179 of 196 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2001
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
In 1979, Woody had the burden of trying to capture the "originality" of "Annie Hall," the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1977.
So when "Manhattan" was released, Woody's first "true" widescreen picture (so much so that Woody insisted this film NEVER be released on video or shown on television without the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen), I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
I discovered that "Manhattan" had a completely different tone than "Annie Hall." It was more serious, but still hilarious. I became so enraptured by its themes, its music and its atmosphere that I felt, until I saw "Schindler's List" in late 1993, that I had witnessed something that comes along only once or twice a generation...and that's true greatness on film. I paid to see "Manhattan" at least four times during its initial run in 1979. I had never done this before, even when I include those popcorn pictures I had seen several times put out by Spielberg and Lucas during the 1970s. I found "Manhattan" simply incredible, so "on the mark," so revelatory about the weaknesses of people, especially so-called "intelligent" people.
Rather than go over the plot, I believe "Manhattan's" themes include the following:
1. intellectualism is overrated.
2. romance is illogical and unscientific.
3. words don't always match our actions.
4. moral structure is a man-made invention.
5. fidelity is an optimistic ideal.
6. skeletons in the closet are better left unsaid.
7. uncorrupted optimism is mostly found in young people.
8. cynicism increases as you grow old.
9. advancing years = more unnecessary baggage.
10. The more you know, the more it can hurt you.
That all of the above is delivered with humor is something only Woody Allen could accomplish.
There was a time when Woody's life imitated his art so closely that I had to avoid this SPECIFIC film for awhile. But now the past is past and it doesn't matter. Woody's art remains and the messages in "Manhattan" haven't been diminished after so many years. It still holds up even though it was made during the late 1970s.
Yes, Woody Allen's films are an acquired taste. People won't admit it, but when you pin down WHY they don't like "Manhattan" or anything he does, you find the reasons are rooted in conventional moral judgments, religious intolerance or even genetic issues such as his "whiny" voice and the fact he is one of the most non-photogenic actor-director-writers of our time (e.g., no one likes watching Woody "kiss" any woman on screen.)
And when art becomes too closely reflective of an artist's life, it can make people uncomfortable. My response is if you are unable to separate an artist's personal life or lifestyle from his work, sometimes the world can be made the lesser for it. Woody Allen is among the list of artists who polarize because he's considered by some to be "unbalanced and immoral," e.g., like Hemingway, Picasso, Polanski, Van Gogh, Henry Miller, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Lewis Carroll, Ingrid Bergman, etc.
Yet in my view, "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall" remain the benchmarks of all urban-based, non-screwball comedies made in America. That Woody was able to "re-invent," or more to the point -- to "invent" a new genre of comedy -- is more evident today by looking at everything that has come since 1979 that is clearly derivative from these two landmark urban films.
Only smug elitists call people who don't "get" this film "fools." They're not fools. Again, Woody's films are an acquired taste. Fans who have followed him forever, candidly like the way he is on screen, even if it's the same nebbish, over-analytical character every time. We're comfortable with him in the same and opposite way that we didn't mind Cary Grant playing Cary Grant all of the time. Nobody delivers a punch line or joke better than Woody and when he's not in his own films, they don't seem as funny.
Despite the paradox Woody's personal life presents to many film fans, "Manhattan" is not a film that should be dismissed. It is, in my opinion, the finest of Woody's "quartet" of masterpieces (the others are "Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors"). There is so much humor and truth woven into this picture, complimented by a glorious Gershwin score and wonderful black and white cinematography, that I'm 100 percent sure -- that Woody will never be able to top this film -- even if he lives to 100.
The story of human attraction to forbidden, "untarnished" youth - and its relationship to conventional morality - has been written and debated for centuries. However taboo it remains - in the world of art - it's far from new.
The end "smirk" on Woody's face speaks volumes about what's going on in this story, and why, unlike most of Hollywood's "mainstream" comedies, Allen refuses to give the viewer a standard cornball ending.
