks in the film and book.  The slaves, most prominently Mammy, Big Sam, and Prissy, fall into a number of stereotypical depictions of slaves and freed blacks.  It is doubtful that these characters populate the historical homes and sites of Atlanta and Clayton County.  This is similar to Jim’s treatment in Hannibal, Missouri.  Because slavery is an embarrassment to the nation, discussion of the practice is swept under the proverbial rug.  
There are numerous texts that have entered the American imagination and created a home for themselves there, sometimes causing the creation of a mythology around the text and its subject.  Gone With the Wind, along with the works of Mark Twain, are some popular examples, but there are many more that fit the criteria.  Representation of certain historical ideas, such as slavery, can be very complicated in a historical or tourist setting, which raises questions on how to deal with them in a sensitive manner.  

A Slice of American Studies.

Welcome to my professional online portfolio!  Here, you can view my CV, work experience, presentations, and some of my pieces of research.  This was created within the confines of a Ph.D. course, but it extends far beyond that.  For more American Studies scholarship from all over the web, you can check out my Tumblr page dedicated to American Studies, which will feature articles and images on a weekly basis.

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