“Manhattan” (1979)

By Daniella Nichinson, Staff Writer

“Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. 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.” “Manhattan”: the ultimate cinematic love letter to New York ever made. Woody Allen’s complete adoration of this city is so strong that sometimes you wonder if he loves it more than he does his female love interests in his films. He shows us that in times of relationship woes, New York will always be there to catch you when you fall.

The film opens with a three-minute long, black and white montage of various scenes in New York, accompanied by Woody’s narration and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” I have watched this opening scene countless times, and with each viewing, its beauty has a greater and greater effect on me. I am aware that the actual New York is not as flawless as this, but to see it in this godly light is irresistible. From the towering skyscrapers to the bustling streets, everything, even the laundry hanging on the line, has an attraction to it.

One of the most famous shots in the film is Isaac (Woody Allen) and Mary (Diane Keaton) sitting on a bench, looking out to the Queensboro bridge. It’s difficult to put into words what makes this scene so captivating. In the simplicity of it, the angle of the image, the budding of a new romance, the scene evokes a feeling of tranquility: in that moment, we’re able to escape the hustle bustle of the city and breathe in the air on the bench with Isaac and Mary.

We see the characters, Isaac, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), Mary, and Yale (Michael Murphy), spend their days at posh museums, discussing intellectual topics. Ranging from names as Diane Arbus to Heinrich Boll, their conversations are not something average New Yorkers would talk about. Though, even Woody satirizes the high-level of pretentiousness exemplified by Mary and Yale. A more common interaction in 1970s New York would be something similar to “Taxi Driver”: prostitutes surrounding an adult movie theatre at 2:00 in the morning.

What makes “Manhattan” an exemplary romantic homage to the city of New York is the relationship between Isaac and Tracy. Despite their large age difference and society’s judgment, Isaac goes back to Tracy, realizing how much he loves her. This is evidently one of Woody’s more optimistic films. In a city as sentimental and fantastical as New York, he tells us, we are bound to find happiness.

Since watching “Manhattan” for the first time, I have begun to see the city in a different light. I have always been enamored with New York, though Woody Allen, specifically this film, has made me fall head over heels in love with it. No one actually wants to see the gloomy and dismal underbellies of the places they call home; we all want to raise our cities onto a tall pedestal, which Woody Allen orchestrated to perfection in “Manhattan.”



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