Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #76: Manhattan

Woody Allen: a filmmaker many of us have mixed feelings about. I feel that’s how most of my reviews about his films are going to start. He has written and directed very funny movies, he certainly knows how to shoot in New York City, and apparently he’s a pretty good jazz player. He is also a guy who married the adopted daughter of his ex-wife, has been accused of sexual molestation, and in his movies he often plays a character who dates women who are much younger than he is. All of the good and the bad traits of Allen are on display in Manhattan (1979), one of his most acclaimed movies.

I liked many things about this movie when I first saw it. I enjoyed the use of black and white cinematography, the opening montage in which Allen lauds his home turf of NYC, the use of jazz music, and the cast of characters. However I was also uncomfortable with the fact that Isaac Mortimer Davis, the 40-year-old TV writer played by Allen, is in a relationship with Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) a 17-year-old girl who is still in high school. I know it was the late 70s, but even by the standards of that era wouldn’t that make Isaac a sexual predator should their relationship ever get physical?   

Cradle snatching aside, you have to give props to Woody Allen for making one of the most New York movies ever. Of course this is a New York that he recognizes and is filled with characters he might have known in real life, but the opening shots were clearly made by someone who idolizes the city. In fact, those are pretty much his exact words as Isaac opens up the movie in a self-aware narration for a book he is writingChapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better.”

Like many of Allen’s characters Isaac is rather neurotic and has quite the complicated history with women. His ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep) is releasing a tell-all book about their relationship and Isaac is none too happy about the way he is described, even though Jill claims all the details are accurate. Further hurting his ego is the fact that Jill left him for another woman (Karen Ludwig). Isaac claims he took it pretty well, but by that he means he tried to run them over with his car.

Further complicating matters is the character of Mary Wilkie, played by Diane Keaton, one of Allen’s great screen partners. Mary is in a relationship with Isaac’s best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) who is married. Despite finding her snobbish at first, Isaac develops feelings for Mary and thinks he might have more of a future with her than with the much younger Tracy. Still with me?

Manhattan was one of Allen’s biggest box-office successes, was nominated for many awards, and was deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress. However for my personal taste I think there are funnier movies out there and I just can’t muster that much sympathy for Isaac. The high point for me is the cinematography, especially the iconic scene where Isaac and Mary are sitting in front of the Queensboro Bridge. Anybody who loves either the city of New York, jazz or beautiful cinematography should definitely see this movie at least once, but throughout I kept wondering why I should care about the existential problems of a middle-aged man who is hanging out with a minor.

Most of the time you are supposed to dissociate an artist’s personal life from his work. However when it comes to Woody Allen and Manhattan, I am afraid I just couldn’t separate the character dating a high school girl from the director who married his ex-wife’s adopted daughter.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #109: Touch of Evil

Some movies start off with a bang but with his 1958 film noir Touch of Evil cinema legend Orson Welles decided to start with three minutes and 20 seconds leading to the bang. During a tracking shot set in a U.S – Mexico border town we follow a car right after an unseen person has installed a crude bomb in the trunk. It’s a lovely evening with people having a good time and border agents diligently doing their jobs as they let the car cross over onto the American side. Then the bomb goes off, two people die violently, and suddenly it’s not such a good evening. That’s one way to hook in your audience.
Some people resolve to eat better, quit smoking or do more exercise for the New Year. As we start off 2019 one of my resolutions is to try to watch more classics films, and even though I got a lot of great films as Christmas gifts I thought I would use my day off to check one classic film I had never seen off my list. Of course I am familiar with Orson Welles, a filmmaker so prolific that in…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #64: Oldboy

One thing I have noticed from the few Korean films I have seen so far is that Korean cinema really doesn’t hold back. One of that country’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movie is Oldboy (2003), which has amazing performances, beautifully choreographed fight scenes and a story filled with many twists and turns. It also has plenty of scenes that will make you squirm whether because of graphic violence, very disturbing revelation, or because you prefer your calamari fried instead of alive.
This was one of the last movies I rented from a video store in the pre-Netflix days in early 2009. By then its reputation had grown in the west especially since on top of the many awards it had won it had also earned high praise from Quentin Tarantino who knows a thing or two about violent and entertaining movies. On paper Oldboy’s plot sounds like something right up his alley: a man is seemingly wronged by an adversary and that man then seeks bloody retribution. However while T…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #30: Aliens

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a movie can change a person. For me that movie was James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), a movie that made an action icon out of Sigourney Weaver after pitting her against an army of nightmarish creatures and their giant queen. This movie came out the year I was born and while I was growing up it increased in popularity achieving classic stardom as a science fiction, action and horror film. Unfortunately while I was growing up I must admit I was scared of most movie monsters, to the point that just the trailer for an Alien movie would make me nervous. Then I saw Cameron’s film and went to the dark side of the moon.
Here’s the setting: it’s 2002 and my parents and I are living in Santiago, Chile. By then I haven’t seen any of the Alien films from beginning to end, but I have a general idea of what they do and how they tend to pop out of people’s chests. One evening I see that Aliens is about to start playing on a movie channel and I decide to take a chanc…