Saturday 7 January 2006

Manhattan (1979) - ickleReview (DVD)

My favourite Woody Allen movie. Shot in black and white and with the best opening sequence I have ever seen: scenes of New York City accompanied by Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Allen's comical introduction: "Chapter 1: He adored New York City..." Allen plays Isaac, a TV comedy writer who's going out with a 17-year-old girl called Tracy (Mariel Hemingway - Ernest Hemingway's granddaughter) while trying to stop his second ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep) - who left him for another woman - writing a lurid book about their broken marriage. His best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is cheating on his wife Emily (Anne Byrne) by seeing a sophisticated New York feminist, Mary (Diane Keaton). When Isaac bumps into Mary and Yale for the first time at an art gallery, he really doesn't like her. Her taste in art is quite the opposite from his and her excuse for odd behaviour is "I'm from Philadelphia." Isaac of course winds up seeing her and having his own affair, before he realizes that Tracy is the girl he really wants to be with.

It's a classic Woody Allen plot, but what makes this movie is the splendour of its shooting. The composition in shot after shot is perfect, with beautiful, subtle lighting - some scenes shot almost in the dark with just the light from shop windows, a table lamp or a low-key spot in the planetarium when Isaac and Mary are sheltering from a sudden Sunday rain storm. Hemingway's performance is very cute; Allen mocks her mouse voice, but their relationship gives the appearance of real affection - despite the age gap.

Nugget: simply the best. This is not the first time I have seen the movie, and it won't be the last.


  1. I have very fond memories of Manhattan: for one thing, it was the first R-rated film I ever saw (and--don't tell--I hadn't turned 17 yet); the second, though, was--just as you mention--how beautiful it is.
    That was the first and only time I saw it, but one scene in particular stays with me: a scene in either Isaac's or Tray's apartment in which the characters are in the kitchen but the camera is set up at the opposite end of a hall leading to the kitchen. We hear them talk, but all we can see is the entrance into the kitchen and the characters as they walk past the entrance. Simple, but elegant. I'd never seen a scene shot like that before, and I don't think I have since.
    I need to see this again. Thanks for stirring up a most pleasant memory.

  2. Hi John B.,

    R-rated! Can't think why that would be. It's themes aren't that adult.

    I mention the scene to which you allude very opaquely in my review: it's the one lit by a table lamp. I think it's in Isaac's apartment before he moves out when he quits his TV job. Tracy is sitting in the background on the sofa in the left of the frame, lit only by a table lamp. Isaac comes down the spiral staircase lit on the right of the frame. In the middle there's a partially lit doorway/hallway. The shot is in deep focus and is sustained throughout the whole scene. Isaac goes to talk to Tracy on the sofa, then they walk up the stairs together. I don't think the camera tracks or zooms at all until it follows them up the stairs.

    I'd love to see this on the big screen one day.

  3. It was R-rated because of the word "fuck," used, what, about twice? The F-word in a film with no nudity and no violence rates an R, while Harry Potter gets a PG-13.

    As for the scene: it was the camera's static quality in that scene that was so intriguing.