Forty-two year old Isaac Davis has a romanticized view of his hometown, New York City, most specifically Manhattan, as channeled through the lead character in the first book he is writing, despite his own Manhattan-based life being more of a tragicomedy. He has just quit his job as a hack writer for a bad television comedy, he, beyond the ten second rush of endorphins during the actual act of quitting, now regretting the decision, especially as he isn't sure he can live off his book writing career. He is paying two alimonies, his second ex-wife, Jill Davis, a lesbian, who is writing her own tell-all book of their acrimonious split. The one somewhat positive aspect of his life is that he is dating a young woman named Tracy, although she is only seventeen and still in high school. Largely because of their differences a big part of which is due to their ages, he does not see a long term future with her. His life has the potential to be even more tragicomical when he meets journalist Mary... Written by
[music: the opening of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Voiceover]
Chapter 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. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over.
Chapter One: He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. He thrived on...
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There are no opening credits, save the production company bumper and the film's title, which appears as part of a flashing neon sign in New York City. See more »
"Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Beneath his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat."
After the phenomenal success of 'Annie Hall,' the hilarious Oscar-winning comedy detailing the romantic exploits of neurotic Jewish comedian Alvey Singer, Woody Allen had become of America's most respected filmmakers. In 1979, he released what is generally accepted as his second great masterpiece, 'Manhattan,' a poignant tribute to the city that Allen loves so dearly. Written by Allen and his 'Annie Hall'-collaborator Marshall Brickman, 'Manhattan' stars Allen as Isaac Davis, a twice-divorced, 42-year-old comedy writer who is intimately involved with a 17-year-old high school student, Tracy (an Oscar-nominated Mariel Hemingway). Meanwhile, Isaac begins to fall for Mary (Diane Keaton), who is the secret mistress of his best friend (Michael Murphy). Adding to all of Isaac's troubles, his former second wife, Jill (Meryl Streep), who had originally left him for another woman, has plans to write a tell-all book on their failed marriage.
If this all seems very confusing to you, then you're not alone. Just as in 'Annie Hall,' Allen plays the hopeless romantic who is struggling desperately to understand the maddening complexity of human relationships. Though Tracy is only seventeen years old, she is arguably the most honest and mature of the women in Isaac's life; nonetheless, he doesn't treat her seriously. In his mind, anything that she says is quite obviously influenced by the naivety and downright ignorance of the young. Their relationship was never meant to be anything more than a brief "fling," and so he feels no guilt for seeing another woman behind his back, an act that makes him livid when it ultimately happens to him.
'Manhattan' was shot in beautiful crisp black-and-white by Gordon Willis, who has also worked on, among countless other films, 'Annie Hall' and the three installments of 'The Godfather.' The cinematography offers New York City a romantic 1940s feel, reminiscent of how Allen claims to remember the city as a child: "Maybe it's a reminiscence from old photographs, films, books and all that. But that's how I remember New York. I always heard Gershwin music with it, too. In 'Manhattan' I really think that we that's me and cinematographer Gordon Willis succeeded in showing the city. When you see it there on that big screen it's really decadent."
Mysteriously, this film remains the least-liked by the director himself, though, at the same time, it was also his most commercially successful. As you've no doubt already noticed from this review, 'Manhattan' is often likened to 1977's 'Annie Hall,' perhaps due to the repeated casting of Allen and Keaton (a not uncommon occurrence) or its similar attempt to uncover the elusive secrets behind love and relationships. In terms of film-making style, however, the films are quite dissimilar. Unlike the highly-energetic 'Annie Hall' which cut back and forward in time, visited old memories, broke the fourth wall and made conversations with passing extras 'Manhattan' boasts a more classical approach quiet, softly-spoken and accompanied by a wistfully slow jazzy soundtrack, also relying heavily on the works of George Gershwin.
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