Yet what he leaves behind as the credits roll, still leaves you satisfied. There isn't anything left hanging, in my mind, since you already know that Woody's character KNOWS how everything is going to end. That's the reason for the "smirk."
How many filmmakers can get away with this and stay original? This is Woody's greatest film and it remains undated after more than 35 years.
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2000
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
No matter how many times I watch this piece of heavan, I still get teary at the line "you gotta have a little faith in people..." This is a movie with so much beauty and depth, humor and poignant romanticism. I can even accept Issac's (Woody Allen) older man/young girl romance ( and usually I am annoyed by the prevalance of this type of pairing in so many movies ) because to me ,the endearing Tracy, (Mariel Hemingway so SO wonderful here) represents the tender spirit of love, the open heart that simply feels what it feels. She is the point on which the movie pivots, with her sweet goodness and simple message of emotional purity in contrast to the over analysis the other older characters give love. There are so many levels on which to appreciate this movie. I could try to analyze it in words (as Woody and his complex, terrific cast of characters analyze their lives and loves...) but instead, I have to just tell you all with FEELING: Visit this film, the magical, dreamy, spectacular, perfect place...Manhattan.
37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
When Woody Allen won the Oscar (in abstentia) for writing and directing "Annie Hall," which also won the Oscar for Best Picture, it was assumed the stand-up comic turned auteur had reached the pinnacle of his career. Then Allen proceeded to go out and make an even better film with his next effort, "Manhattan." Filmed in glorious black & white (and widescreen) by the great cinematographer Gordon Willis, the opening sequence combining indelible images of New York City with Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is a paean to city Allen loves and the most rhapsodical sequence in any of his films.
Rather than talking about the plot per se, "Manhattan" is best explained as a convoluted series of wrecked and ruined relationships centering around Allen's character, Isaac Davis. Isaac is divorced from Jill (Meryl Streep), who is now living with Connie (Karen Ludwig), and planning to write an expose on her marriage. Isaac is having an affair with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but then he meets Mary (Diane Keaton), the mistress of his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy), who is married to Emily (Anne Byrne). Ultimately, however, this is not a film about love, but rather a film about loss, because you just know that forced to make choices, Isaac is going to make the wrong ones. Tracy and Mary are characters constructed as such polar opposites and it never dawns on Isaac to focus more on what each has than on what they lack.
Of course, today this film is obviously open to reinterpretation given Allen's very public personal life and it is now assumed that the Isaac-Tracy relationship was a sign of things to come rather than a dramatic construction. If you can get away from the film's Freudian implications then you can appreciate Hemingway's Oscar nominated performance, which is not only at the heart of the film but provides its heart as well. In contrast, Keaton's Mary is rather soulless (the anti-Annie Hall if you will). When the choice is so clear the fault is clearly not in the women, but rather in the character of Isaac (or lack of character, as the case might be). The ending is certainly the most bitter sweet of any Allen film to date.
Most Romantic Lines (remember, this is a Woody Allen film): (1) "I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics"; (2) "Yeah! I can tell, a lot. That's, well, a lot is my favorite number", and, of course, (3) "Why is life worth living? It's a very good question. Um...Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh...Like what... okay...um...For me, uh... ooh... I would say ... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... uh...um... and Willie Mays... and um ... the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony ... and um... Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues ... um ... Swedish movies, naturally ... Sentimental Education by Flaubert ... uh... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra ... um ... those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne... uh...the crabs at Sam Wo's... uh... Tracy's face ..."
If you enjoyed "Manhattan" then check out these other films on the AFI's list of 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time: #11 "Annie Hall," #25 "When Harry Met Sally," and #35 "Gigi." Why? The first because it is also Woody Allen, the second because it also takes place in NYC and involves making the wrong choice and then running to the woman to do something about it, and the third because it also thanks heaven for little girls...
