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Flashback: on 1979’s Manhattan

Now, that I’ve officially nixed going to see Woody Allen’s latest film, “Magic in the Moonlight”(based on its tepid reviews), I decided to revisit perhaps his best feature, on the occasion of its 35th anniversary. And I really am still so fond of “Manhattan”—even if I’m not particularly so fond of Mr. Allen any longer. Yeah, I’m on the side that finds him to be a creepy dude, after he was caught sleeping with his girlfriend’s teenage daughter in the 1990’s, and I’ve been jaded ever since. Listen, he can still be a terrific filmmaker, and I never miss his good stuff. But with that happenstance, he jumped the line that separated my fantasy and reality version of Woody, not unlike me not being able to forget how much Mel Gibson hates the Jews when coming across something like 1987’s “Lethal Weapon” when it plays on cable television. Hey, Allen’s a big boy, he did this to himself. And the funny thing(or creepy thing)about revisiting “Manhattan” all these years later, is being reminded of just how long Allen has been chasing gals young enough to be his daughter. You realize “Manhattan” is apparently based on fact, right?

There is an actress named Stacey Nelkin that Allen admits to having a relationship with. Ms. Nelkin’s name has popped up again in recent months as this whole Allen/Farrow/Previn situation started hitting the tabloids again. The only thing I haven’t heard Mr. Allen own up to is the age of Ms. Nelkin during their romance. Insiders say she was 17…while he was in his early 40’s. Which brings us to “Manhattan”, where Mr. Allen’s character of Isaac is dating Mariel Hemingway’s Tracy(a role that brought Ms. Hemingway an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress). In the film, Isaac is 42 and Tracy is 17—and Isaac is struggling with the age difference. The time frame of Mr. Allen’s relationship with Stacey Nelkin? Oh, it apparently began sometime before the filming of “Manhattan”. And the point is, you can’t unthink this stuff while viewing “Manhattan” 35 years later. But it’s still a gorgeous, intelligent, neurotic motion picture. However, it certainly carries extra baggage in 2014.  So, what’s so great about it?

The opening scene of “Manhattan” has been called a stunning tribute to the city of New York, and you can get a nice taste of it in the clip above. Now try to imagine experiencing those incredible shots of the Big Apple on a giant screen. What a way to open a movie. Mr. Allen’s screenplay is rich and pretentious and funny and everything you’d expect from a Woody Allen script(an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay). Woody’s in a very select crowd of writers who pepper their work with names like Strindberg, Flaubert, Coward, Freud, Fellini and Groucho Marx…in an almost throwaway manner. And he expects the audiences to keep up. I doubt most modern-day ones can. The Gershwin music in “Manhattan” is absolutely superb, and the black-and-white cinematography, from the renowned Gordon Willis, was an inspired choice. Plus, you’ve got all that juicy love triangle stuff with Diane Keaton’s Mary character, and an early career appearance by Meryl Streep. Yeah, “Manhattan” is still pretty awesome. Woody’s best? Definitely in the top five. But I guess you’ll just have to tell me if you are able to separate the real life from what’s occurring on the screen.

Grade:  A

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2 comments on “Flashback: on 1979’s Manhattan

  1. I suffered a similar hesitation yesterday when I featured the 35th anniversary of Off the Wall by Michael Jackson as my Day in History. It’s taken years for me to consider MJ as anything other than a deranged (alleged) pedophile but, for some reason, I took the time to listen to some of the music and it is tremendous. Can we separate the artist from the art? Should we? Do we NEED to?

    • In most cases, I think we can separate, Brian. I’m okay watching Woody’s films, and I learned to love Michael again by realizing that he was never convicted of ANYTHING. He was portrayed as a pedophile, and that’s what he became to many. But watching Mel Gibson the same way is tough these days. And, of course, that notorious asshole Chevy Chase too. All talented people, whose work has been jaded in one way or another over time. ML

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