Manhattan Woody Allen (Usa 1979)

Manhattan Woody Allen (Usa 1979)

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Manhattan Woody Allen (USA 1979)
Woody Allen; Diane Keaton
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne; 13 March 2014; ticket: £5
retrocrit: Dark clouds over Manhattan
Viewed today Woody Allen’s Manhattan
provokes thoughts about the dark magical forces that forge the
twisted links in the relationship between life and art. The pact
with their daemon, that an individual makes, when wresting the
creative out of the actual.
At the core of the movie is the flip
flop relationship between Woody Allen and Tracy, a seventeen year old
high school girl. This relationship bookends the script as 43 year
old Allen struggles to establish a relationship with women his own
age, in a culture that he characterises as emotionally regressed.
His fictive mildly transgressive relationship with Tracy who is a
minor, points to how the later complications allegations and
developments of Allen’s relationship with his family (Mia, Dylan and
Soon Yi) are all cut from the same clothe of his life: late twentieth
century infantalised culture. And just as part of the Manhattan
script takes in an ex wife ‘tell all’ subplot, so too could Woody
Allen’s current circus of relational atrocities with its child abuse
allegations and intra family marriage irregularity, all too easily be
absorbed into the Manhattan script, without Woody Allen pausing for
breath or a gag.

My feeling is that Woody is avoiding
personal territory these days as being too close to the knuckle.
However he did outline Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi racket in Blue Velvet
without letting the material get up front personal. Did Woody or
his family give money to Madoff?
Allen’s daemon aside, Manhattan proves
Woody Allen as a consummate movie clown. Both in the traditions of
Harold Lloyd, Groucho and Stan Laurel and of later ‘directed’
understated performers such as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Allen of
course has a perfect complementary foil in Diane Keaton. In Manhattan
it’s his performance that stands out as he plays off not just Keaton
but Meryl Streep and the very straight Mariel Hemmingway. Playing
himself, as clown’s must, he personifies the core clown ideas:
innocence and self delusion, an inability to prosper out in the world
on any terms but his own. Hence the inevitability of failure, but a
failure that never results in disillusionment; just the reverse,
failure it is that sustains energises reinvigorates faith in being.
The gags and one liners are a wondrous flow of ideas and throw away
wicked associations. But it is the clown in Woody that allows the
writing to communicate: the exaggerated changes in body language.
the use of eye muscle tension and eye lines as expressive gestes and
the micro regulation of voice, in tone and pitch and attack.

It’s interesting to note that in the
long opening montage of Manhattan the views of the city tend to be
intimate shots. There is no shot of the Twin Towers. Allen’s NYC is
old school, the prewar city.

And the whole movie is beautifully
shot, old school, on black and white stock with Gordon Willis giving
the shots and sequences a look based on a minimal uncluttered
aesthetic. As director, Allen’s two strongest points in Manhattan
are that he trusts the cinematographer to deliver the signifying
classical optical contents of the shot and uses the script
performance and sound track to counter-vale the visual element. The
Manhattan scenario is characterised by a number of long static
carefully composed shots that establish the idea of a mood, the idea
of a stability, the idea of a classic aesthetic. But Allen uses
these visual attributes as the contrasting dynamics that drive the
film’s development.

For instance there is one early big
wide shot of Woody and Tracy in Woody’s first and grand apartment
with its spiral staircase. It is a still shot that frames the
performers’ movements, and is of long duration. The protagonists
movement within the set which has the aesthetic of shadow play. But
the shot is used to offset the banality of the relationship between
Tracy and Allen. The pettiness, the self serving but truthful nature
of Allen’s dialogue, heighten the interplay between the image and
the script, creating the sort of inner tensions that energise
Manhattan and shift it out of the realm of self indulgence.

The characteristic feature of the film
is that Allen manipulates the sound track and image tracks so that
they interpenetrate and offset each other. The call of Gershwin’s
lush compositions that flood romantically over the screen are
counterposed by the unromantic calculating nature of post ’60’s
relationships that manipulatively unfold in the dialogue between the
protagonists. The worlds of Gershwin and Allen are poured together
in a sour cocktail that is like an emulsion that blends temporarily
before separating into its separate and bitter components.

Woody Allen’s life has become a
parody of his own films. Allen a little like Oscar Wilde ends up
trapped within the confines of his own art. Sometimes there is
nowhere else to go except self parody. And sometimes parody like
paradise turns out to be the interesting but unavailable illusion of
the clown.

Adrin Neatrour

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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