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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…