April 28, 2003

Slightly insane

By Eric Rangus

Might as well get the lame question out of the way right off the bat.

So, are you a Woody Allen fan?

“Eh, not really,” said Annie Hall, program administrator in film studies. The question is one, Hall said, she fields about 600 times a day—which is probably not much of an exaggeration. “We used to have a graduate student who would call me up and say, ‘Annie, this is Alvy,’” she said. “And I never got the joke.”

Alvy Singer, for those other non-Woody Allen fans, is the name of his character in the Academy Award-winning movie Annie Hall.

“He would do his best Woody Allen imitation, and I never got it,” Hall said. “But I am entirely grateful that it’s a good movie. Imagine being named ‘Robocop’ or something.”

Hall’s admission that that Alvy joke went over her head is a bit of a surprise because the lady is razor sharp and sort of hilarious. And she’s pretty fearless, too. Upon meeting a first-time visitor, she has no qualms about making a PG-13-rated joke involving a rubber chicken with which she shares her office.

“I’ve been on college campuses since 1966,” Hall said. “So I’ve spent my whole life around 18-to-24-year-olds. That must be for some sin I committed in a previous life. When I look in the mirror, I see this fat, old, gray-haired woman, but I don’t recognize her because all I see are young faces. I think I’m still 21; I have no idea that I’ve gotten older. And as long as I still flirt with guys and guys flirt back with me, I don’t worry about it too much.”

Hall’s office, which is no bigger than 100 square feet, is made even more claustrophobic by the sheer multitude of stuff packed into it. But what it lacks in space it more than makes up for in color. One wall is plastered with photographs—of former students, of current students, of friends, and she has her “sexy men” corner featuring Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart and a few other lucky guys.

Also within easy view, all around the office, in most every nook and cranny, are sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. “Someone brought me a sheep Beanie Baby,” Hall said. “Then other people would bring me sheep. I didn’t mean to start collecting them. People really don’t need to bring me any more sheep.” Hall has lost count of how many she has, but the number is well over 50 (including the one hiding on her bookshelf; the Groucho Marx glasses may fool a casual observer, but close inspection identifies its species).

“I keep them here because I have nowhere to put them in my house,” Hall said, picking up a random, palm-sized stuffed lamb. “Besides, the person who brought me this one will remember they gave it to me.”

Hall’s bio on the film studies website, which she maintains, contains the impressive tagline “Master Knitter, True Renaissance Woman, Seed and Feed Abominette, and Heart of All Things Film Studies.” Perhaps it would be good to take each of these designations one at a time.

Master Knitter: “I remember my mother teaching me to knit when I was 3 years old,” Hall said. “It was a big event in my life.” She not only knits things for herself (while being interviewed, she is wearing a scarf she made and carrying a half-finished shawl in her purse), but she also teaches others. She leads a class at the Callanwolde Arts Center and for the last five years has taught knitting at Emory’s Center for Lifelong Learning.

“That class fills up within hours of the catalog hitting the streets,” said center Director Steve Stoffle. Sure enough, all of the slots for the spring quarter are long gone. Hall likes to keep the classes small so each student can have individual attention.

Interestingly, most of her students are 20- and 30-somethings, looking not only to learn a new skill but to take part in a fun social activity. “I used to do a lot of theater, but I got old and tired,” Hall said. “But there is still this creative part in me I have to let out, and knitting satisfies it.”

True Renaissance Woman: At the Renaissance Festival, Hall can be outside the main gate spinning yarn on her spinning wheel with fellow members of the Peachtree Handspinners Guild—she makes a lot of her own yarn (the wool she uses is related to the sheep she accidentally collects as well)—but she’s a Renaissance Woman because she can converse about most anything and has had a truckload of life experience.

Hall’s resume includes surviving a bout with colon cancer (she was given just a year to live back in 1984), dropping out of school to contribute to the anti-war movement in the 1960s and living for a year among the juniper trees outside Albuquerque, N.M., in a commune run by a man named Ulysses S. Grant (probably not his real name), who liked to ride around on a horse.

Seed and Feed Abominette: The Seed & Feed Marching Abominable is a volunteer marching band that mixes music with street theater. Hall, who is quick to mention that she completely lacks musical talent, has contributed to the latter.

The Atlanta band is a traditional centerpiece of the Inman Park Festival parade, which took place on Saturday. Hall used to march with the band, shaking her pom-poms, but this year, she was content to hang in the crowd. “That is my high holy day,” said Hall of the festival afternoon, which resembles a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade. “For me, there is no bigger celebration of life than when the Marching Abominable comes marching down the street. The Hari Krishnas are marching, the Euclid Ave. Yacht Club, guys in kilts, the Salvation Army band. It’s wonderful.”

The Heart of All Things Film Studies: After spending a year working for Emory Libraries, Hall moved over to theater and film studies in 1985 as a secretary.

“I figured I could type letters other people had written,” she said. In less than a year, the department’s administrative assistant quit, and Hall moved up the ladder and has been there ever since.

“She is a lifesaver,” said Karla Oeler, assistant professor of film studies. “Every time I have a question, she has the answer. She’s just a a very friendly person who everyone is easily drawn to.”

In the course of her job, Hall takes care of administration of both the graduate and undergraduate programs in film studies, budgeting and grant management, the film studies website, support for film studies faculty, and a variety of other duties. Visitors to the film studies office, which is tucked away on the first floor of the Rich Building, invariably poke their head in to say hello, or at least give a wave.

“If I’m not here, the office isn’t open,” Hall said. “It’s slightly insane, but in a good way. I can’t think of another job on campus I would rather have.”