When one thinks of Woody Allen, most minds jump directly to a film like his classic comedy ‘˜Annie Hall’ or his dramatic masterpiece, Hannah And Her Sisters. However, made only two years after the former comedic classic, ‘˜Manhattan’ is not only one of the director’s most visually visceral works, but is just as powerful a film as anything the auteur has ever put onto celluloid.
‘˜Manhattan,’ Woody’s 1979 entry into his filmography, stars Allen as a divorced New Yorker who is currently involved with a high school student, only to be torn between her and his right hand man’s mistress. Featuring yet another classic cast, including the likes of Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway (who was nominated for an Oscar for this role), Meryl Streep and even Vanya himself, Wallace Shawn (‘˜Vanya On 42nd Street’), this film may not be as strong a film as his previous classic, but it’s no less entertaining, and has all the trappings of classic Woody.
As far as a film goes, the most striking aspect here is Allen’s filmmaking maturity, and his use of the gorgeous widescreen frame and Gordon Willis’ mind blowing black and white photography. Throughout his career, Allen had and subsequently has toyed with black and white (look at a film like ‘˜Shadows And Fog’), but here, it’s really top notch. Willis’ ability to up the visual contrast between his whites and blacks, along with the expansion of Woody’s frame by his use of moving conversations, and you have a film that is to be truly reckoned with visually.
And then that score. Oh boy, that score. Using music from the George Gershwin book, Allen featured the New York Philharmonic and the Buffalo Philharmonic on the film, and added such a level of depth to an already visually rich piece of art. From the opening montage of Manhattan with Allen’s brilliantly written and uproariously funny monologue, you get a great feel for the film visually, aurally and especially tonally, making this one of the most interesting creative ventures in Allen’s canon.
The cast here is absolutely top notch. Allen is at his absolute best here, and his chemistry with all his leading ladies, Streep, Keaton and Hemingway is utterly fantastic. It’s especially nice to see him and Streep trade blows as jilted lovers and divorced husband and wife, and while the film does have a few odd beats, at 96 minutes, you’ll be craving more and more from this world and these people. I’m particularly impressed with Hemingway, a stunning actress who fit this world and Allen’s script perfectly. Inarguably the film’s toughest performance, Hemingway absolutely knocks the role right out of the park.
Thematically, the film holds every single aspect of Allen’s intellectual canon. A look into the man/woman relationship, their stake in life and just what life itself means in general, but this is also one of Allen’s most oddly received works. Culturally and critically, the film is beloved. However, Allen has gone on the record as saying that this, along with a film like ‘˜Interiors’ and, honestly anything by (oddly) ‘˜Purple Rose of Cairo,’ he wasn’t completely happy with the film. If there is one thing that this review strives to do is prove you, Mr. Allen, wrong. ‘˜Manhattan’ is not a film that is unfinished. It’s a masterpiece of the highest regard, in both the world of drama and comedy. A look into love, life and the human relationship with them both, ‘˜Manhattan’ is one of the greatest films of one of the greatest cinematic decades.
And on Blu-ray, it looks spectacular. The film thrives in 1080p, particularly the Gershwin score and Willis’ fantastic cinematography. However, again, this film is sorely missing some supplements. A film that deserves a cavalcade of supplemental material, all you get here is a trailer. A trailer. A damn shame, as this is the best the film’s looked in years. Here’s to hoping we get a special version relatively soon.