26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2000
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
"Annie Hall" may be generally regarded as the funniest of Woody Allen's adult comedies, but there's much to be said for the richly textured "Manhattan." Mariel Hemingway is perfectly cast as the doe-eyed (and teen-aged) Tracy, the initial love interest of Allen's Isaac Davis. Setting aside any parallels to Mr. Allen's current real-life situation, suffice it to say that the relationship between Isaac and Tracy is sweet and passionate, and ultimately the heart of the life lesson Isaac learns. Dianne Keaton (Mary Wilke) is the hyper, neurotic adult involved with Isaac's married friend Yale (Michael Murphy). Together, Hemingway and Keaton give excellent performances: perhaps even Mariel's best, while Keaton's is at times cloying but at heart quite sympathetic in a search for love in Manhattan. Which brings us to the real star of the film: the city itself. The opening montage alone--set to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"--paints a delightfully romantic, pulsing portrait of Allen's New York. Cinematographer Gordon Willis's sumptuous black-and-white was shamefully overlooked by the Academy. Visually, the film is stunning, with a palette of tones that reflect the story's inherent warmth as well as its moments of stark confrontation. Allen has worked in black-and-white several times, but this is the most successful effort. And, as much as he seems to decry it, Woody once again creates a sentimental--but never mawkish--ode to love, human frailties, and the Big Apple. Yes, that's Meryl Streep as the other woman. If a classic film is one that stands the test of time, then "Manhattan" is holding up exceptionally well. Even bettern than "Annie Hall."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Perhaps a quarter-century is enough to overlook the unavoidable prescience of this 1979 social dramedy in depicting Woody Allen's future relationship with and marriage to 35-years younger Soon-Yi Previn. I hope so because viewing it for the first time since its original release, I think it's probably still his most mature and romantic film. Neither as hilariously quirky as "Annie Hall" nor as expansive in perspective as "Hannah and Her Sisters", this film focuses almost exclusively on the degrees of human fallibility in its central characters, almost all of whom are writers and consequently acute, sometimes pretentious observers of the life around them.
Allen portrays Isaac Davis, a neurotic but successful TV writer who at 42, has soured on love after two failed marriages. Almost in emotional retaliation, he has taken up with Tracy, a seventeen-year old high school student. She is a calming influence but one he refuses to take seriously given her tender years. Isaac's frustrated best friend Yale, married twelve years to Emily, has been having an affair with an irritatingly self-absorbed editor named Mary. Realizing the relationship cannot go anywhere, Mary breaks it off and finds herself drawn to Isaac. Concurrently caught in an unexpected career change, Isaac starts to face realities about his own emotional state, and complications ensue in a most resonant manner. In fact, the last five minutes are the most achingly romantic that Allen has put on film.
What remains impressive about this true masterwork is the unbeatable combination of the clever, penetrating script by Allen and Marshall Brickman (reunited from "Annie Hall"), the grandly orchestrated Gershwin pieces as a musical chorus and the astonishing black-and-white cinematography of Gordon Willis. As usual for an Allen film, the performances are uniformly accomplished. In something of an about-face from the lovable Annie, Diane Keaton unapologetically brings out the sharp intellect and brittle neurosis of Mary in crisp detail. Michael Murphy plays a variation of his cheating husband in "An Unmarried Woman" but with far greater depth as Yale. In her breakout year, Meryl Streep, looking austerely beautiful with her long blonde hair cast to one side, has three incisive scenes as Isaac's ex-wife Jill, who has since embarked on a lesbian relationship and writes a tell-all book about their marriage.
