Manhattan (1979)

Manhattan (1979) – Paragraph 1: I’ve always been in love with New York. Wait, no that’s too derivative, let me start over. Paragraph 1: In cinema New York captivates the imagination by being emblematic of… no, this is already getting way too pretentious. This is just a movie blog, for Christ’s sake. Paragraph 1: Of all the film-makers to shoot in New York City, it’s possible that none of them “get it” as much as Woody Allen. Now I could easily be speaking out of turn here. I have been to New York exactly once for four days in 2004. But to the majority of us out there in the film-going world our cultural image of New York City has been largely shaped by Woody’s movies. While recently he’s been making films all around Europe and having something of an amazing career resurgence, New York is in his blood and it shows in every frame of the movies he makes there. Shooting in black-and-white and in anamorphic widescreen (done by cinematographer Gordon Willis, doing some of his best work), the look of the film is a love letter to the titular island.

Isaac Davis (Allen) is a television comedy writer who really hates what he’s doing and wants to give serious writing a shot. He is also a man in his forties dating the seventeen-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). The two actually work really well together, but Isaac is constantly worrying that she’s too young and thinking he should end it so she can enjoy her youth with… you know, young people. Isaac’s best friend is Yale (Michael Murphy) who is cheating on his wife Emily (Anne Byrne) with Mary (Diane Keaton). At a certain point he breaks it off with Mary, and encourages Isaac to give it a shot with her. While at first Isaac despises Mary he becomes drawn to her and decides to leave Tracy for her since she’s more the type of woman he SHOULD be with (meaning closer to his age… though still about ten years younger). If you think things go smoothly then you clearly are not familiar with this type of movie…

You know who really doesn’t like this film? Woody Allen. He thought it turned out horribly and offered to direct a movie for free if United Artists kept it on the shelf. They didn’t and thank God because to most people it’s one of their favorites of Woody’s. He hates it, but then again let’s not worry about his personal preferences, shall we? Some people find the Isaac/Tracy relationship off-putting, especially given what we know about Woody now, but I always try to look at movies within their own context without any extra-textual influence. Manhattan is a great film about the situations we invent for ourselves that keep us from being happy. Isaac overthinks a good thing and throws it aside for something… well, less good. When he tries to go back, it’s ambiguous as to whether or not that will be able to happen. The cast in this movie is great. When you think about the movies that Diane Keaton used to be in in the 1970s compared to the movies she’s in now it’s enough to make one weep. Mariel Hemingway, in addition to be very VERY cute, really sells Tracy as someone youthful but more mature than Isaac. As for Isaac, this is Woody doing his Woody thing and it works. Regardless of how its own director feel about it, Manhattan is one of my favorite of his films. The story, the characters, the performances, and once again the gorgeous cinematography of Gordon Willis all set to the soaring sounds of George Gershwin’s music (including one of my favorites, “Rhapsody in Blue”) make this one a winner for me.

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