MANHATTAN (1979)


From Wednesday, March 5, 2008.

Written & Directed by Woody Allen, starring Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Michael Murphy and Woody Allen.

You’d need a scorecard to keep track of who loves who and who left whom in MANHATTAN. It opens with Isaac (Woody) a 42-year-old TV writer having an affair with 17-year-old Tracy (Hemingway) to get back at his ex-wife Jill (Streep) who left him for a woman. From there the characters’ relationships spiral in every direction possible.

Following this romantic and comic chaos is only half the fun. The other half is experiencing New York in the 70′s via the sound-n-vision landscape of George Gershwin songs married to glowing black-n-white photography by Woody’s frequent collaborator Gordon Willis. Woody was listening to a Gershwin album when he was struck by the idea to shoot a Valentine to his home: “It’s really the rhythm of the city. It’s not peaceful or easy, and because of it you feel more alive. Of all the cities I’ve been to, I like New York the best.”

It’ll finish Friday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 2.11.11
I searched a bit for colorful trivia that might stimulate an afterthought. Did you know MANHATTAN was Woody’s first film shot in widescreen, the first VHS ever released in the letterbox format, and the first film that television broadcasters were contractually required to show in letterbox (with gray bars before black became standard)? Me neither. While that is interesting to know, and curious to know that Woody was very unsatisfied with this film when it was completed, it is infinitely more fun to soak up every glorious image and balance it with the self deprecating wit of Woody’s writing.

A new viewer can tell from the first three minutes if they are going to love MANHATTAN. This is a film for those who enjoy the strategy behind a verbal sparring as much as a hand to hand fight. We hear Woody’s professional writer Isaac Davis attempt to properly express his love for New York City, writing, revising and rewriting as he speaks. That two-steps-up-one-step-back communication continues to hobble Isaac and every other character. They are capable of being poignant and hilarious when examining other emotional or mental states but all are challenged with understanding love. Isaac is the most hindered of these characters, but Woody enables to film to show us what Isaac cannot tell us, using the city’s architecture and the N.Y. Philharmonic’s Gershwin score to express something intangible. In a resonant finale merging lost Isaac with hopeful Woody, the audience is invited to find our own intangibles, to lift and save us from the often meaningless noise of living.

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One Response to “MANHATTAN (1979)”

  1. Neil Says:

    My favorite Woody Allen film, and you’re right, I knew in the first three minutes. Can you think of a better expression of character, setting, tone and style in the first three minutes of a movie? Without knowing anything of what’s to come, we know everything. Manhattan’s the best.

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