Ironically, Anne Byrne was just about to go through her own public divorce from Dustin Hoffman when she played Emily at the time. Even Allen manages a few moments of poignancy that transcend Isaac's constant angst. But the jewel of the cast is Mariel Hemingway, who plays Tracy with such a beguiling blend of maturity and naiveté. As it turns out, her character is the only one who is emotionally available and honest about her feelings. This is still a splendid work, and if you can get past the life-imitating-art-imitating-life analogies, this one will stay with you. And Manhattan never looked better. With a sharp print transfer, the 2000 DVD unsurprisingly has no extras, as with all Allen films, except the original theatrical trailer.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
"Manhattan" is the prime example of how a great New York movie should be: A complicated romantic comedy/drama filmed in gorgeous black and white, flowing to the legendary tunes of George Gershwin, written and directed by the urban poet of this crazy city, Woody Allen. I fell head over heels in love with this movie and have made it a habit to watch it every weekend. Woody Allen really broke the cinema mold when he made this one. C'mon! How many movies do you know that were made in 1979 that were filmed in black and white? It's a soulful, witty story of a television writer named Issac, played by Woody Allen, who is in a relationship with a beautiful teenage girl, Tracy, played by Mariel Hemingway, then he falls for his friend's intelligent mistress, Mary, played by Diane Keaton. As the film goes on, arguements are heated, hearts are broken, and Gershwin plays on. This film has such a timeless quality that one could watch it now and never think that it was made many years ago. Powered by mesmerizing performances by Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, and Mariel Hemingway, this film deserves every piece of praise it has been given. It also has one of the most endearing endings ever made with Tracy telling a heartbroken Issac, "Everyone gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people". That line shouldn't be meant to be heard just by Issac, but by many people who live during these anxiety-ridden times. "Manhattan" is one of those movies that stay under your skin a long time. Buy it now!
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2012
DO NOT BUY THIS BLU-RAY! The movie is a masterpiece, but this release is a nightmare.
We have come to expect that DVDs will look better than VHS tapes and Blu-rays will look better still, and typically that is the case. This film is a remarkably beautiful work that could easily be listed among the top 10 American films of all time. Unfortunately the blu-ray transfer for this movie looks absolutely horrible. You'd think that after 30 years the film company (20th Century releasing a UA film) would have thought the film worthy of a cleaning before the transfer. It looks like a digital transfer of a fifth generation print done by an inexperienced lab tech in a single afternoon. The company obviously didn't WATCH the film because anyone with a love of cinema would find this version unbearable. From the very first scene the sky (or any large reasonably lit surface) is crawling with pixelization. Another reviewer said it looked like the sky was filled with locusts, and it certainly does.
Fortunately Mr. Allen doesn't screen his films after they're made, because if he saw this tranfer I feel certain he'd vomit at the sight of it. It is brilliant art turned into excruciating torture. Just to be certain that it wasn't just me, or my TV or player, I also watched it on another HDTV and the results were equally horrible. I also pulled out my old DVD copy and while it isn't perfect, the picture quality is actually far better than that of the new blu-ray.
The company should pull this release and re-issue after going back to an original master print and giving it a proper restoration. The recent release of Taxi Driver shows what a reissue of a classic should be. It makes it all the worse to find another film as deserving of a quality release just dumped into stores to pick up a few dollars. 20th Century should be ashamed.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2001
There's poetry in Manhattan, the poetry of opposites. As Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue plays over lusciously composed black and white images of an idyllic Manhattan, we see picture postcards shots of Broadway, 42nd Street, Central Park, the Skyline and fireworks. Fireworks we almost wish would burst the film into color. It won't. This is a film about opposites, black and white or at least inconsistencies.
It's a film about 42 year old Isaac, (Woody Allen)and his small circle of friends. He's a successful television writer, who's been divorced twice. Isaac is having a fling with 17 year old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Isaac continually reminds her their relationship is temporary. When she talks about being in love with him, he tells her to not get hung up, she's too young, there's too much life for her experience, she has to go to school in London without him in the near future.
