Manhattan Screen 8 articles

Manhattan

1979

Manhattan Poster
  • Here’s a bold, likely unfair statement: Manhattan is a great movie because of Gordon Willis. It’s healthy to have an extra artistic force behind the camera to act as a counterpoint to the constant push-pull of egotism and self-deprecation that is Woody Allen’s screen persona. It’s good to have this war zone of competing impulses performing the drama while another guy just tries to capture beautiful things around him.

  • Filmed in Panavision on Technicolor stock which was then printed in black and white, Manhattan is decisively unified by the controlling influence of Gordon Willis’ luminous camerawork. The film is intricately patterned with street dolly shots, high angles and static medium shots.

  • Each of the film's tricky balancing acts—between visual beauty and verbal dexterity, between wit and pathos, between the specific and the universal—couldn't be more sublimely realized; like most every masterpiece, it's a tiny, insular story that nonetheless embodies human folly at its most ubiquitous and grandiose.

  • Shambling through life in search of experience that he turns into art, moralizing from a position of avid uncertainty, Allen serves up a nostalgia that was utterly of its time; he incarnates an idea of the city that, even now, remains as strong as its reality and refracts his disappointed ideals into high existential crises. He wouldn’t want to live in a city that would have him as its culture hero and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

  • It’s called Manhattan. The title suggests familiar Woody terrain, but its sheer bluntness implies something special, an impression that this is “the one,” the film that gets at everything Allen feels about the second greatest love of his life (after himself, though the two can’t so easily be pried apart.) It remains his most fawning love letter to the city.

  • [The 4K restoration] looks spectacular. And the film itself, which I had prepared myself to look at with a gimlet and/or jaundiced eye (I didn’t much like its situational sexual ethics when I saw the movie for the first time, as a pup of 19), worked on me like I had not expected at all. It’s a really well-constructed film, and the final lines, delivered beautifully by Mariel Hemingway (she and Diane Keaton are the movie’s strongest performers), actually choked me up.

  • What results is a kind of photographic negative of the comparably more pastel-hued Annie Hall, a mellow, grayscale romantic melodrama with a liberal dosage of one-liners that would be taken for chemical impurities if the film weren't also manifestly abstracted by Gordon Willis's world-class black-and-white cinematography.

  • Woody Allen's first film in CinemaScope—but not his last evocation of classic black-and-white cinematography (ZELIG, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, etc.)—this remains the most commercially successful film of his career and, for many fans, his high watermark as well. A comedy-drama about romance versus practicality, this has a host of sophisticated one-liners and a lot of asides about the beauty of New York City.

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