Friday, June 14, 2013


The 5 Obstructions blogathon

I had planned on writing something else, but a funny thing happened on the way to the publish button. I came across, on one of the hundreds of blogs I follow, "The 5 Obstructions Blogathon", a couple sleepless night ago. I was intrigued, first because of the title, which references the great Lars von Trier and Jorgen Leth documentary, where von Tiers, challenges his directing idol, to remake the same film, five different times, under five different sets of rules and parameters. I wrote a Canon of Film entry on that film earlier; the link to that post is below:

Oh, this is apart of the blog "My Film Views" who's constructed this equivalent challenge, for film bloggers, here's his link:

Many other bloggers are participating. I normally am not big on blog-a-thons. I like following some of the relay races, although they never seem to invite me to participate for some reason, (I would, if asked, I don't know why they don't) but normally I don't participate on my own, but something kinda came over me this time around. Maybe I was looking for a challenge. Sometimes I get tired of looking for simply new topics, and sometimes I'd rather experiment and simply, work on extending my writing skills; a blog-a-thon, like this, where every month we'd have to write a movie review, under different parameters than the film before, it intrigued me greatly. For instance, the first challenge, something I haven't done since film school.

OBSTRUCTION 1: Write a positive review for a film you don't like, or write a negative review for a film you love.

This is a cool challenge to yourself, to see if you can not only defend, but also beat down your own thoughts on a film. I'm not big on talking on a film I don't like, and justifying it, although I'm sure if I needed to, that 5 STAR review of "Rock of Ages" is probably in me, but instead, at three in the morning, I for some reason, chose to start slamming Woody Allen's masterpiece "Manhattan". To some extent, it's a natural pick, I've written on it before, I'm known for being an Allen fan already, and I wouldn't be alone is going after it, Woody Allen himself hates the movie, so I guess I must've thought, maybe it'd fun to dig into the psyche of Woody and see if I can see what he sees. Or maybe, it was the fact that I hadn't slept in two days, and just wanted to vent about the script I was writing, not coming out as I like, either way, here's my blogathon entry, and my special Negative Review of "Manhattan"!

MANHATTAN (1979) Director: Woody Allen


There's something creepy nowadays about how Woody Allen's "Manhattan" plays out. Especially knowing what we know now about Woody, even the illusion of him dating a teenager... well, I guess him and Sun-Yi still together have the last laugh with that one, but still.... He's also mentioned, to his credit, that "Manhattan" is one of his worst films, and he's amazed that it has the popularity and acclaim that it does. (He famously promised to direct a film for free, if the studio wouldn't release it) There are parts of the movie that work like Gordon Willis's gorgeous, slightly blue-tinted, black-and-white photography, and the performances, especially by Mariel Hemmingway, as the beautfiul and tall teenager Tracy who Allen's character, Isaac Davis is dating, almost embarassingly. There's a 25-year age difference between Isaac and the awkward and lanky Tracy, and Isaac seems to be attempting to have her break up with him, for the whole movie. He finally breaks up with her, when he actually has a decent excuse; he's fallen in love, or so he thinks, with his friend Yale's (Michael Murphy) mistress, Mary (Diane Keaton). This is where the film really gets sketchy. Yale and Mary often double-date with Isaac and Tracy, and what they're really up to,is rather disturbing when you think about it, even if it is in the subconscious of the male characters. It's always common in Woody Allen films, for a character, usually male, to be in a relationship, and suddenly find himself yearning over someone else, obsessed to the point where they'll do anything to be with that person, and the second they get with that person, they can't wait to get rid of her. "Manhattan" goes one-step more devious, as the entire film, is essentially about both men, constantly trying to pawn off their girlfriend onto another guy, or another life. The way Mary and Isaac argue over Ingmar Bergman for instance, is a sign to Yale, that he can drops hints to Isaac that they would probably be good together, and perhaps Yale's not around once in a while, which helps get them to hit it off and hang out at a museum or a park, one a lazy Saturday afternoon on their own, where they get to know a little bit more about each other. Possibly, let them see if there's a spark between them themselves? On the other hand, Isaac keeps telling Tracy she should start dating people her own age, and to go off to college or backpack through Europe. Strangely, both Isaac and Yale are essentially right in their relationship analysis. And essentially wrong, naturally 'cause nobody can ever fully trust their inner emotions in Woody Allen's universe. The one character who seems completely at ease with the relationship decision she made is Isaac's ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep), who left Isaac for a woman, and plans on writing a tell-all book about their marriage. Isaac work in television producing makes him a known entertainment commodity, so this isn't the greatest hit to his, already blustered reputation. Still, Jill might be the most vengeful lesbian in all of film, other than possibly Katherine Trammel, and that's only if you "Basic Instinct" that way.

