When people think about Diane Keaton in the 70s, there are probably a couple of stray thoughts for The Godfather but 8 times out of 10 they're thinking of Annie Hall (1977). The same year that she entered the cinematic pantheon as that neurotic androgynous fashion plate, she nailed another role: the grade school teacher with a dirty mind in Looking For Mr. Goodbar.
When we first meet Theresa, a professor (Alan Feinstein) is reading her personal paper about "confession" aloud while she fantasizes about having sex with him. Later that evening she's at his apartment grading his papers and he praises her for her understanding of syntax and grammar. Not exactly what she had in mind when she took the T.A. job. Theresa was thinking of something along the lines of T & A.
He asks if she's in pain (she has a bad back), and she responds, "Isn't it obvious?"
"Nothing about you is obvious..." he answers in what might qualify as the most perceptive thing anyone will ever say to Diane Keaton in a movie not directed by Woody Allen.
But what is wrong with Theresa's back? The question annoys her since the professor is holding her when he asks it, but his embrace isn't the carnal one she'd prefer. She backs away from him, and begins to walk around the room.
Polio. When I was six. Left me with a limp til I was eleven. That's when they operated to straighten my spine. Scoliosis they said.
Her monologue is interrupted here with the jarring sound cue of an x-ray flapped on to a light box.
At this point the director Richard Brooks flashes to a younger version of Theresa who interjects in tearful fear, "Papa. Papa." The interruptions continue, though they're visual rather than verbal now. "After that..." Theresa begins, but rather than hearing her explanation (at first) we're seeing a montage of soundless still images of Theresa's childhood: a nightmare of casts, x-rays, shame and misery. Seventies movies were so blissfully experimental with their film grammar, even when they had actresses as riveting as Keaton and could have coasted with unimaginative close-ups.
I came home wearing a plaster cast. They put me on a bed downstairs in the living room where everyone could watch, day and night. For one whole year and two days. They prayed a lot. It was God's will they said.What's fascinating about Keaton's performance throughout the scene is the way she's conveying, rather unexpectedly, both the distant physical memory that defined her and a calculated manipulation of her physical present. The memory is emotional but the reciting is equally physical as she paces and pivots. She's constantly recalibrating the space between herself and her potential lover and maybe even bridging the distance between her immobile young self and the sensual adult woman she wants to be. Is she using this story and moment for sympathy (she claims she doesn't want it) or merely buying time to work up her sexual confidence? Possibly both.
I never did understand what terrible thing I did, you know, to make God so angry?
The professor tries to interrupt her, but she doesn't let him.
No. No. I hate people feeling sorry.And with that, purpose vocalized, she's snapped back to the movie's opening scene; Theresa is totally focused on the man before her as an object of carnal pleasure. He chuckles, moving away from her advance and a flicker of self-doubt and confusion crosses her face. But Theresa is not moving through the room anymore. She's planted her feet. She unzips her blouse. Soon enough, mere moments after he zips her back up in half-hearted protest, he's unzipping her again. Keaton punctuates this expertly played scene by placing her hands expectantly on her hips, with some impossible combination of bitchy vixenish triumph and arguably virginal thrill.
I'd rather be seduced than comforted.
He's hers. For the night. Many lovers to follow.
Even if Annie Hall had not existed (god forbid!), you could still make a case for Keaton as 1977's Best Actress. In truth, since we're on the subject, I prefer Diane Keaton's dramatic characters to her comedic ones, Ms. Hall excepted of course. It's that 'la-di-da' persona that stuck, but Keaton is underappreciated as a dramatic force. There's an inimitable erotic fire in her best work, despite a screen persona and physicality that more readily draw attention to neurotic fussiness.
Nothing about her is obvious.