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Manhattan is a 1979 romantic comedy film about Isaac Davis (Woody Allen), a twice-divorced 42-year-old comedy writer dating a 17-year-old high school girl (Mariel Hemingway). Isaac eventually falls in love with his best friend's mistress (Diane Keaton). The movie was written by Allen and Marshall Brickman, who had also successfully collaborated on Annie Hall, and directed by Allen. Manhattan was filmed in black and white and 2.35:1 widescreen.

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film. The film was #46 on American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Laughs". This film is number 63 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". In 2001, the United States Library of Congressmarker deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Plot

The film opens with a montage of images of Manhattanmarker accompanied by George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. TV writer Isaac Davis (Allen), is introduced as a man writing a book about his love for New York Citymarker. He is a twice-divorced 42-year-old dealing with the women in his life who gives up his unfulfilling job as a comedy writer.

He is dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a 17-year old high school girl. His best friend Yale (Michael Murphy), married to Emily (Anne Byrne) is having an affair with Mary Wilkie (Diane Keaton); her ex-husband and former teacher Jeremiah (Wallace Shawn) also appears. Isaac's lesbian ex-wife, Jill (Meryl Streep), is writing a confessional book about their marriage.

When Isaac meets Mary, he immediately takes a dislike to her. Isaac runs into her again at an Equal Rights Amendment fund raising event at the Museum of Modern Artmarker and he walks her home. Mary asks to go out with him for a Sunday afternoon when Yale is unavailable. They stay out all night until dawn culminating in the iconic shot of Queensboro Bridgemarker.

Isaac continues his relationship with Tracy. He also encourages her to pursue an educational opportunity in London. In another iconic scene, at Tracy's request, they go on a carriage ride through Central Parkmarker.

Yale breaks up with Mary feeling he can't ruin his marriage over her. At the Squash court, Yale suggests Isaac ask her out. Isaac does, always having felt Tracy is too young for him. Isaac breaks up with Tracy much to her dismay. After several meetings between the two couples, including one where Emily reads out portions of Jill's book on her marriage with Isaac, Yale and Mary resume their relationship with Yale splitting with Emily.

A betrayed Isaac confronts Yale at his job, but he says he found Mary first. Isaac responds by discussing Yale's extra-marital affairs with Emily, but she thinks Isaac introduced Mary to Yale. In the denouement, Isaac writes a part of his book about "why is life worth living," climaxing with "Tracy's face."

He runs to tell Tracy he loves her and catches her just as she is leaving for England. He says that she doesn't have to go and that he doesn't want that special thing about her to change. She replies that the plans have already been made and reassures him that not everyone gets corrupted, she says, "you've got to have faith in people". He gives her a slight smile segueing into final shots of the skyline with Rhapsody in Blue playing again.

Cast and characters



Production

The iconic bridge shot
According to Allen, the idea for Manhattan originated from his love of George Gershwin's music. He was listening to one of the composer's albums of overtures and thought, "this would be a beautiful thing to make ... a movie in black and white ... a romantic movie". Allen has said that Manhattan was "like a mixture of what I was trying to do with Annie Hall and Interiors". He also said that his film deals with the problem of people trying to live a decent existence in an essential junk-obsessed contemporary culture without selling out, admitting that he himself could conceive of giving away all of "[his] possessions to charity and living in much more modest circumstances", continuing, "I've rationalized my way out of it so far, but I could conceive of doing it".

Allen talked to cinematographer Gordon Willis about how fun it would be to shoot the film in black and white, Panavision aspect ratio (2.35:1) because it would give "a great look at New York City, which is sort of one of the characters in the film". Allen decided to shoot his film in black and white "because that's how I remember it from when I was small. Maybe it's a reminiscence from old photographs, films, books and all that. But that's how I remember New York. I always heard Gershwin music with it, too. In Manhattan I really think that we — that's me and cinematographer Gordon Willis — succeeded in showing the city. When you see it there on that big screen it's really decadent". Allen shot the film on location but for the scenes in the planetarium they built part of it with three-quarters of it being the real place.

The iconic bridge shot was done at 5 am. The bridge had two sets of necklace lights on a timer controlled by the city. When the sun comes up, the bridge lights go off. Willis made arrangements with the city to leave the lights on and he would let them know when they got the shot. Afterwards, they could be turned off. As they started to shoot the scene, one string of bridge lights went out and Allen was forced to use that take.

After finishing the film, Allen was very unhappy with it and asked United Artists not to release it. He offered to make a film for free instead.

Reaction

Manhattan opened in North America on April 25, 1979 in 29 theaters. It grossed $485,734 ($16,749 per screen) in its opening weekend, and earned $39.9 million in its entire run.

The film was shown out of competition at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival in May.

The film received largely positive reviews and currently has a rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Gary Arnold, in the Washington Post, wrote, "Manhattan has comic integrity in part because Allen is now making jokes at the expense of his own parochialism. There's no opportunity to heap condescending abuse on the phonies and sellouts decorating the Hollywood landscape. The result appears to be a more authentic and magnanimous comic perception of human vanity and foolhardiness". In his review for Newsweek magazine, Jack Kroll wrote, "Allen's growth in every department is lovely to behold. He gets excellent performances from his cast. The increasing visual beauty of his films is part of their grace and sweetness, their balance between Allen's yearning romanticism and his tough eye for the fatuous and sentimental - a balance also expressed in his best screen play yet". In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert wrote, "Diane Keaton gives us a fresh and nicely edged New York intellectual. And Mariel Hemingway deserves some kind of special award for what's in some ways the most difficult role in the film".

Alexander Walker of the London Evening Standard wrote, "So precisely nuanced is the speech, so subtle the behaviour of a group of friends, lovers, mistresses and cuckolds who keep splitting up and pairing off like unstable molecules". Time film critic Frank Rich wrote at the time that Allen's film is "tightly constructed, clearly focused intellectually, it is a prismatic portrait of a time and place that may be studied decades hence to see what kind of people we were". Recently, J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice, "The New York City that Woody so tediously defended in Annie Hall was in crisis. And so he imagined an improved version. More than that, he cast this shining city in the form of those movies that he might have seen as a child in Coney Island—freeing the visions that he sensed to be locked up in the silver screen".

Allen was named best director for Manhattan by the New York Film Critics Circle. The National Society of Film Critics also named Allen best director along with Robert Benton who directed Kramer vs. Kramer. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.

The film was #46 on American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Laughs". This film is number 63 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies." In 2001, the United States Library of Congressmarker deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. It is also ranked #4 on Rotten Tomatoes' 25 Best Romantic Comedies.

American Film Institute recognition

Manhattan also inspired the song "Remember Manhattan" written by Richard Marx and Fee Waybill from Marx's debut album.

Home video

Allen wanted to preserve Willis's composition and insisted that the aspect ratio be preserved when the film was released on video (an unusual request in a time when widescreen films were normally panned and scanned for TV and video release). As a result, all copies of the movie on video (and most television broadcasts) were letterboxed, originally with a gray border.

References

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