Threat has published a fascinating list of the 50 greatest lost
films of all time
– either movies with no known surviving prints, or
segments from movies that were deleted and disappeared. Looking over
their list you see a lot of very historic films that seemingly no
longer exist: the first Marx Brothers film, the first kaiju
movie (an unauthorized Japanese remake of King Kong!), the first
cartoon with sound, and the very first feature film ever, The Story of
the Kelly Gang
, a 70 minute Australian production. The list includes a
Woody Allen movie – the original version of September, which was shot
with a completely different cast – but to me the most important and
most interesting lost* Woody Allen movie must be Anhedonia. You know it as Annie Hall.

is Woody’s comic masterpiece, for sure. It’s the film that brings
together the many different aspects of the filmmaker and makes them all
work, and it was a movie that played with form in ways that would be
incredibly influential for decades. Beyond that it’s a movie about
basic relationship truths, and it’s brutally honest about them, so it
holds up just as well today as when it was released in 1977. It’s an
incredible film, one of the great modern love stories, and it was
originally very, very different. Woody’s working title was Anhedonia
– a psychological term for the inability to feel pleasure – until United
Artists finally convinced him to change it, reportedly only weeks
before release. But the title wasn’t the biggest change; about forty
five minutes was cut from the movie, drastically reshaping the entire
narrative. In his book When The Shooting Stops, The Cutting Begins
Ralph Rosenblum, the editor of Annie Hall, describes that first cut as ‘Far from being the story of a love affair.’ Rather, Rosenblum writes that Anhedonia
was ‘the surrealistic and abstract adventures of a neurotic Jewish
comedian who was reliving his highly flawed life and in the process
satirizing much of our culture.’

The changes were drastic. Annie
Hall, as a character, was anything but central to the film. The movie’s
opening, depicting Alvy Singer’s Brooklyn childhood, lasted something
like fourteen minutes, and included an appearance by Brooke Shields as
young Alvy’s girlfriend – a flash forward shows her as fat and
surrounded by kids. She’s not the only girlfriend young Alvy has; his
first sexual experience involves a condom he’s been carrying around for
so long it’s turned to dust in his wallet. And Brooke’s flash foreward
isn’t the only one – Alvy imagines the lives of his other classmates in
detail, visiting the house of one of them. To show you what kind of
a movie this was, while visiting the house in his imagination, Alvy
sees a game show on the TV and has an argument with the game show host
about tranquilizing with the trivial. There’s more with his family,
including an Invasion of the Body Snatchers riff, shot in black and white, where his mother
decries ‘the element’ moving into the neighborhood (there’s another
deleted Body Snatchers gag in a Beverly Hill set fantasy sequence where
a pod person Tony Roberts tells Alvy there are pods in the guest room that will help assimilate him).

relationship with Annie Hall is there, but it’s not the backbone of the
movie. Rather it’s just another element, alongside more with his two
ex-wives, that serves as a springboard for more digressions and random
gags. Rumors have long festered that Anhedonia was a murder mystery – there may have been a murder after the scene where the two Brooklyn goombahs
accost Alvy for his autograph – but if that’s the case it was only in
the script stage. Nothing I’ve read indicates that the murder mystery
stuff (apparently repurposed for the delightful Manhattan Murder Mystery) was ever shot. What Anhedonia sounds most like is a random and anarchistic comedy like Take the Money and Run, but with a bit more of a serious side.

Other deleted scenes from Anhedonia have passed on into legend. The scene in Annie Hall where Alvy leaves a party to watch the Knicks in a bedroom was initially longer, and included a fantasy segment where the Knicks
play a squad made up of himself and philosophers – including Kafka,
Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Another scene had Alvy and Annie Hall
meeting Satan on the streets of Manhattan and taking a tour of Hell,
which included an appearance by the then-alive Nixon (the Hell stuff
apparently was reworked for Deconstructing Harry). Another scene at the
end had Alvy relating to prisoners while in jail after crashing into a
car in a Los Angeles parking lot. The Hall family had a bigger role as

What’s amazing about Anhedonia is that it really is a completely
different movie. It’s a movie about Alvy Singer only, and through him
about Woody’s views and musings and comic thoughts on just about
anything. The first cut sounds a lot like a movie version of a stand-up
comedy routine, with jokes coming from any available spot and stories
that exist only to set up other stories. It was only during editing
that the central story, Alvy’s relationship with Annie Hall, began to
take shape. I have to assume that Woody knew that Anhedonia would
never fly as a title (co-writer Marshall Brickman recommended It Had To
Be Jew
), but when shooting finished no one could have imagined that
Annie Hall would be the title character.

likely isn’t lost in the same way that many of the Film
Threat top 50 are; it’s more than probable that Woody has the footage
stored somewhere (he says he has no idea where the footage of the
original cast of September is, though, making it more legitimately
‘lost’). Still, Woody has never released any deleted scenes on his DVDs
– my first CHUD interview was with him and I asked about that and
he seemed baffled anyone would want deleted scenes or commentaries – so
I imagine we will not see this cut surface any time while he’s alive.
And even when he’s gone, I don’t know who would be interested in the
undertaking of reassembling this strange and completely different movie
– except for huge film buffs, I guess. I don’t know if Anhedonia would
be as great a movie as Annie Hall, but anyone who is curious about the
creative process of filmmaking, it’s certainly one of the Holy Grails.

*I’m using the term lost a little more loosely than Film Threat.