Wednesday, October 9, 2013
(April 1979, U.S.)
After the runaway success of ANNIE HALL (1977), including the Oscar for best picture of the year (something his films have never done since), it's safe to say that Woody Allen was free to make any kind of film he wanted. So did he make us laugh again? No - quite the opposite. Instead, he gave us the serious side of his creativity with INTERIORS (1978), quite possibly the most depressing film I've ever seen. No, seriously, this film made you want to slit your own wrists and drink your own blood! So all I can say, is thank goodness for MANHATTAN because, in my opinion, it not only redeemed Woody's film career but restored my faith in his ability to make us laugh again.
Not to say that MANHATTAN isn't without its serious quirks that explore human insecurities and neurosis, but it does so while truly inviting the viewer into the heart of a city that Woody's been in love with his whole life. From the moment that George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" begins to play, we witness a stunning montage of the city's most well-known and popular sites in glorious black and white. This captures my attention in particular because, I, too, have always felt that New York City was best captured in black and white. It's the only way I know that can make a city that I still consider a big garbage dump actually look good with visual beauty! This classic shot of the Manhattan bridge is probably the best known example...
Hell, many years ago I developed my own hobby of photographing what remained of the city's single movie houses in black and white (but that's another story). And just what is it about "Rhapsody in Blue" that equates itself with the city of New York? It was used again in an animated New York sequence in FANTASIA 2000. Woody would again show us Manhattan in black and white in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) and CELEBRITY (1998).
The first thing one notices is that Woody's character of Isaac Davis is not unlike many of the other New York character we've seen on screen; he nervous, he's neurotic, he's self-involved, he's self-righteous, he's narcissistic and he's always very horny! As in three films prior, he's teamed up with Diane Keaton again as Mary, who, this time is not playful or goofy as we'd seen her before. She's intellectual, she's blunt, to the point, self-assured and even vulgar, when necessary. She's in total command of her sexuality and in the knowledge of her own beauty, which she believes makes it very simple to secure relationships with men, good or bad. In the short span of time that this film flows, she loves her married boyfriend Yale (played by Michael Murphy) and she loves Isaac, too, but she breaks up with Yale to be with Isaac, but then finds she still loves Yale and then breaks up with Isaac.
(take a breath now!)
Perhaps her unstable attitude toward relationships make her perfect for Isaac, because he's almost no better. While he's falling in love with Mary, he's also dating and sleeping with a seventeen year-old high school girl named Tracy (played by Mariel Hemingway). He loves Mary, but doesn't want to fall in love with Tracy, so he dumps Tracy to be with Mary, but then ends up alone when Mary dumps him to be with Yale and then realizes later that he does, in fact, love Tracy, but by then it may be too late.
(another breath now, because this is all starting to sound like the lyrics to "Love Stinks" by the J. Geils Band!)
Woody's social message about how human beings (in this case, the island of Manhattan) are constantly and knowingly creating unnecessary, complicated and irrational situations for themselves when it comes to love and people. We're all guilty of it, I suppose. I'm sure I've done it myself during my younger, pre-married days. Interestingly, most people probably never learn from their mistakes and continue to try and find new ways to create new mistakes with new people. Does that make us human? Does that make us incredibly stupid? Does that make us pathetically vain and fool-hearted? All of it??
Now let's focus for a minutes on the rather interesting relationship between Woody Allen's character and a much, much younger girl. If one were to truly consider this, should this not have been a very real warning to the rest of the world for what he would eventually go and do with Soon-Yi Previn thirteen years later in 1992?? It's pretty obvious the man loves them young! Hemingway in MANHATTAN, Juliette Lewis in HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992) and Scarlett Johansson in various later films. That infamous scandal never really did hurt his film career, by the way. People tend to get over even the worst of scandals eventually.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Yale: "You are so self-righteous, you know. I mean we're just people. We're just human beings, you know? You think you're God!"
Isaac Davis: "I...I gotta model myself after someone!"
Yale: "You just can't live the way you do, you know. It's all so perfect."
Isaac: "What are future generations gonna say about us? I mean, God (pointing to a primate skeleton), someday, we're gonna, we're gonna be like him! I mean, you know, he was probably one of the beautiful people! He was probably dancing and playing tennis and everything, and, and now look...this is what happens to us! You know, it's very important to have, to have some kind of personal integrity! You know, I'll be hanging in a classroom one day, and, and I wanna make sure when I...thin out...that I'm well thought of!"