CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Not Everybody Gets Corrupted

This is my entry for The Lovesick Blog-A-Thon at 100 Films. Check the hub for more links. And have a happy Valentine's Day.

Woody Allen has made a career out of using his films as relationship therapy. Hell, Annie Hall's flashback structure is supposed to invite us into Alvy's head like a therapist. And yet Manhattan stands out from his work, mainly for the visuals it provides. It is the work of an artist telling two love stories: a tragic romance of egomaniacs, and the story of a man and the city that will never leave him. And it is with the camera that he tells the hidden tale under each story.

Isaac Davis (Allen) loves New York, as is clearly stated in his opening monologue. Every attempt at an opening both talks about himself and the city he loves. The first attempt even begins "He adored New York City." Those are the first words of Manhattan, besides "Chapter One." And if that doesn't convince you that this is a love letter to the Big Apple, then Woody is willing to take you all over town. From the Queensborough Bridge to the Guggenheim, cinematographer Gordon Willis gives us a new view of the city, avoiding tourist traps and leaving us speechless at the city we can find instead. In its near fetishism of the backgrounds, Manhattan shows just how much it prefers the scenery to the characters who make its story.

As much as Manhattan is about Woody Allen's love for his hometown, it also tells a magnificent story about our self-destructive nature and loss. Isaac is in a relationship with Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but he has feelings for Mary (Diane Keaton). Mary is in a relationship with Yale (Michael Murphy), but Yale is already married. Of these four characters, the only innocent one is Tracy, cruelly dumped by Isaac for Mary. Each of the others equivocates on their relationships, leading only to heartbreak for those cast off. Where Mary and Yale are unsure whether or not to end their romance and Isaac fears that Tracy is too young for him, Tracy has only love for Isaac. In fact, by the end of the film, we are unsure if anyone other than Tracy is capable of love.

Allen captures the lack of communication by isolating his characters within his camera. Most of the movie is shot in extended medium/long shots, giving his characters room to breathe and time to carefully craft their words. There are some scenes, though, which break from this tradition by creating a shot/reverse shot pattern. The quick cuts and close ups are jarring to the viewer and indicative of the abrupt shifts that take place in the story. Notable examples are Yale and Mary's mutual break up and the final scene, which shows just how much Tracy has grown since we last saw her.

Manhattan is supposedly based on Woody Allen's real dating life in the 70's when he dated Diane Keaton and a 17 year old girl. Whether he's saying that he doesn't deserve what he got or that he regrets letting the best thing in his life slip away, this is an enduring work, showcasing an artist at his peak. Each image lends itself to one of the two love stories, and each line rings true. Happy Valentine's Day.

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Blogger lucas said...

i really like what you wrote about the editing. it makes me really want to watch it again to see what i missed.

8:10 PM

Blogger johanna said...

i just watched this a few weeks ago, and couldn't get over the framing...

I think that wanting to be with someone who is at the age when love seemed so easy and simple would've been a good enough place to start, but he infused this with so much character -- from the city that he loves more than himself, to how marriage can seem like a partnership tougher than rock -- that he did the state of being in a relationship a realer justice than he would've if he'd tried to isolate one specific kind.

Cuz...I think we all know it isn't easy. But... doesn't really explore that recurring notion that place (setting) has so much bearing on our sensibilities, as I don't think Allen could ever picture himself anywhere else, and it struck me that the photography kind of relays that without really trying. His character's as anchored to New York as the film's title is to our subconscious.

That was the real beauty of the framing, to me. He just assumed that we would understand that being anywhere else would not have been inducive to falling in love...and that he wouldn't have felt safe enough anywhere else, since when Tracy gets on that plane it's his romance with the city itself that he can fall back on and stay tender.

9:32 PM

Blogger Damian said...

Manhattan is one of my all-time favorite films. I watch it quite frequently. In fact, I came THIS close to writing about it for the lovesick blog-a-thon. Now I'm glad I didn't. Good job! :)

2:42 AM

Blogger Brian said...

Nice post. I finally, finally saw this a few months ago, and it shot to the top of my list of favorite Woody Allen films (at least until I rewatch Annie Hall, which I just might do tonight- the same theatre is playing it for V-Day.)

I just wanted to mention a crucial component of the film: the Gershwin music. So perfect, even after certain themes having been overexposed by United Airlines commercials (I'm so glad I'd already fallen in love with Rhapsody in Blue before they started that campaign). Is there any doubt that the airplane shot in this film was that airline's inspiration for using the piece in their ads?

3:50 PM

Blogger The Sujewa said...

great opening sequence in that movie with the freworks & the narration & the music. the movie makes NYC look & feel very good.

- sujewa

3:55 PM

Blogger Damian said...

In watching Shawshank Redemption again yesterday, I was reminded of a bizarre "connection" between that movie and Manhattan. It's probably coincidental, but it did strike me as odd.

At one point in both films, the main character is given the gift of a harmonica by his friend/girlfriend (the "significant other" in the relationship) and in the following scene that character is in bed, decides to play a quick note on the harmonica and then stops right before we cut the next scene.

Weird, huh?

4:13 AM


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