Isaac hates his job. Hates writing the junk he is writing just to earn a paycheck and support his comfortable lifestyle. He quits to get serious about the novel he's always wanted to write. He's having a bit of trouble finding his writing voice, just as he's having trouble finding balance in his life. Quitting his job however means he'll have to cut-back his lifestyle and even move into an apartment with noisy neighbors and brown water. Isaac's ex-wife (Meryl Streep) is about to publish a sure to be devastatingly personal book about their marriage. It ended when his wife left him for another woman and Isaac tried to run over her girlfriend with his car. They have a son and on visiting days old wounds are re-opened. His best friend Yale, (Michael Murphy) who is happily married, is nevertheless having an affair with Mary (Dianne Keaton). When Isaac first meets Mary, he hates her. She represents the type of Radcliff pseudo- intellectual who can't properly pronounce Van Gogh that he detests. But opposites do attract. They become friends but Isaac does not make a pass at his best friend's mistress.
Yale decides to stop cheating on his wife, and suggests to Isaac that he should date Mary.
These people operate in a world of shadows and illusions. They are all false fronts. Their self confidences, their cleverness and wit are all a facade hiding how scared, alone and vulnerable they really are. And this is not a film where suddenly they open up and reveal themselves or transform into better people. These are characters who have become a part of the city, of Manhattan, and a part of each others lives.
Gordon Willis photography is part of this charade. In one of the later montages, a romantic montage of shots is given an edge, partially by the greyness of the images (not merely black and white) and partially because cliche's are used and turned inside out. During the cliched Central Park boat row boat ride (an homage to Horsefeathers perhaps), Isaac reaches into the water and removes his hand which is now covered with sludge. At the Hayden planetarium it's so dark we see Isaac and Mary in silhouette. A shot in Mary's apartment is lit seemingly by a small table lamp.
Allen's cynicism and skepticism have never been as sharply realized than in this film. There are no slapstick sequences, and no dream sequences in this -- Allen's most assured, mature and personal of films.
There are plenty of laugh out loud lines of dialogue (courtesy of Allen and Marshall Brickman), but they seem natural, and never forced. This is a confident, relaxed Allen. He's not trying to please the audience as he did with Annie Hall. He's not making compromises with his material so he can sell a few more tickets at the box-office.
All of the actors are perfectly cast and at their peak. Even small supporting roles, like Wallace Shawn and Michael O'Donoghue are wonderful. Look fast at the t.v. show for David Rasche and Karen Allen (in a blonde wig). The Gershwin music is sometimes used as exclamation points (much as rock music is used in film). Rhapsody in Blue, Someone to Watch Over Me, and S'Marvelous in particular are worked wonderfully into the film.
This is Woody's masterpiece and a film that will be even more appreciated in years to come. Thank You
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This film was my first taste of Woody Allen and I was pleasantly surprised. It tells the story of two middle-aged friends in Manhattan with a focus on their romantic escapades. These include relations with a teenager, affairs, divorce and even a mutual love interest.
Manhattan portrays the life of New York intellectuals in a wry but honest way. It is a smart comedy, an enjoyable look into a world 25 years back that is not so different from today.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2002
Most people have a love/hate relationship with their hometown. Only Woody Allen has put his relationship on film and set it to the music of George Gershwin. In his 1979 release "Manhattan," Allen stars as Isaac Davis, a writer who's watching his life fall apart. He writes for a TV show, but quits over the the quality of the skits. His ex-wife, Jill (Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar that year for "Kramer Vs. Kramer"), who left Isaac for another woman, has written a tell-all book about their marriage that is very unflattering to Isaac. The 42-year-old Isaac is involved with Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), who's 25 years his junior, yet shares his tastes and says she thinks she loves him. Isaac constantly discourages this talk, even though Tracy wants him to live with her in London, where she's planning to study once she turns eighteen.
