Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I'll take Manhattan

Just as I make a big deal about not watching any movie older than the early 1960s, TCM runs an entire night of films from the 70s and early 80s. Fortunately, the one they chose for prime time (Eastern) was Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

I’m not sure why I like Woody Allen movies. I think it’s because I recognize his characters and their setting. A Woody Allen movie for me is like a trip back home where everybody doesn’t know your name; where everybody doesn’t look alike; where everybody isn’t related to everybody else. There are people with noses like mine in Woody Allen movies (and no one conjectures behind their backs whether they are Jewish or “Eye-talian” – but I digress*).

I have to admit, Manhattan is not my favorite Allen movie. I’m not quite so sophisticated as to be comfortable with the idea of this middle-aged man (Isaac) having an adult relationship with a 17-year-old schoolgirl (Tracy, played by Mariel Hemingway). And, while he acknowledges in course of the movie that even he thinks it’s not entirely normal, I can’t help doubting his sincerity in view of Allen’s actions in his private life (though admittedly Soon Yi was over 18 when they began their “adult” relationship).

In terms of revealing Isaac’s flaws though, this Lolita-esque relationship more than delivers. He is an impulsive man-child who cannot seem to grow out of his childish selfishness. Tracy, meanwhile, is that rare breed of New York City-raised children who have been essentially self-sufficient since they were 12. Allen sets her up in several scenes as the patient mother figure, placating a hyper, cranky, whining Isaac.

I think where most people run into problems with Allen’s movies (and I’ll admit to catching myself doing it too) is that they can’t separate Allen playing the main character and Allen himself. The director does seem to pick one of his character flaws and make it a theme for each of his movies. And, for Woody Allen-hater, Manhattan highlights that flaw for which he is famous – self-absorption.

The rest of the movie’s characters are Allen’s usual assortment of neurotic, schizophrenic urbanites trying to establish an individual identity while at the same time looking desperately for some other soul to “complete them.” Diane Keaton is particularly funny as an insecure hyper-intellectual trying in vain to control her world with words.

What shines through in Manhattan, though, is the city itself, whether through breathtaking black and white scans of the skyline set to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue or an intimate scene at a Bloomingdales’ sales counter punctuated by those ever-present department store bells.

Okay, the line I love:
“They probably sit around on the floor with wine and cheese, and mispronounce allegorical and didacticism.”
*I've been running into this issue a lot lately, where I'm put on the spot to speak rapturously about how wonderful it is living in a small town in the rural south. I don't know what this means, but I am thankful for the occasional respites from down-home folksy drivel provided by Woody Allen movies.

1 comment:

Gwynne said...

I've never lived anywhere near New York, but I love watching movies set in the city. And even I, who disagrees with Woody Allen's position on nearly everything, has to admit he's made some great films. My favorite is Annie Hall. Nobody does "nervous" quite like Woody.