Posted on 11/20/12 05:56 PM
After finishing Allen's love-letter to the iconic island, it's quite evident to see the inspiration Allen shared for Charlie Chaplin. Similar to Chaplin's 'Tramp,' many of Allen's films - when he is the central star - seem to revolve around a central character with essential characteristics. From a subjective perspective: each time that I sit down for a Allen production, I know that I am going to be treated to a character that inhabits a nervous, uncertain, meticulous and hilarious nature. However, unlike Chaplin, Allen doesn't hide behind a certain persona; he bears it all to the point that it seems like we are simply not just watching a film created by Allen, but rather a film about Allen. If we judge Allen's films from this perspective, then his oeuvre is extremely personal, and his "Manhattan" seems to take a special place within that caliber. The films works as a personal love-letter to the city - similar to his efforts "Midnight in Paris" - that is draped within literature and film references that stretch from likes of Bergman and Fellini to Fitzgerald within a city riddled with intellectuals. Once again, "Manhattan" features typical Allen traits: a world draped within beautiful aesthetics, another script that is manifested with intelligence along with wit, and a continuation of Allen thematically exploring the notions of ambiguous love, rational against spontaneous thought, and existentialism.
Similar to previous Allen films, "Manhattan" is not over-blown with too many characters, but rather focuses its energy on only a few individuals. The central focus is Isaac (Allen), a man who earns his income by providing the writing for a comedic television show. His personal life seems to only consist of four central characters: his seventeen year old girlfriend Tracy (Hemingway - caused quite the stir upon the films release), Yale (Murphy) and his wife Emily (Hoffman), and the intellectual Mary (Keaton). Each separate life becomes inter-wined as Isaac begins developing relations for Mary, who was previously having an affair with Yale.
The films opens with a visual montage of the city itself. Through narration, we learn Isaac's activities; he is attempting to begin a book, however, he cannot decide, thematically, in which direction he wants to take it. Like most of Allen's characters, this beginning seems to function as a precursor to the uncertainty that plague's his nature. Just like the beginning of his book; he starts something, then questions it. Starts something, then questions it. Judging from Allen's continual use of these quintessential characteristics, it's hard not imagine this beginning stemming from a personal experience.
However, another promising function from the opening is that we know we are going to be treated- once again - to a brilliant script. While it doesn't contain the monumental consistence of wit displayed within "Annie Hall," it still contains a brilliant sense humor and abundance of quotable dialogue. When watching "Manhattan," it quite evident why Allen is considered one of the best screen writers of the 20th century. His dextrous ability at creating a balance between intellectual and colloquial gags pay-off perfectly. The chemistry shared between Allen and Keaton clarifies this balance; it's quite hilarious to watch the common-man - displayed in Isaac - furiously debate with the intelligent Mary over the appreciation of Art and film. It's a idealistic conversation that put's a smile on all Cinephiles faces. In one particular sequence, Isaac meets a bunch of Mary's friends - which he describes "Like the cast of a Fellini movie. " They engage through discourse over social affairs to the point that Isaac becomes involved in a argument over physical action vs the use of satirical deprivation against the notions of 'Nazism.' It's a hilarious conversation that solidifies the notions of spontaneous action against the likes of rational thinking - a notion that seems to be riddled within "Manhattan."
Besides the brilliant characteristics that the characters inhabit, the city itself is an individual entity to behold. Allen projects the city as a abyss to reflect the notions of existentialism. Allen captures such a atmosphere through his dextrous imagery. Consider two shots: one consists of Isaac walking into his lounge room to comfort Tracy. The composition of the shot is quite obtuse; Isaac and Tracy are located to the far left of the frame, leaving the interior of the room to cover most of the frame while the couple are barely visible. This particular shot immensely highlights the city and the emptiness the urbanized landscape contains. Following this train of thought, the relations embedded within "Manhattan" are riddled with uncertainty, and Allen's projection of the urbanized landscape add to this effect. Secondly, Isaac and Tracy's walk through the space-affair is a beautiful monochrome of contrasting black and whites. Once again, Allen utilizes wide-angle shots to project the landscape as a dominant figure compared to the characters. In this particular frame, Isaac and Tracy are situated in the far-right with, what seems to be meteorite as the dominant figure oppose to the individual characters. Once again, these notions on individuality and existentialism seem to have come from a internal perspective that Allen has experienced.
One of my favorite reasons for watching directors such as Woody Allen, alongside Godard and Bergman, is that they chip away at the cinematic language. They form they own form of celluloid grammar and project their films through a seminal rather than generic process. "Manhattan" is most definitely a seminal film; Allen projects shots that are quite bizarre; frames that don't consist of any character while they talk off-screen, interplays between silent aesthetics (with obvious references to Chaplin's "The Kid"), and eccentric shots of the city. All of these components accumulate into an audacious, but nevertheless poignant story.
Many consider "Manhattan" a classic. Unfortunately I do not agree. Within comparison to Allen's undisputed classic "Annie Hall," it just falls short on achieving, in similar regards, a diagonals of relations shared between women and men. Nevertheless, "Manhattan" is most definitely a great film and is essential viewing within Allen's caliber.