Taking my Woody Allen, something-holic experience to the next step, here I am, writing from Manhattan of Brussels, about one of his controversial (ha!) flicks, Manhattan.
Allen himself was so dissatisfied with this movie that he offered the production house to direct the next movie for free. And ironically, the movie made more money than any of his favourites. Hota hai… Wasn’t Raj Kapoor surprised how Mera Naam Joker left him bankrupt, and a teenager-romance like Bobby had put him back on the pedestal?
Released in 1979, after two years of Annie Hall, Manhattan could again be called quintessential quirky (I’m going to exhaust this word by the end of my blog series) Allen. Like most of his on-screen avatars, he plays a middle aged divorced TV series writer Isaac, in faltering relationships, currently dating a high school student, much smarter for her age. Though he spends most of his time with her, trying to explain to her why they can’t stay together for long.
Isaac’s ex-wife has left him for a woman (yes, Ross’ case was not original). And his ex-wife is writing a book about her traumatising relationship in her marriage with him. His ‘happily-married’ friend is having an affair. He takes it for granted that his dating the high school girl is not going to last and tries to fix himself with his friend’s mistress. Ya, ya.. it all sounds very confusing. Go figure how it happens in the movie. It is totally worth it.
While figuring out what is happening in the movie, one ends up admiring how Woody uncle deals with neurosis of relationships, steering his story towards an unpredictable end with his trademark wit and glimpses of postcard scenes of New York.
There are some humorous gems when he is mocking the parties and pseudo discussions and wot not. Most of all, I love the way it begins. With the dialogues of a self correcting writer, starting a new piece, scribbling his first paragraph… “Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Beneath his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. I love this. New York was his town, and it always would be… “
I couldn’t resist put some samples of what he has to say about his audience, “You’re going by audience reaction? This is an audience that’s raised on television, their standards have been systematically lowered over the years. These guys sit in front of their sets and the gamma rays eat the white cells of their brains out! “
And then there are loads of passages I can go on quoting. In spite of his dissatisfaction with this one, it has one of the best moments of his career, permanently associating him with his beloved city. They often call it his love song to New York.
He plays similar characters in his movies, but he is like the static end of the compass, as he lets the gamut of his other actors, characters explore other areas of life, art and relationships. Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton do fine justice to their characters here.
I’m sure he has survived and been appreciated over the years in spite of who he is, Allen’s work is not all talk. His cinematography, lighting, large frames and editing keep reminding you that it is a powerful piece of cinema. Though it looks like he is being egotistical with his dialogues and characters, Manhattan rates very high on cinematic techniques.
And though the movie is not about the city, one could feel Manhattan looming over the relationships, providing a prefect canvas for all that is happening.
Watching Manhattan may not change the way you look at life, but it would surely change the way you appreciate cinema.