Singers literally dominate as they squeeze the Halls into one-third of the screen. The lower-middle-class Singer family home is warm, full of menshlikeit, affectionate, loving, exuberant, animated, verbose, and indelicate.
Ordinary conversations are conducted in loud voices, body language lacks reserve. Everyone is talking at once and they continually interrupt each other. They argue heatedly, usually with food in their mouths. His mother doesn’t even sit down!
In contrast, the all-American Halls are tight-lipped, slightly inebriated, sedate and polite. While the Halls speak of swap-meets and boating, the Singers discuss failure and disease.
Alvy’s awkward, nebbish Jewishness is reinforced when he and Annie prepare a lobster dinner at a beach house in the Hamptons. The crustaceans crawl on the kitchen floor as, fearful, Alvy attempts to avoid them. “Maybe we should just call the police. Dial 911. It’s the lobster squad,” he pleads.
When he realises that one big lobster has crawled behind the refrigerator, he’s scared. “It’ll turn up in our bed at night. Talk to him. You speak shellfish… Annie, there’s a big lobster behind the refrigerator. I can’t get it out… Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side?… We should have gotten steaks, ’cause they don’t have legs. They don’t run around.”
In a reversal of the Easter dinner and lobster debacle, Alvy takes Annie to a Jewish delicatessen. With no idea of how to order “properly” in such an establishment, she requests pastrami on white bread “with mayonnaise, tomatoes, and lettuce.”
The joke works on two levels. By asking to have it with mayonnaise on white bread Annie has violated the New York Jewish minhag, which prescribes that pastrami must be eaten on rye bread with mustard. As comic Milton Berle quipped: “Anytime a person goes to a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.” Alvy visibly winces as she orders, and Annie’s sandwich symbolises the cultural rift between them, hinting at the problems that their relationship will face in attempting to merge “oil and water”.
Jewish comedy on film would not be the same without Annie Hall. Any number of films which feature gentile-Jewish romances from Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally to Meet the Parents, or any other Ben Stiller film for that matter, to Knocked Up, draw upon Annie Hall.
It set up the conventions to be endlessly copied over the years. Its classic scenes have entered the pop cultural lexicon. Lobsters, “dynamite ham” and, above all, how Allen plays with stereotypes of Jews and goys. Call the police! Dial 911! It’s the lobster squad!
Nathan Abrams is Professor of Film Studies at Bangor University
HAVE YOU tried internet dating,” my friends ask, smug in their own, loving relationships. If nothing else, my dating life provides excellent dinner-party fodder. Of course I have trawled the web for my perfect partner. But that was then, way before the onset of dating cynicism and acceptance that this might be me now forever: middleaged, single, watching Saturday evening TV and eating takeaway for one.
Anyway, it was on one such night, about a year ago, reeling from yet another messy and failed affair, I stumbled upon a re-run of First Dates, the hugely successful fly-onthe-wall Channel 4 programme. It’s dating voyeurism for a TV audience. As the programme’s introduction explains: “Two strangers meet in a London restaurant, meticulously matched, based on their likes and dislikes, the rest is down to them and Cupid’s arrow.”
I weighed up the pros and cons. Worst case scenario: I’m still single. Best case: a Hollywood happy ever after.
So I applied online, as you do, when half-a-bottle of red wine tells you to. But never, ever did I think they’d choose me.
“It’ll probably never happen,” I told my daughters, trying to soften the thought of the world eavesdropping on their old man in full dating mode. As none of us truly believed this First Dates malarkey would come to fruition it never really got mentioned again.
That’s why, when I did eventually go on my TV date, I never said a word to them, or my mum, sisters and brother. Even my best friend of forty years, Michael, whom I speak to every day, was oblivious. If it goes well and I get a second date, then I’ll say something, I thought. And if it goes the other way…
What was I thinking? There was still enough fuel in the ego tank to assume failure wasn’t an option and so I focused on what I was going to wear for my television debut. Jeans, jacket and white shirt. Good combo. Smart, yet casual. On second thoughts, perhaps the pink shirt…
Surreal, is the only way I can describe walking into the First Dates restaurant. If you’ve
Danny the dater ever watched the programme, then you’ll know that when it’s not being used for filming, it’s a trendy, bare-bricked London eatery, just opposite St Pauls. I’ve been there many times before, not physically, but via my television, so it felt very familiar as soon as I stepped over the threshold.
Fred, the French maître d’ and Cupid’s love assistant, was there to greet me. “‘Ello, Danny, your date iz already here,” and beckoned me to follow him to the bar area where, indeed, my date, Nicki, was waiting. If first impressions were anything to go by, then in the words of a 1970s Carry On movie: ding dong. Things were looking good.
A drink at the bar, some small talk to break the ice — isn’t this odd? Where do you live? How many children do you have? It was all going swimmingly. She even laughed at my corny jokes. Even though there are dozens of cameras secreted around the restaurant, after a while they tend to go unnoticed and soon it started to feel like, well, um, a proper date in a proper restaurant.
Just before we were shown to our table my possible future life partner mentioned air space over Brighton. Odd type of conversation, I’ll grant you, but never being one to let a conversation dry-up, I went along with it. “Are you in aviation,” said I, knowing this was not the best chat-up line I’ve ever delivered. She was, indeed. No, she wasn’t an air hostess as I wrongly presumed. She flew helicopters for a hobby and had a ticket on the Virgin Galactica, Richard Branson’s tourist space ship.
I’d shot myself in the foot with the trolley dolly faux pas and nothing could rescue me. Three hours later, having picked up the tab for us both, it was time for the killer question. Do you want to see each other again? Having boldly laid my cards on the table by replying “yes,” first, I then waited for Nicki’s response. There was a pause, and in that moment’s hesitation I knew it was game over for me.
The trip back home seemed unnaturally long and tinged with a certain amount of disappointment. Then again, did I really expect this to be The One? If I’m being totally honest with myself, yes, I sort of hoped it would be. Being redcarded in private is one thing, having it done on national TV is something else. Guess I’ll be renewing my JDate membership, then. I said yes, I’d like to have another date with her
‘First Dates’ is on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 10pm