While a student at university in the Los Angeles area I went to the theater to see the movie “Annie Hall” (1977 Academy Award for Best Picture). There is a scene where New Yorker Alvy Singer, played by the director Woody Allen, is being driven in a car through the Los Angeles suburb of Beverly Hills with Christmas music playing. Singer is in Los Angeles to convince title character Annie Hall to move back with him to New York City and they are driving by houses with Christmas decorations. Halfway through this transitional scene there is a shot of a front lawn with a full-size decorative Santa Claus on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. When I saw this the first time, the scene did not stand out in my mind.
A few years later, after I graduated, I moved to New York and saw the film again in a theater. During the scene with the decorative Santa on the lawn, laughter broke out in the theater. Had I missed a joke? Had someone slipped and dropped their popcorn? Did someone in the audience say something that I missed? No, the sight of Santa driving a sleigh on freshly-cut green grass in the hot sun was absurdly funny to New Yorkers, who are used to snow in December. Having grown up in California, this hadn’t occurred to me.
The film explores many themes and one of them is New York versus Los Angeles, the leading cities on either coast of the United States. In some ways, the movie is a succession of one-liners, not surprising given that Woody Allen started his career as a stand-up comic. In the movie, Woody Allen, the quintessential New Yorker, pokes fun at Los Angeles. When Annie Hall asks Alvy Singer to consider moving to Los Angeles, he says “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light,” referring to a difference in the two city’s traffic codes.
To a New Yorker, Los Angeles is superficial, self-indulgent and epitomized by the U.S. television industry. When Annie Hall looks around the Los Angeles landscape and says “It’s so clean out here.” Allen counters with “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away; they turn it in to television shows.”
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