Monday, June 17, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "MANHATTAN"

MANHATTAN (1979)

Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman



I hate dating. I hate the rules of dating, and I hate the entire process of having to go out and be with someone, and then either make a move or not make a move and then figure out what move it is you’re supposed to or not supposed to make…. People, when dating, are by far at their most self-conscious of themselves. I believe only the truest free-spirits can ever be comfortable doing it, and even then, it’s probably a defense mechanism to hide some other personal flaw a person may deems as not good for use during the practice of dating. The only other people, that dating is good for, are those who aren’t self-conscious, because they don’t know any better, like the young, which is probably what makes them so appealing.

You see, when I originally wrote that intro to my "Canon of Film" entry for "Manhattan" many years ago, I thought I was making an actual declaration of some kind, and on my worst days, it could be described as one, but I realize now, that not only is it a good preamble to discussing the film, but it actually almost seems like dialogue from it. Like something Isaac (Woody Allen) or Mary (Diane Keaton) would say at some lavish dinner party or museum for somebody who knows somebody about the New York intellectual elite, right in between conversations about what everyone's analyst says about their wet dreams and why Van Gogh is overrated. On some level, "Manhattan" really is just about, the ways in which men and women, react to each other, especially when each of them know that sex is a possibility. It's this constant battle we have, between love and intelligence. Yes, we can appreciate Bergman and Arbus and McLuhan, and all those other names that get thrown around at parties, or nowadays, in FB groups, and still essentially, just wish somebody who look us lovingly in the eye and tell you to calm down and make love to me in some strange way that nobody would ever let you before, and then after that have her say, "Oh look, the late show is a W.C. Fields film."

Those are the constant extremes of Woody Allen, and no more than in "Manhattan", does he so clearly and perceptively struggle with them than in "Manhattan". It was appreciated by critics and the public when the film was released, but now the film reveals itself as a true masterpiece, not just about dating, but the reasons we do date, to find love. And then, the even worse part is that thought that, what if we had the love that we wanted and strived for, but let it go, maybe without even realizing it, and that’s assuming that are feelings we love, is actually love, and not a mind-created mirage to help cure us of loneliness.  Shot with gorgeous blue-lit black and white photography by the great Gordon Willis, and using George Gershwin songs as the ironic soundtrack, Allan begins the movie by saying "Chapter 1" but he gets so bogged down in criticizing his own words, he never gets around to chapter 2, or for that matter, sentence 2. He plays a New York intellectual who writes on a dreadful TV sitcom named Isaac Davis. His 2nd ex-wife, Jill (Meryl Streep) has left him for another woman, and has begun writing a tell-all book about their marriage. He's currently dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway, in an Oscar-nominated role) a 17-year-old high school student, who idealizes Isaac, but who Isaac keeps trying to break up with, mostly because he realizes the absurdity of the relationship, on both sides. (He's 25 years older than her.) Isaac's best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is cheating on his wife Emily (Anne Byrne), with Mary, a magazine writer, who's on a similar intellectual plane with Isaac, which is why Yale continually tries to get the two of them together since he won't break-up with his wife. Mary's also a complete mess, who switches back and forth, between being the unknowing Philadelphian that's in over her head (Although being that my family's from Philly, I also don't know what-the-hell she means when she refers back to Philadelphia) and cursing like a sailor at herself, as she realizes every stupid relationship mistake she makes, but can't help herself from making them. 

The love-triangles that form out of this are probably the ones you expect, but not in the way you’d expect. For instance, one day when both are still in their respected relationship, Mary calls Isaac to go to the planetarium on a Saturday afternoon, not because of mutual attraction, but mainly out of boredom, which is also the reason he decides to go. They share a nice quiet, well-lit afternoon, and begin to think they might be a good couple. But would they make a good couple? Would any combination of these people make a good couple? As everybody starts falling in and out of lust, and then love for each other, the key to this film, is Tracy, the 17-year old, who's so quiet and observant, but fiercely in love with Isaac, that age or things-in-common, or any other factor that apply to the other people don’t apply to her. Is she the most diluted character or the least diluted? Appearances aren't what they seem, but there’s a quality to her that makes her endearing, a good soul that isn't going to break with a break-up, or for that matter with age. Isaac finally realizes, too late what he gave up with her and finally getting together for a doomed relationship with Mary, and in a perfect final scene confronts her once again, to try to win her back. Does it mean a relationship between them would actually work, or is it that she represents something that none of the other characters feel. It’s not youth, as most would think, but loss, the belief that we missed an opportunity that one may not have known even existed. It's not the mistakes we choices we make, that trouble us most, but the choices we passed up on.  

I've  been known to have had several of those; I'm sure we all have. I don’t know what I missed out on, but that doesn't mean I don’t think about the road not taken. But what hurts more, is that after we take the road, it’s almost impossible to take a u-turn and find the road again if we want a do-over. That's the thing about fond memories, they're only fond, because they're on some level, they come out of regret, something Isaac and Yale find out, as we all do, too late.


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