His best friend, a teacher and writer named Yale (Michael Murphy, who co-starred with Allen in "The Front"), is having a secret affair with another writer, Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton). Mary, though, wants to know if Yale will choose her or his wife, Emily (Anne Byrne). On a restless Sunday where Yale is away with Emily, Mary gets Isaac to go out with her, though nothing intimate happens. Later, Yale breaks up with Mary, who turns to Isaac, even though Isaac is constantly perplexed by Mary's tastes and attitudes ("I'm from Philadelphia. We believe in God," is one of Mary's statements). Isaac wants what he cannot get - the upper hand in a relationship.
"Manhattan" is a wonderful study of parallels and contradictions, as well as a funny and insightful look at the "Me Generation" of the seventies. Both Isaac and Yale have great soulmates, yet they want something else. Both seem destined to create heartbreak for themselves and for their loved ones, even though the twice-divorced Isaac tells Tracy at one point, "People should mate for life, like pigeons and Catholics." Just like Mary wants to impose her intellectual standards on everyone, Isaac wants to impose his way of living on both Tracy and Jill. Isaac describes Manhattan as his metaphor for a decaying culture and lowering of intellectual standards, yet he cannot imagine living anywhere else. Like "Annie Hall," we see a man looking at life, love, and relationships, yet still grasping to learn from his mistakes. "Manhattan," though, is more present tense and more serious than "Annie Hall."
The late seventies marked a period of great growth for Allen as an artist. In the drama "The Front," he showed he could integrate his screen persona with somebody else's words. In "Interiors," he showed he was equally capable of creating a moving, serious film of his own. "Annie Hall" mixes wit and wisdom as well as I've seen the two mixed. "Manhattan" shows Allen improving the look and the sound of his pictures. Gordon Willis creates beautiful black and white imagery, especially in the opening and closing montages. I also enjoyed the shots of Isaac and Mary at the planetarium and enjoying a sunrise. The Gershwin tunes on the soundtrack are lovingly conducted by Zubin Metha and Michael Tilson Thomas.
While Allen brought in actors like Keaton and Murphy, who worked well with Allen before, he also gave Streep and Hemingway (in an Oscar-nominated performance) some great exposure early in their film careers. Streep is cold and angry as Jill, and some of it is understandable because Isaac wants to be controlling, even though they're no longer married. Jill's stares at Isaac seem to jump right out of the screen to grab attention. Hemingway comes across as the person with her head on the straightest. Tracy is sweeter and smarter than Isaac deserves. I like that Tracy knows what she wants, and repeatedly tells that to Isaac, who seems to be deaf to her arguments. Other performers have notable cameos, such as Karen Allen ("Animal House") and David Rasche ("Sledge Hammer") as actors on the show where Isaac works. Wallace Shawn ("My Dinner With Andre") appears as Mary's ex-husband, Jeremiah, who is described by his ex as dominating, but comes across as anything but that. Bella Abzug, who represented New York in the seventies in Congress and was at the forefront for equal rights for women, is the guest speaker at a party attended by Isaac and Mary.
As the seventies ended, so did Allen's creative partnerships with two people who helped make his films so memorable. "Manhattan" marked the last appearance of Keaton in an Allen film until "Radio Days" eight years later. Marshall Brickman, who co-wrote this film, "Annie Hall," and "Sleeper" with him, turned to directing himself in the eighties, though none of his efforts ("Simon," "Lovesick," and "The Manhattan Project") are nearly as memorable as his work with Allen. However, Brickman and Allen collaborated again on Allen's 1993 film, "Manhattan Murder Mystery," which starred Allen and Keaton. It seemed like they were never really away.
"Manhattan" is a successful marriage of comedy, drama, and images of a place that has meant a great deal to Allen. The image that struck me the most in my most recent viewing of the film was the one of fireworks in the Manhattan night sky. It's a sign of happier times in a place that came under such a terrible attack. Like Isaac, Manhattan is now in a state of recovery. Someday, people will celebrate such a sight in that sky again. Until then, we have these pictures and stories that seem so far away now.