Director: Woody Allen
Production: A Jack Rollins-Charles H. Joffe Production for United Artists; black and white, 35mm, Panavision; running time: 96 minutes. Released 1979. Filmed 1978 in New York City.
Producer: Charles H. Joffe; screenplay: Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman; photography: Gordon Willis; editor: Susan E. Morse; production designer: Mel Bourne; music: George Gershwin; costume designer: Albert Wolsky.
Cast: Woody Allen (Isaac Davis); Diane Keaton (Mary Wilke); Mariel Hemingway (Tracy); Michael Murphy (Yale); Meryl Streep (Jill); Anne Byrne (Emily).
Awards: New York Film Critics Awards for Best Direction (shared with Robert Benton for Kramer vs. Kramer) and Best Supporting Actress (Streep, award also includes her performances in Kramer vs. Kramer and Seduction of Joe Tynan), 1979.
Allen, Woody, and Marshall Brickman, Manhattan, in Four Films ofWoody Allen, New York, 1982.
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* * *
Manhattan opens with images of New York City over which the voice of Woody Allen, as writer Isaac Davis, begins chapter one of his new book: "He adored New York City. He idolized it out of proportion." The film is an homage to "Allen-town," to the city that spawned him, but unlike Allen's homage to the woman of his dreams (Annie Hall), here he idolizes the good while systematically removing the obviously negative. In the prologue he presents us with New York City's most glorious vistas: fireworks over Central Park, the skyline at dawn, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, all to the lush romantic sound of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Gone are the messy vistas, the untidy streets, the horrors of the subway system, people of non-white lineage. His book, an expanded version of an article he had written about his mother entitled "The Castrating Zionist," is, one can assume, this movie, and Isaac Davis is its author.
With typical deprecation, Isaac decides that the best way to achieve success is to write an autobiographical novel that is neither preachy nor angry, which focuses on an explication of his desired self-image. That image, like his image of the city, is a castrated one. While dwelling on the city's physical beauty, Isaac proceeds to effect an autopsy on his social set, his ultimate desire being an exposé of the decay of contemporary culture.
That social set consists of writers. Four of the main characters belong to that occupation: Isaac Davis is a television writer who quits his job to write his book; Yale is a teacher who is working on a biography of O'Neill; Mary Wilke is a journalist who writes on art and a variety of other topics; Jill is Isaac's ex-wife who publishes a feminist tract on their marriage entitled Marriage, Divorce and Selfhood. Throughout the film the names of great writers are bandied about, each one cited as if he were a reference point in the psychological development of the character. Thus Isaac refers to Strindberg, Bergman, Fellini, Kafka and Groucho Marx, his strategy being both reverential and referential. As he says to Yale: "I gotta model myself after someone!" The blend of writers cited certifies Isaac's neurotic condition. His problems, like those of the city, are intellectual.
As with other Allen films, this one also dwells on the impossibility of lasting relationships. If Bergman and Fellini were the influences of Interiors and Stardust Memories, Orson Welles seems to be the working model here, most specifically the Welles of The Lady from Shanghai. A reflection of the real-life decay of Welles's marriage to Rita Hayworth, Lady abounds with bitter commentary on relationships. References to Hayworth, the buggy ride in Central Park, the use of the planetarium for a love scene, the romantic voice-over which begins Manhattan, and themes of decay all point to this film as an influence. In fact, the last line of dialogue from Shanghai could have been used to end Manhattan.
Filmed in Panavision on Technicolor stock, then printed in black and white, this film is Allen's most complex reflection on the artist as romantic—his draining of its color the most bitter-sweet stroke.
MANHATTAN. Geography largely shaped the character and development of Manhattan, the acknowledged heart of New York City. An island, Manhattan was only linked to the "outlet" boroughs by bridges and tunnels in the late nineteenth century. Its location, dominating New York Harbor, ensured that it would emerge as one of the major centers of colonial and national commerce. Originally settled around its southern tip (the Battery), Manhattan expanded northward to Canal Street by the American Revolution, continued to Greenwich Village by the Age of Jackson, and encompassed the upper East and West Sides above Herald Square (Thirty-third Street) in the mid-and late nineteenth century. The fields of Harlem and beyond, above Central Park, were settled at the end of the nineteenth century and just after.
Manhattan's economic centricity in turn guaranteed its political clout and helped shape its national claim to cultural prominence. This island has always had an enormous impact on American literature, theater, and art. Writers centered on Manhattan, for example, included the Algonquin Round Table, Greenwich Village bohemia, and the Harlem Renaissance. Broadway and later off Broadway dominated the landscape of American drama. Manhattan's great museums, particularly the famed "museum mile" along upper Fifth Avenue, became among the best in the world. Its prominent role along the entire spectrum of human endeavor has not always made Manhattan beloved by Americans, but it is a place most Americans want to visit.
Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. Gotham. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1995.
See alsoNew York City .
Manhattan ★★★★ 1979 (R)
Successful TV writer Isaac Davis (Allen) yearns to be a serious writer. He struggles through a series of ill-fated romances, including one with high school senior Tracy (Hemingway) and another with Mary (Keaton), who's also having an on-again, off-again affair with Yale (Murphy), Isaac's best friend. Streep does very well with her role of Jill, Isaac's ex-wife who's come out as a lesbian and written a withering (and successful) account of their marriage. Scathingly serious and comic view of modern relationships in urban America and of the modern intellectual neuroses. Shot in black-and-white to capture the mood of Manhattan and mated with an excellent Gershwin soundtrack. 96m/B VHS, DVD . Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Michael Murphy, Wallace Shawn, Anne Byrne, Tisa Farrow, Mark Linn-Baker, David Rasche, Karen Allen; D: Woody Allen; W: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman; C: Gordon Willis. British Acad. ‘79: Film, Screenplay; Cesar ‘80: Foreign Film; L.A. Film Critics ‘79: Support. Actress (Streep), Natl. Film Reg. ‘01;; N.Y. Film Critics ‘79: Director (Allen), Support. Actress (Streep); Natl. Soc. Film Critics ‘79: Director (Allen), Support. Actress (Streep).