Essentially, these are the same themes and comedic undertones Allen used effectively in "Annie Hall", except done with the shallowness of Shakespeare's most mischievous comic characters at the helm. When you look back on Isaac, running through the streets of New York, what is he really looking for, and what does he think he'll find when he finally reaches Tracy, who's hours away from a six-month trip to Europe, that he knows will completely ensure that she'll never be the innocent wide-eyed teen that fell in love with him. What exactly is he saying about love, love is only for the youth? Is love youth? Is it familiarity? Or is love simply, that which we don't have at the moment, and the yearning and striving for it, that's real true love, and the actual getting of love, falls at the weight of our disappointment and great expectations?

In hindsight, Allen's right. "Manhattan" is a beautiful film, that takes place in an amazing city that can't be summed up by one movie, and certainly not and opening prologue, but it's not a good one of his. It takes the most cynical depictions of human behavior, particularly in regard to love and dating. For the men, it's a game of musical girlfriends, with emotion-filled irony, as they only realize their supposedly true feelings for them, after they've tossed them aside, like an old toy a child hasn't played with in years. And the women, frankly, seem more than willing to let this be the norm. Especially Keaton's character, who's basically a flakier version of Annie Hall. Why is Mary, so willing to be with Yale, even requesting that he not leave his wife for her, begetting the question of why she's in it to begin with? Or why she goes with Isaac later, even after knowing that he just quit being a pedophile finished dating a teenager. Is she somebody who loves drama, and being caught in the middle, or is she really as flighty as she seems, always spouting about how people didn't do these things in Philadelphia, where she's from? Are these people looking for love or witty conversation between sexual escapades and the next brunch. If love is companionship, than no one had a happy ending in this film. "Manhattan" is so cynical, it can't find anything to hold true. You can argue it's even cynical about cynicism, if somebody wishes to read that much into it. There's no great defining message on love or anything  else in "Manhattan" and if there is, it's scattered at best, and at worst, it's an exploration of the most primal and shallow aspects of human nature, hidden by the guise of New York intellectualism and George Gershwin music.

Well, that was challenging and fun. And I'll cure myself of that icky feeling, by posting my real thoughts on "Manhattan" with my  Canon of Film entry, as my next blogpost, but until then, I hope you enjoyed this. Can't wait 'til the next obstruction I'll have to write.


Nostra said...

That is a thorough review, really like it. I'm not completely sure if I already seen this movie...maybe should watch it to check :)

David Baruffi said...

I think you'd remember seeing it if you had watch. Even if you did, you should watch it again anyway, it's one of Woody Allen's all-time bests! Great film!

Dan Heaton said...

I really like Manhattan, but I do think there are some parts that can be attacked. Nice job taking down a favorite! It isn't the top Woody Allen movie for me, but it's in the conversation. It's funny that you mention the "shallowness", which is definitely there with Isaac. Of course, I also think that's a strength to it and many of his films. Manhattan only gets better with repeat viewings, so I'll have to check out your real piece about it too.

David Baruffi said...

Thanks for the comments Dan, really appreciate it. I liked your piece too, btw, although I haven't seen "Limbo" so I really couldn't comment on it. I do need to watch more John Sayles, sometimes he's just a little too sprawling for me, although I do love "Sunshine State". As for "Manhattan", it depends on how I feel that day on where I rank Woody Allen films, but yeah, it's in the Top 5 conversation, and it's such a rich and great film, but yeah, one of the reasons I picked it, is because there are places and ways to attack it, and it was a fun challenge. Glad you enjoyed it. My Canon of Film entry on the film is up, so you can check that out, here's the link to it. Let me know what you think of that one. :)