IMDB#227 Manhattan

Woody Allen has directed approximately a billion films, and I’ve only seen maybe a half dozen of them- off the top of my head Annie Hall, Mighty Aphrodite, Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Celebrity, and now today’s entry, Manhattan. But somehow I feel pretty well versed anyway- there’s always going to be either Allen himself or a thinly veiled Allen surrogate of some kind. There are always going to be some sort of relationship dramas.

And usually, the grand vistas and atmosphere of New York City will figure prominently. Allen returned to film there for the upcoming Wherever Works (which co-star Evan Rachel Wood insists "It's very classic Woody Allen but it's still different than anything he's done,” somewhat paradoxically) after a four-film jaunt to Europe. But nowhere is Allen’s pure adulation for the Big Apple more fervent than in 1979’s Manhattan, a best original screenplay nominee.

The Key Players:

Woody Allen. It was 39 films directed, by the way, which only leaves 33 more to watch until I perfect my nebbishness. (Mostly I just want to eventually see The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Sleeper, and Hannah And Her Sisters so I can cover the highlights). Allen has three Oscars out of a crazy twenty-one nominations (six for directing, one for acting, and fourteen for original screenwriting). Allen of course wrote, directed, and starred in Manhattan.

Allen’s frequent muse Diane Keaton plays the romantic lead opposite Allen, as they lead a cast featuring Mariel Hemingway, Michael Murphy, and Meryl Streep.

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The Story:

Allen plays, in a complete shocker, a middle-aged comedy writer with women issues amidst multiple other insecurities, presently dating a 17-year-old (Hemingway), running in pretentious social circles with best friend Murphy and Murphy mistress (Keaton), all while dealing the impending tell-all book from his ex-wife turned lesbian (Streep).

Got all that? It doesn’t matter, because if you missed anything, Allen’s character will repeat it several times in the form of agonizing self-analysis. Allen and Keaton initially dislike each other, and you know what that means… eventually Murphy calls it off out of guilt over his wife, Allen dumps the heartbroken Hemingway, and Allen and Keaton enter into another of their trademark award courtships.

But is this love meant to last?

The Artisticness:

In many ways, this is exactly what I imagined a prototypical Woody Allen film would be like- equal parts self-deprecating humor, melodramatic relationships, a dash of pretension (it’s filmed in artful black and white), and plenty of reverence for New York City.

Manhattan, of course, opens and closes with iconic images of the Big Apple as Gershwin music plays, and we hear Allen’s character attempting to begin a novel with loving paens to the metropolis, equating the skyscrapers with magnificence and his own characters imaginary virility. But other than serving as a backdrop for all that unfolds, Manhattan isn’t really a character in Manhattan.

Keaton and Allen keep their particular chemistry from Annie Hall, connecting primarily in an overnight montage set in the rain in Central Park, some museum, and a bench near some bridge or other famous thing. Clearly New York didn’t win me over, but I’ve been there once and I was twelve.

Hemingway, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role, does a credible job of playing a seventeen year old clearly more emotionally mature than Allen’s character- no one ever mentions any inappropriate thought about the relationship itself, however (I later read that it’s rumored, but denied, that this is based on a relationship Allen had in real life).

It’s a lot of talk, to be honest, and not as much straight humor as even Annie Hall had to offer, so I wouldn’t watch it when tired.


It is weird though- Allen is of course his annoying, groveling self all through his courtship with Keaton, and I found myself beginning to grow weary of him. But then, Keaton and Murphy rekindle their affair, leaving Allen in a lurch, and I suddenly felt for the guy! What?

So maybe Allen knew what he was doing after all- he attempts to reconcile with Hemingway at the film’s very end, but she’s leaving for London for six months, and he’s desperate to keep her there- it’s as if he can’t fathom a world outside of Manhattan.

The film ends with Hemingway’s reassurance that not everybody gets corrupted, and Allen’s knowing smile- cut back to the city, and we’re out.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I’m not sure- I can’t say I have much motivation to watch it again (I’ve seen Annie Hall once, to date)- but at the same time I’m glad to have seen it. It certainly made me feel more caught up in my Woody Allen filmography, more than say, watching an out-of-character sojourn like Scoop would, for example.

The Legacy:

Manhattan actually won the BAFTA for best film, despite going 0 for 2 at the Oscars, and it’s in the National Film Registry, on lists of “best comedies,” and so forth. It’s remembered as an exceptionally point in his growth as a filmmaker, showing the fallacy of the human condition as people pair off like molecules, and get no more mature about it with higher education.

On a different note, Allen apparently insisted that the aspect ratio be preserved for video and televison releases, making Manhattan a forerunner for widescreen releases everywhere, which is much more important to me personally.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube

The opening scene: if there’s anything more iconic of Allen than this sequence, I clearly haven’t seen it yet:

Leftover Thoughts:

Meryl Streep looks really young in this movie. That is all.

Not sure where I stand on the black and white- artful or pretentious?

Regularly-scheduled Oscar coverage resumes shortly.

1 Response to "IMDB#227 Manhattan"

  1. Anonymous says:

    I saw this one last year. It didn't really seem like a comedy movie.

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